Australia has been always thought as a prison to the British Empire and consequently to the rest of the world. Almost everyone has heard Australia as “The Prisoner’s Island”. That assumption is actually true. First people who arrived to that country were convicts –besides of explorers. All these people settled down and worked the land or were employed like carpenters, servants and even like nurses. But some –well educated people, mainly British colonists- decided to write their experiences. Being Australia a continent where bad people arrived (some criminals, convicts and soldiers), crime arrived as well. This context was an inspiration source for these writers that they tried to describe in their books. Furthermore, this particular context is still a strong influence to new Australian writers. Now the questions are: can the historical context leave an indelible influence on Australian literature? Can the social environment give particular features to it? Is important the geography to understand it?
Within the characteristic of Australian literature we can find some like its Aboriginal origins, where many authors referred to how Aborigines were treated by white men who colonized their lands, this type of literature is more common today than many years before; another characteristic is its “bush” legacy which refers to a typical Australian lifestyle that represents it as in literature as in other branches of the art. This characteristic was very important in literature because some writers as Banjo Paterson or Henry Lawson expressed in their works how common people lived in rural zones. This style was very similar to the “gauchos” of the Argentinian pampa and the “cowboys” of the United States. However, one of the most important characteristic of Australian literature is its penitentiary past which left an indelible sign on the history of this country and at the same time it marked the basis for what would later become the art of this country.
Australia has changed since its years as a penal colony for the British Empire. Australia is now a little bit different. Centuries and decades have passed but some traditions and customs still remain in their culture. One of the most important is the “convict legacy”. Therefore, it is necessary to know about the History of Australia, particularly about the penal colony and the first colonists that arrived there.
In 1788, the first ship arrived in Australia. Years ago, in 1770, Australia had been declared a penal colony. People that arrived were mariners, convicts and children. Later, in 1793, the first colonists arrived and settled down in this new land. They worked like workforce to the British Empire contributing in the construction of the new infrastructure in Australia like bridges or roads.
Life was not easy “a convict's life was neither easy nor pleasant. The work was hard, accommodation rough and ready and the food none too palatable.”
Even a convict said “We have to work
from 14-18 hours a day, sometimes up to our knees in cold water, 'til we are
ready to sink with fatigue... The inhuman driver struck one, John Smith, with a
heavy thong.” (Australian
People convicted knew how their lives would chance in this new land. For that reason, they did tokens. Convicts love tokens are:
Smoothing and engraving a coin with a message of affection was one of the few ways a convict transported to Australia could leave a memento behind with loved ones in England. These small tokens are also known as 'leaden hearts'. They record personal and emotional responses.
National Museum of Australia).
Here there are some real examples of the messages recorded in the tokens
"Dear Father Mother/ A gift to you / From a friend / Whose love for you / Shall never end"
"When this you see / Think on me / When I am in a far country"
"May the rose of England never bud, the thistle of Scotland never grows, the harp of Ireland never play till I, poor convict, gain my liberty."
Quintus Servinton was the first Australian novel which was written by the British convict Henry Savery, and its significance is mostly due to its historical value than its literary value. They were not influenced by the current literary genres due to the isolation; therefore they could create their own styles which at first, began to be autobiographical, where the prisoners could tell their cruel experiences by using nicknames or remaining anonymous.
Australia was consolidated as a country much later than their English - speaking peers and because of that its literature was formed with parts of many countries of the world. It is very rich in terms of styles but in the same time it is not corrupted by others literary trends from the rest of the world.
Australian literature has been the vehicle Australian identity, a platform to advance the campaign of cultural independence from Britain, causing that the racial and multicultural mix of the population is reflected in their literary.
Today, in this country there is a sort of literary fashion because of the large number of foreign writers who have settled down there to write their works, considering themselves as Australians. Finally, some of important features of the literature of this country are the history of their own land, including the indigenous situation is dealt with Aboriginal and white authors. Relationships, broken links and lack of communication are common threads. Many of the writers have an ability to analyze topics of other countries and other ancient cultures from a new and revitalized perspective. For instance, the latest novel by David Malouf, does the same: he remake the passionate scene where Achilles warrior returning the dead body of his father in a whole new way.
It can be said that this kind of literary work has a "little originality positive", using themes and stories from other parts of the western world and projecting upon them a new and unique perspective. However, the writers have known Australians also explore the history of their own country.
Does the Australian literature deserve a place of honor within the world literature?
Yes it does. Not in vain already won a Nobel Prize in 1973, from the hand of Patrick White.
· Australian Government. (n.d.). australia.gov.au. Retrieved Octubre 3, 2012, from http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/convicts-and-the-british-colonies
· Australian National University. (n.d.). Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved from http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/savery-henry-2632
· Burbury, D. (1999). Ancestry.com. Retrieved Octubre 3, 2012, from http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~austashs/convicts/contokens.html
· Halliday, J. (n.d.). Pilot Guides. Retrieved Octubre 3, 2012, from http://www.pilotguides.com/destination_guide/pacific/australia/convict_australia/convict_life.php
· The National Museum of Australia. (n.d.). National Museum Australia. Retrieved Octubre 3, 2012, from http://www.nma.gov.au/collections/highlights/convict-tokens