Writing the Australian Beach

On Friday (August 18), I ran my first ever symposium! It was a really enjoyable day, with some excellent papers and ongoing conversations about the Australian beach and what it means to us as a country, in our fiction, on our screens, and under our feet. The original call for papers can be found here.

I wanted to capture some of the day in a blog post while it is still fresh in my mind, and also acknowledge and thank the enthusiasm and generosity of all the attendees. It was a day with wide ranging levels of experience from professor level through to very early emerging scholars. Regardless, it was a collegial atmosphere and an exciting day.

The day kicked off with a keynote presentation from Associate Professor Susan Carson from QUT. Sue’s talk introduced some initial provocations around humanity and nature intersecting on the coastline, through a lens of examining ocean baths.

IMG_3917

A/Prof Susan Carson, QUT

There were three main presentation sections for the day, loosely themed (in my head, at least!) as conceptions of Australian beaches; representations of Australian beaches; uses of Australian beaches. You can find the specific titles and presenters in the conference booklet here: [web quality | print quality]. It also includes a note from me, detailing my support crew of both academic and professional staff – without their help, the day would not have happened! I am very grateful for their support.

Each section was a fascinating insight into the variety of perspectives people used when thinking and conceptualising the Australian beach. We were also gifted with consideration and presentation of creative practice works (poetry and novels).

Ultimately, I felt a few things resonated throughout the day. Firstly, there is room for some interesting interdisciplinary conversations to be had about the beach – incorporating sociology, cultural and literary studies, and creative writing (among others). The work of many presenters dovetailed – such as Dr Nick Osbaldiston’s sociological positioning of the beach with Dr Lesley Hawkes’ investigation of beach walking as a cultural practice, and also Peter McKenzie’s exploration of coastal jazz musicians in Mackay and Cairns. We rounded out the day with Dr Lee McGowan’s consideration of why Australian beach football (or soccer) has never seemed to catch the national interest, despite the beauty of our own beaches.

Secondly, there is still a disappointing need to continue dialogue about gender representations on the Australian beach. It’s now been nearly forty years (!) since the release of the classic Australian book, Puberty Blues (Lette and Carey, 1979) and yet we are still highlighting the lack of female voices as both authors, creators, and characters. Dr Lynda Hawryluk, Kelly Palmer, Professor Donna Lee Brien all spoke to this to a certain degree in their presentations.

No discussion of the beach can go without some mention of Tim Winton and although he can be a polarising figure, he has still done much for the environmental conversation that needs to be happening in this space. Ryan Delaney examined his ecocritical writing in the novel Breath (2008) and this resonated with Osbaldiston’s early provocation of ‘what next?’. When are we going to start seeing realistic writing around the inevitable future of this endangered, coastal landscape?

Perhaps that will emerge in future creative practice? Dr Sarah Kanake shared some of her exquisite new work from her upcoming novel Lazarus, the awaited follow-up to her debut Sing Fox to Me (2016), as well as nuanced and interesting discussion of her practice. Stephanie Kocsis shared her early insights into her practice and the way landscape – even the beach – can function like a type of frontier. And Dr Paul Williams also shared an entertaining, self-deprecating look at his previous writings to consider why the beach has influenced his practice. Hawryluk also shared her coastal gothic poetry, paired with spectacular stormy beach photographs.

Thank you, Dr Penny Holliday, for your quick Twitter work! Make sure to look at her Twitter feed for more photos from the day.

We finished the entire day with a slightly obnoxious showing of my own creative work, an exhibition titled #AustralianBeachspace that works alongside my investigations into using Instagram as a research dissemination method. More information on that can be found here.

Of course, although the symposium is over – the hard work is just beginning! The day only reinforced my idea that this conversation needs to be continued in an academic publication. As such, our next step is preparing these works for a new life as an edited book collection. Stay tuned for more details!