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Facing death on the Australian beach: examining fear and transcendence

journal contribution
posted on 2018-06-06, 00:00 authored by Elizabeth EllisonElizabeth Ellison
The Australian beach has often been considered in academic approaches as a place of binaries – focusing on either the mythic (Fiske, Hodge, and Turner 1987) or the ordinary (Morris 1998). An edge to the Australian continent, the liminal space of the beach is one that has received some attention. Using Edward Soja’s (1996) ‘Thirdspace’ concept allows the beach to challenge the space as a liminality and emerge as a more complex beachspace, both mythic and ordinary and more all at once. The Australian beach is a place of significant beauty, while simultaneously a place of risk and danger. Visitors to the space are immediately warned to only swim between the flags, and many beaches are patrolled for the majority of the day all throughout the year. Technology has been employed to identify risk despite the inherent unpredictability of the beach (such as shark sighting technology, weather predictions, and wave cameras), with an aim to provide a safe, everyday space available to all Australians to use. The potential risks of accidental death are high on the beach; however, many representations of death tend to include homicide or suicide. ‘Facing death’ is interested in examining how Australian writers of the beach portray death. Classic texts like Nevil Shute’s On the Beach (1957) are discussed alongside more contemporary texts, including Fiona Capp’s Night Surfing (1996), Tim Winton’s Dirt Music (2001), and Romy Ash’s Floundering (2012). These writers portray death as an inevitability or a continual threat. Films such as Newcastle (2008) represent accidental death in a tight knit local community; in comparison Blackrock (1997) deals with both murder and suicide. This paper illustrates how examining the beach as a more complex space by interrogating Australian writing on the subject allows for an interesting understanding of how death is represented on the Australian beach.



special issue 45

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TEXT: Journal of Writing and Writing Programs