Imagined Landscapes: Geovisualizing Australian Spatial Narratives

Imagined Landscapes: Geovisualizing Australian Spatial Narratives


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Imagined Landscapes teams geocritical analysis with digital visualization techniques to map and interrogate films, novels, and plays in which space and place figure prominently. Drawing upon A Cultural Atlas of Australia, a database-driven interactive digital map that can be used to identify patterns of representation in Australia's cultural landscape, the book presents an integrated perspective on the translation of space across narrative forms and pioneers new ways of seeing and understanding landscape. It offers fresh insights on cultural topography and spatial history by examining the technical and conceptual challenges of georeferencing fictional and fictionalized places in narratives. Among the items discussed are Wake in Fright, a novel by Kenneth Cook, adapted iconically to the screen and recently onto the stage; the Australian North as a mythic space; spatial and temporal narrative shifts in retellings of the story of Alexander Pearce, a convict who gained notoriety for resorting to cannibalism after escaping from a remote Tasmanian penal colony; travel narratives and road movies set in Western Australia; and the challenges and spatial politics of mapping spaces for which there are no coordinates.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253018458
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 12/21/2015
Series: The Spatial Humanities
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,099,058
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Jane Stadler is Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies in the School of Communication and Arts at the University of Queensland, Australia.

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Imagined Landscapes

Geovisualizing Australian Spatial Narratives

By Jane Stadler, Peta Mitchell, Stephen Carleton

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2016 Jane Stadler, Peta Mitchell, and Stephen Carleton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-01849-6



Adaptation and Narrative Geography

The formal characteristics of films, novels, and plays privilege varied expressions of imaginative geography and these cultural narratives, we argue, not only mediate and represent space, place, and location but are themselves mediated representational spaces. Furthermore, films, novels, and plays also open themselves up to further remediation in the form of cross-media adaptation or, to push the point further, in the form of geovisualization and the spatial analysis it enables. Adaptation studies is an exciting, dynamic, and rapidly developing interdisciplinary field, and yet, like narrative theory, it has not fully or directly accounted for the question of space. Adaptation studies has been more concerned with questions of fidelity (or the validity of those questions), lines of influence, and transmediality and with the translation of space, place, and landscape between narrative forms being rarely addressed.

In compiling and constructing our Cultural Atlas of Australia, we encountered many texts in which the geographical setting of the narrative was modified — to greater or lesser degrees — across adaptations. For instance, John Curran's 1998 film adaptation of Andrew McGahan's cult "grunge" novel, Praise (1992), is filmed in Sydney rather than in Brisbane — the city in which the novel is set and with which it is intimately connected. Although McGahan wrote the screenplay for Curran's adaptation, and although the narrative setting of the film version remains, broadly speaking, the same (that is, urban Australia in the early 1990s), the choice of filming location means that the adaptation loses some of the novel's locational and regional specificity — namely, its focus on the then low-rent, inner-city Brisbane suburbs of New Farm and Fortitude Valley. A more dramatic example is Scott Hicks's The Boys Are Back (2009), a film adaptation of British journalist Simon Carr's memoir about his experiences raising his sons in New Zealand following the death of his wife. Hicks's adaptation is neither set nor filmed in New Zealand; instead, it transplants the entire narrative to Australia, from Hawke's Bay on the east coast of New Zealand's north island to Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, and its environs — over 2000 miles (3219 km.) and another country away. Film adaptations may also, of course, provide a more heightened sense of location, simply by virtue of the fact they must be filmed somewhere, if they are being filmed on location, and this is particularly the case when the narrative setting of the adapted text is fictional, ambiguous, or only loosely sketched (as in the case of George T. Miller's 1982 film adaptation of A. B. "Banjo" Paterson's 1890 poem "The Man from Snowy River"). Stage adaptations are more likely, as we will see in the case study presented here, to reduce the geographical specificity of the original text while promoting a stronger sense of symbolic or mythic space. A case in point is Stephan Elliott's 2006 stage adaptation of his highly successful film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), which will be further analyzed in chapter 5. The film follows a busload of drag queens as they travel from Sydney to Alice Springs, visiting Broken Hill, Coober Pedy, the Painted Desert at Oodnadatta, and Kings Canyon en route. In Elliott's stage adaptation, the bus itself, rather than the locations it travels to, becomes by necessity the primary backdrop and the site for much of the production's action.

In order to investigate in greater depth these questions of remediation and spatial adaptation and the mapping challenges they present, we focus in this chapter on a single, central case study. This text — Wake in Fright — is a rare and fascinating case study for Australian narrative cartography in that it exists in multiple adaptations. The original novel, written by Australian journalist-turned-author Kenneth Cook and first published in 1961, was adapted as a cult classic (and only recently rediscovered) Australian New Wave film by Canadian director Ted Kotcheff in 1971. In 2010, it was further adapted as a stage play by Bob Pavlich. Both the film and stage adaptations are strikingly faithful to Cook's novel, but each constructs a particular mediated imaginative geography of the Australian interior, one that — particularly in the case of Kotcheff's film adaptation — continues to shape perceptions of Australian space both at home and abroad. Certainly in the Australian context, there is only a handful of narratives that exist on the page, on the screen, and on the stage. Exploring a case study such as this, we argue, allows an investigation of the ways in which representations of space and place are adapted, translated, and reimagined across media forms, and how these feed into the coproduction of fictive and physical geography.


