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From “a shrew from the Orkneys” to White Indigene : Re-inventions of Eliza Fraser.

Author(s): Cynthia vanden Driesen

Journal: Coolabah
ISSN 1988-5946

Volume: 3;
Start page: 35;
Date: 2009;
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Keywords: Eliza Fraser | indigene | myth | colonial.

Few episodes in postcolonial Australian history have shown so remarkable acapacity to generate ever-increasing cross-fertilisations between myth, history andmemory than the narratives centred on Eliza Fraser. The archive of materialssurrounding the shipwreck of this British woman and her brief sojourn among theindigenous people of the Badtjala community of Fraser Island in the nineteenth centurycontinues to grow. Kay Schaffer’s impressive work overtook earlier studies of thephenomenon but concentrates mainly on the many European re-constructions of theepisode .The fecundity of the materials is far from exhausted. This paper explores someof the Aboriginal reactions to the tale but its main focus is Patrick White’s novel AFringe of Leaves, which grew out of his own research and constructs a new myth withimplications for the nation. It is a work with the potential for developing (in JimDavidson’s words) “a myth of reconciliation, and possibilities of growth.”This Papershows White’s melding of history, myth, memory and imagination in this novel isillustrative of the literary artist’s contribution to “writing the nation.”
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