gelder and weaver on the colonial australian character
The business of colonization is often understood in terms of global frameworks, large-scale movements and top-down, ‘abstract’ perspectives; in which case, the turn to minor characters in the colonized world might seem almost like an act of bad faith. It runs the risk of breaking open stable, overarching categories, like the ‘white man’ – which, as minor characters are introduced, sometimes struggles to retain its ascendancy. This essay pursues the idea of minor settler types in colonial Australia as points of departure or differentiation from the macro-narratives of colonial discourse. Sometimes they do consolidate into something dominant, but they can also disassemble into peripheral identities that the nation might continue to invest in or want to leave behind, depending on the case. The narratives they inhabit are therefore especially important, throwing types together, leading them in different, sometimes contradictory, directions, juxtaposing them with one another. This essay will look at colonial investments in a range of major and minor character types, including the Coming Australian, the rouseabout, the Melbourne dandy, the ‘night auctioneer’, the Sydney pieman and the ‘inspector of nuisances’. It introduces a Sydney-based magazine called Heads of the People (1847–8), which immediately raised – and did not resolve – the problem of who is central and who is peripheral to the colonial economy. The magazine self-consciously drew minor character types back into public life, recognizing that colonial literature – like the colonial economy itself – was continually assembled, and disassembled, by the narratives these figures inhabited.
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