Before we approach Wake in Fright as a case study for remediated geographies, however, we must explain what we mean by such a term. The term remediation stems from the work of Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, who describe the dynamics of media (and particularly digital media) as a process of mediation and remediation. Remediation, as Bolter and Grusin put it, is "integral" to the functioning of media, which "are continually commenting on, reproducing, and replacing each other"; indeed, they maintain, the "goal of remediation is to refashion or rehabilitate other media" (55–56). Remediation, moreover, extends beyond the mediated and remediated text and into the realm of reality, for "because all mediations are both real and mediations of the real, remediation can also be understood as a process of reforming reality as well" (56). The concept of remediation has been taken up in adaptation studies notably by Irina O. Rajewsky, who explores it as a "particular type of intermedial relationship, and consequently as a subcategory of intermediality in the broad sense" (64). Intermediality, according to Rajewsky, "designates those configurations which have to do with a crossing of borders between media, and which thereby can be differentiated from intramedial phenomena as well as from transmedial phenomena (i.e., the appearance of a certain motif, aesthetic, or discourse across a variety of different media)" (46). Eckart Voigts-Virchow has also drawn attention to remediation's potential within adaptation studies, arguing that "the house of adaptation has been opened up via a tendency called media convergence," citing Bolter and Grusin's term as an important one for thinking about "the adaptive processes involved in particular transitions to digital media" (139). Finally, Linda Hutcheon also invokes Bolter and Grusin's term when she describes "virtual environments, videogames (played on any platform), or even theme-park rides" as "adaptations or 'remediations'" of other mediated narratives (12–13).

In this chapter, we wish to consider the adaptation of space across narrative forms as a process of remediation that may then be taken one step further via the remediation of geovisualization. Adaptation studies has had little to say directly on the topic of adapting space. In her Theory of Adaptation, Hutcheon addresses the spatiality of narrative forms when she outlines the three fundamental "modes of engagement — telling, showing, and interacting with stories" (27). Hutcheon continues:

These ways of engaging with stories do not, of course, ever take place in a vacuum. We engage in time and space, within a particular society and a general culture. The contexts of creation and reception are material, public, and economic as much as they are cultural, personal, and aesthetic. This explains why, even in today's globalized world, major shifts in a story's context — that is, for example, in a national setting or time period — can change radically how the transposed story is interpreted, ideologically and literally. The adaptation of a novel or short story to the (spoken) dramatic stage also involves the visual dimension, as well as the verbal; with that added dimension come audience expectations not only about voice but, as in dance, also about appearance, as we move from the imagined and visualized to the directly perceived. (28)

Yet, as Hutcheon later remarks, the physical stage also has "limitations" that "add restrictions on the possible action and characterization." Pointing to Salman Rushdie's theatrical co-adaptation of his novel Midnight's Children as an example, Hutcheon notes that fans of the novel expressed disappointment in the adaptation "for the play's manner was as stylized and spare as the novel's was exuberant and complicated" (42). The play did attempt to mitigate this by incorporating "cinematic techniques," including "a large diagonally split movie screen at the back to present both historical scenes and magic realist ones," leading Hutcheon to suggest that this is "one of the major advantages films have over stage adaptations of novels: the use of a multitrack medium that, with the aid of the mediating camera, can both direct and expand the possibilities of perception" (42–43). As Hutcheon explains,

More often we are told that the camera limits what we can see, eliminating the action on the periphery that might have caught our attention when watching a play on stage. Not only is the kind of attention and focus different in a theatrical production but plays also have different conventions than films or television shows. They have a different grammar: cinema's various shots, their linking and editing, have no parallel in a stage play. Film has its own "form-language," to use Béla Balázs' term. (43)

Although Hutcheon does not speak directly to the question of adapting space, her brief analysis of formal affordances and constraints is highly relevant to approaching that question. This is not to say that no research exists on the spaces and spatialities of novels, films, and plays — treated separately, there has been a great deal written on the spatialities of these narrative forms. In literary studies, Joseph Frank's three-part essay "Spatial Form in Modern Literature" (1945) is a key early work, along with Maurice Blanchot's Space of Literature (L'espace littéraire, 1955), Ricardo Gullón's "On Space in the Novel" (1975), and W. J. T. Mitchell's "Spatial Form in Literature: Toward a General Theory" (1980). In film studies, the mid-1970s saw several attempts to theorize cinematic space (see Stephen Heath's "Narrative Space," David Bordwell's "Camera Movement and Cinematic Space," and Edward Branigan's "The Spectator and the Film Space," for instance). In theater studies, research by McAuley and Tompkins has established space and spatiality as central concerns within the discipline, and McAuley, in particular, has sought to produce a systematic "taxonomy of spatial function in the theatre" (Space 25). And yet, once more we see that there has been no significant study that has sought to explore, in a comparative way, the mediated spaces and spatialities of these narrative forms. Neither has there been any study devoted to the ways in which narrative space might be translated across these forms in the process of adaptation.

