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Discordant Notes

Journal of Australian Studies 88
Bart Ziino Who Owns Gallipoli? Australia's Gallipoli Anxieties 1915-2005, Sue Lovell, 'Dew to the Soul': One Australian Artist's Response to War, Peter Kirkpatrick Hunting the Wild Reciter: Elocution and the Art of Recitation, Felicity Plunkett 'You Make Me a Dot in the Nowhere': Textual Encounters in the Australian Immigration Story (the Fourth Chapter), Bridget Griffen-Foley From the Murrumbidgee to Mamma Lena: Foreign Language Broadcasting on Australian Commercial Radio, Part I, Emily Pollnitz ...
Thursday, 24th April 2014
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API Review of Books

Altitude BirdIssue 44
Features reviews by Kathleen Broderick, Linn Miller, Christine Choo, Bill Thorpe, David Ritter, Eve Vincent, Stephanie Bishop, Alison Miles, Richard Kay, Amanda Day, Bernard Whimpress, Mads Clausen, Marion May Campbell, Sylvia Alston, Catie Gilchrist, Eva Chapman, Lucy Dougan, Stephen Lawrence and Nathanael O'Reilly. Click here for more details.


Altitude BirdPopular Music: Practices, Formations and Change - Australian Perspectives
The papers collected here in this special edition of Altitude offer a brief snapshot of popular music research broadly connected with Australia. The essays demonstrate the variety of theoretical and methodological approaches used by researchers in the fields of popular music studies and cultural studies to explore themes of popular music practice, formation and change in an Australian context. Click here for more details.


To The Islands

By Randolph Stow, St Lucia: UQP, 2002, 186 pages, paperback, $19.95. Reviewed by James Wells-Green in the May 2003 issue.

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This re-issue of Randolph Stow's third novel is a particularly welcome addition to the Australian Authors Series produced by the University of Queensland Press. It contains a typically insightful foreword from Professor Hassall and, since it does not follow the original 1958 version but the revised edition of 1991, it also includes the author's preface to that edition. Both critic and author convey a strong sense that this is a novel of a particular time and place but one that is very far from being without contemporary socio-political implications.

To The Islands concerns the ordeal of Stephen Heriot, an elderly, careworn, and disillusioned Anglican missionary who abandons his mission when he mistakenly believes he has accidentally killed one of his Aboriginal charges in a not entirely unprovoked confrontation. Heriot flees into the desert not to escape justice but to embrace its desolate beauty and its elemental purity as the one objective reality and the one certainty left available to him.

Heriot's flight and his embrace of the desert may be seen as his attempt, as a European Australian, to immerse himself in the landscape, to make himself one with the land. At this realistic level, the novel enacts the ontological and existential dilemma that confronts most -- if not all -- European Australians, the dilemma that Professor Hassall defines as the continuing quest for psychic integration, for reconciliation with indigenous Australians, and with the land itself.

Stow's novel however, like Patrick White's Voss, is among the first of those Australian novels of the 1950s to mix realistic and symbolic fiction. At the symbolic level, Heriot's journey through the desolation of the landscape becomes a metaphor for his journey through the desolation of his soul, through and into the wilderness of uncertainty that is the product of his sense of failure as a man and of his despair at the declining support of the church authorities for his mission. His journey is thus towards an imaginary centre, towards the islands of death and mystery as some critics have claimed, but also towards the islands of self-knowledge. This is most evident at the novel's end when Heriot is near death and he 'whispers' in a brief allusion to the metaphysical world beyond and to the here-and-now physical world that 'my a strange country'. Clearly, Heriot not only seeks to understand the nature of his soul, but also the nature of his connection to the land on which he stands.

It is a measure of Stow's commitment to realism that nothing of the order of spiritual certainty or religious belief is vouchsafed to Heriot at his end. The author is quite clear about this commitment in his preface to the revised edition of To The Islands -- he points out that he has always been -- 'except in the choice of subject matter' -- a 'fanatical' realist. Stow's own experience of working on a mission and the thoroughgoing historical research he details in his preface both underwrite the novel by conferring realism and credibility on it almost in spite of the metaphysical implications of its symbolism.

To the Islands rings true in every respect, including Stow's Aboriginal language transliterations, but what it more importantly demonstrates quite early on in the history of our literature is that 'pure' realism (as opposed to social realism) could be successfully mixed with symbolism in the context of the Australian novel. The fundamental issues that Stow enacts in To The Islands have not been resolved but this only serves to prove that his novel is still socio-politically significant. Time has borne Stow out so that his novel has endured in a most meaningful way.


  • James Wells-Green. 'Review: To The Islands by Randolph Stow' [online]. Network Review of Books (Perth, Australian Public Intellectual Network), May 2003. Availability: <please cite the web address here> ISSN 1833-0932. [accessed 24 April 2014].

Back Cover Blurb

  • This masterpiece of Australian fiction was written by Randolph Stow when he was just twenty-two. It won for him the coveted Miles Franklin Award and the Gold Medal of the Australian Literature Society.

    A work of mesmerising power, against a background of black-white fear and violence, To the Islands journeys towards the strange country of one man's soul. Set in the desolate outback landscape of Australia's north-west, the novel tracks the last days of a worn-out Anglican missionary. Fleeing his mission after an agonising confrontation, searching for the islands of death and mystery.

Visitors' Responses

  • A great review on the work of the elusive author Stow. So hard to find any reviews on his literature, so keep going!

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  • For more than 50 years, the University of Queensland Press has been at the forefront of innovative Australian publishing. It has launched the careers of many great Australian novelists, published contemporary Australian poets, been a pioneering force in children's and young adult publishing and has set the benchmark for award-winning scholarly and Black Australian writing. UQP is a dynamic university press known for its risk-taking philosophy and commitment to publishing works of high quality and cultural significance.

NRB May 2003

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