|Chapter 1:||Reading Post-Colonial Australia|
the Arcadian was in constant contention with the dystopian view of the limitlessness of Australian space. This led to representations of what I have called the “horizonal sublime” (“Horizonal Sublime”). But gradual change in the apprehension of Australia continued in painters such as William Buvelot and Eugene von Guérard until the Heidelberg school in the nationalist nineties claimed to represent the “true” Australia.
The ambivalent struggle over representation occurs also in language, of course, and we can see in Henry Kendall's poem “Bellbirds” the way in which the contention over how place should be seen prompts a process of linguistic transformation:
And down the dim gorges I hear the creek falling:
It lives in the mountain where moss and the sedges
Touch with their beauty the banks and the ledges.
Through breaks of the cedar and sycamore bowers
Struggles the light that is love to the flowers;
And, softer than slumber and sweeter than singing,
The notes of the bell-birds are running and ringing. (23)
By any account, this canonical poem continues the formal style of British nineteenth-century poetry. Kendall is writing about the bush in the way Conrad Martens paints Sydney, according to received technique. “Sycamore,” “moss,” “sedges,” and “bowers” gesture to a very pronounced English pastoral poetic diction. But we can see the beginnings of language transformation in the word “creek.” “Creek” is a midlands term for a body of water, or inlet, that has been appropriated into Australian English to signify a stream or small river. The word “creek” does not itself indicate a different spatial reality, it does not come from any indigenous language, but the difference of the word to describe a stream metonymically signifies a different place. Here is a formal and conventional English poem in which we see the beginnings of Australian English. The process becomes more pronounced, as it does in all post-colonial Anglophone writing, when the vernacular is incorporated into the text.