Monday, July 23, 2012

Australian Culture in Fly Away Peter

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“Fly Away Peter” is a short novel written by David Malouf in 18, set in 114 in Queensland, Australia, where two young men, an Australian and an Englishman go to war and experience the horrors and misery of World War One. The book deals with various Australian cultures and identities which cover patriotism, war, and Australia-England relationships.

David Malouf brings his representation of patriotism in Australian culture to life in the early chapters of Fly Away Peter. His idea that Australia was a young but patriotic nation in 114, when the book was set, is seen when he introduces a minor character, a young girl in chapter 6, which in many ways, reflects the ordinary people within that society period. When she meets Jim in Brisbane in a shoe shop, she asks if Jim is going to join the army, and when Jim asks why, she passionately and patriotically says to Jim ‘If I was a man I’d want to be in it [War].’

At first, the strong patriotism of Australians seems to be shown in positive light in ‘Fly Away Peter’, however in depth it seems that Malouf tries to create a negative view. His representation of patriotism shows how it can influence a person’s life, and in this case it is the influence of Jim’s decision whether to join up to fight the war. The girl’s initial words, ‘I reckon you’ll be joining up’ is what plants ‘the seed of excitement’ in Jim. On page 6, “When he stepped out….. beginning of a stampede” this passage indicates that something is going to happen in Jim’s life. The patriotism that suddenly fills the streets of Brisbane affects Jim and persuades him to drop his passion for bird watching and go fight the war, which through the book the reader certainly knows will not suit his particular character. Malouf expresses negative concern and further enhances his view making references to the ‘slope’ and ‘stampede’ to indicate that Jim’s decision is not totally under his individual control.

Malouf makes an accurate representation of the sort of atmosphere surrounding 114-118, and through historical sources it can be confirmed that the nation was indeed proud, patriotic, and perhaps even too patriotic. Looking at the extract taken from the Museum of Victoria of a letter written by the Senior Mistress of Ballarat High School in 115, “Every Australian womans heart this week is filling with pride, with exultation, …… Boys, you have honoured our land…”, it is seen that the nation were so proud and joyous for those who went to represent Australia in the war. When ‘Fly Away Peter’ was published, 18, the world was in the middle of seeing the Iran-Iraq War (180-188) being played out over border disputes and religious and political differences. Not only this but Australia and the world had just been through the Second World War (17-145). Through his book, Malouf is able to show how patriotism of a nation could have so much influence over a person’s life, as to go to war and see the horrors and deaths caused by war. He is able to show a different perspective, a negative one, of the results of patriotism through the vivid imagery in his book, which intends to deter the people from entering another war at the time of the book publication.

Leading on from patriotism, the book revolves around the theme of war. It takes the Anzac culture of battles, young boys, and diseases in trenches, and weaves it into a different perspective of Australian Anzac culture. Malouf makes a graphic retelling of the war scenes through the eyes of two young men, Jim Sadler and Ashley Crowther, creating his own Anzac ‘myth’.

Malouf’s recreation of new Anzac images reflects this aspect of Australian culture in a negative way. In the opening of chapter 1, the author already starts painting graphical images through his descriptive use of words. “The air, even at knee height, was deadly.. breathless .. his head numb with noise… scrambled… crawling, moving on their knees, squirming at corpse level” The extracts from the passages highlights the danger, grueling conditions, and harsh environments of war. The language used is able to give the reader the sense that the characters are caught in the middle of destruction and chaos. Malouf brings a morbid atmosphere in this chapter by using words such as ‘bellies burst, swollen, corpses, unburied etc’, which enhances the readers imagination with a sickening gut feeling. Obviously, in this chapter, it is realized that it certainly does not reflect the Anzac battles as heroic or glorious, but rather as filthy and dangerous.

This negative representation of Australian’s war culture is indeed accurate, because referring to statistics of the Gallipoli war, a total of 870 Australian soldiers lost their lives which include those who died in action, died of wounds, and those who died of disease. Malouf clearly depicts all these aspects in his negative view of our war culture, through the examples of soldiers blown apart on the battlefields, and the disturbing descriptions of the dirty trenches. Through his portrayal of our war culture, his message becomes clear even as the world moves into the 1st century. Malouf tries to say ‘no’ to war, ‘no’ to retaliation, ‘no’ to violence, and looking at the example of September 11th’s twin tower tragedy, his message in ‘Fly Away Peter’ tells us to not engage in another war to retaliate, as this would lead once again to countless casualties.

Throughout ‘Fly Away Peter’, there is an underlying cultural aspect that Malouf deals with, which is the relationships and ties between Australia and its mother country England. The bond between Australia and England is shown through the two protagonists, Jim Sadler and Ashley Crowther. Na├»ve and innocent Jim Sadler, is a stereotypical working class Australian youth, while Ashley Crowther is the Cambridge educated English gentlemen. Within the early chapters, Malouf already establishes the social class difference between the Jim and Ashley; Ashley is not only well educated, but shows he has an interest for the finer things in life in that he is a highly talented pianist and has an affection for waistcoats and watch chains.

It is possible to say that Malouf subtly accompanies negative connotation with the representation of the Australian-English ties through the two characters. Ashley Crowther is the wealthy land owner of the bird sanctuary, and employs Jim to work for him as a bird observer. This suggests slightly that an Australian is inferior to an Englishman. Furthermore, from the quote “They had always had in mind a picture they had brought from ‘home’ � page 11”, Ashley Crowther constantly refers England as ‘home’, and viewing Australia as a nation stemmed from England. And as a result other older Crowthers regard the Australian bush as alien, and presumably inferior to the English countryside.

Historically, Malouf’s portrayal of Australians being a lower class is accurately represented. Australians originally were English convicts that were sentenced and sent to Australia as labourers. This is where the idea that Australians are a lower working class presumably comes from. This stereotype Australian idea has been present for a long time, and is evident in the society when the book was published (18). From a British satirical magazine ‘Private Eye’, there are examples from the Barry McKenzie comic strip, which ran for years (16-18), lampooning the worst traits of an Aussie on the loose in Europe. This clearly shows how a lot of Europeans view Australians the way that is depicted subtly in ‘Fly Away Peter’. Another example which further shows the way society viewed Australians in 18, is in an extract from a book called ‘The Typical Australian’ where it classifies Australians as barbaric, loud-mouthed, ignorant, uncultured, and hopelessly provincial. Although Malouf represents Australians in this way, both Jim and Ashley are able to work together and create a strong friendship despite different classes, which has intentions to show society that no matter what backgrounds people come from, people can work together if they share the same passion, and in this book it is the passion for birds.

In conclusion, David Malouf creates a new perspective of Australia’s involvement in the war and relations with Europe, which is portrayed negatively. He presents the opinion that Australia should not ever take part in another war, and depicts of horrors and misery of the war as a deterrent.

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