NATURE WRITING HAS never been more popular. In recent years it has become an international publishing phenomenon, with titles such as Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk (Jonathan Cape, 2014), Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks (Hamish Hamilton, 2015), Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun (Canongate, 2016) and Sy Montgomery’s How to be a Good Creature (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) scoring significant worldwide success. Australia, too, has its own rich history of nature writing. For more than a century, nature writing was the primary literature for writing the country; a vital part of the ongoing process, for settler-Australians, of coming to feel at home in what were initially unfamiliar environments, and of creating a sense of national identity around them. Yet, today, nature writing is not widely known or understood here, and it’s apparent that more Australians have read H is for Hawk (18,000 copies sold so far according to Bookscan) than any of our own contemporary works.
Our inability to recognise and embrace our own nature writers could well be a continuation of a colonial cringe towards Australian flora and fauna, and a cultural tendency to reject or suspect anything too ‘romantic’ written about home. But there is something deeper going on. Literary engagement with nature and landscape has never been straightforward for non-Indigenous Australians. Judith Wright perhaps expressed it best in Born of the Conquerors (Aboriginal Studies Press, 1991): ‘The love of the land we have invaded, and the guilt of invasion – have become a part of me. It is a haunted country.’ Knowing a place means taking on its history.
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