Our aim in what follows is not to provide an exhaustive transmedial overview of narrative space. Neither is it to formulate a comprehensive theory of spatial adaptation. Rather, it is to begin to work through some of the questions posed by a particular text whose narrative geography has been mediated and remediated multiple times.


Cook's novel opens with a curse: "May you dream of the Devil and wake in fright." And for the novel's schoolteacher protagonist, John Grant, it all goes downhill from there. Wake in Fright tells the story of Grant's spectacular downfall as he attempts to return home to Sydney for the Christmas holidays from his regional teaching post in the far west of New South Wales. In describing Grant's thwarted attempts to escape "Bundanyabba" (a mining town based on Broken Hill), Cook constructs an imaginative geography of the region, one that presents the Australian interior as a space whose aggressive masculinity and barely held in check violence are anathema to Grant's urban sensibilities. The story of Wake in Fright — in all its iterations and adaptations — is the same. Young and urbane, though naïve, schoolteacher John Grant, who hails from Sydney but who is bonded to teach in the tiny Outback town of Tiboonda, has finished his teaching for the year and is preparing to return to the east coast for the Christmas holidays. In order to catch a plane to Sydney, he has to travel by train to the mining town of Bundanyabba and spend a night there. On his one night in town he is introduced to the gambling game of two-up by a local policeman, Jock Crawford, who also buys him multiple rounds of beer. After a brief run of good fortune at the two-up school, Grant loses all of his money and has to try to find another way out of Bundanyabba, which is affectionately known to locals as "The Yabba." In the process, Grant ends up losing more than his savings as he is drawn into the inescapable violence and degradation that lies just below the surface of this frontier region.

As in many other national literatures, the frontier — particularly in the guise of the Outback or the bush — has been a dominant trope in Australian cultural narratives, one that, as Richard Davis puts it "underl[ies] the production of national identity" (7). According to Davis, "while the frontier trope carries not only the freight of historical encounters, it also reveals the postures of nationhood that inform inter-cultural relation ships and that shape institutions and ideas" (7). And as Turner has noted, in Australian narrative fiction, the frontier zones of the bush or the Outback are presented as the "authentic location for the distinctive Australian experience" (26). These frontier narratives also tend to bring to the fore what Robyn McCallum has called a "primary opposition" between the bush and the city, between nature and culture, that has "remained central to established versions of [Australian] nationalism." This is, as McCallum puts it, a "romantic" construction in which "nature (and the bush)" are traditionally "valorized," and presented as "the site upon which an authentic selfhood, and hence an authentic national identity, is formed" (109). While we examine other examples of the nation's frontier spaces in chapters 2 ("The North") and 4 ("The West"), perhaps the most recent, and most salient, example of the pervasiveness of this romanticized and mythologized portrayal of Australian Outback space is Baz Luhrmann's 2008 film, Australia. In it, the female protagonist, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), is figuratively born again through her encounter with the remote Kimberley region of northern Australia. As the film's title suggests, this region (which accounts for less than 6 percent of the country's land mass and is home to 0.2 percent of its population) in turn operates as a synecdoche for the country more broadly as well as embodying a quintessential sense of Australianness. Luhrmann's film at once exploits, gives sustenance to, and parodies this cliché of the therapeutic and national-identity-forming capabilities of the Outback.

In Wake in Fright, however, the Outback plays a more forbidding, foreclosing role, and all three versions of the text paint the Australian interior as a hellish and brutish place, the stuff of nightmares and a place where a sense of rational selfhood is undone. The remote western townships of the interior, as Cook describes them in the novel, have "few of the amenities of civilization":

There is no sewerage, there are no hospitals, rarely a doctor; the food is dreary and flavourless from long carrying, the water is bad; electricity is for the few who can afford their own plant, roads are mostly non-existent; there are no theatres, no picture shows and few dance halls; and the people are saved from stark insanity by the one strong principle of progress that is ingrained for a thousand miles east, north, south and west of the Dead Heart — the beer is always cold. (9)


Excerpted from Imagined Landscapes by Jane Stadler, Peta Mitchell, Stephen Carleton. Copyright © 2016 Jane Stadler, Peta Mitchell, and Stephen Carleton. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Geocriticism's Disciplinary Boundaries
1. Remediating Space: Adaptation and Narrative Geography
2. Cultural Topography and Mythic Space: Australia's North as Gothic Space
3. Spatial History: Mapping Narrative Perceptions of Place over Time
4. Mobility and Travel Narratives: Geovisualizing the Cultural Politics of Belonging to the Land
5. Terra Incognita: Mapping the Uncertain and the Unknown

What People are Saying About This

Texas State University - Robert T. Tally

It will likely be the indispensable touchstone for any future work in these areas with respect to Australian cultural studies.

Concordia University - Sébastien Caquard

Definitely original in its approach, since it combines a conceptual approach with a more applied one. The book is a serious contribution to the field of mapping spatial narratives and to a better understanding of the production and spatial structure of fictional places.

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