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Australian Coastal Gothic emerges from the shadows

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Words
Sharlene King
Published
23 July 2015
While she won’t be wearing a cape or even black eyeliner, Southern Cross University Masters student Christine Tondorf will be speaking Gothic when she flies to Canada to present at an international Gothic conference.

Christine will present a paper on Australian Coastal Gothic, entitled ‘Gothic migrates to Aussie surf beaches’, at the 12th biennial conference of the International Gothic Association, July 29 to August 1, in Vancouver.

The conference theme is ‘Gothic migrations’.

“Gothic is preoccupied with death, personal turmoil, a sense of foreboding, sexual perversity, grotesque characters and buried secrets,” Christine said.

“Most Australian Gothic stories are set in the bush or outback, think Wolf Creek, Wake in Fright, Picnic at Hanging Rock, even Mad Max.”

“It fitted the Anglo colonial narrative to cast the interior as wild, strange, even evil; in need of subduing and taming. The land is also a haunted space because the settlers failed to acknowledge the Indigenous population’s ownership.”

Since beginning work on a Master of Arts in the School of Arts and Social Sciences, Christine has discovered a coastal Gothic genre in Australia that includes books by Tim Winton, Robert Drewe, Peter Temple, Richard Flanagan and Favel Parrett, and films such as Storm Boy, Blackrock and Newcastle.

“The key characters are men in turmoil and the water acts as a buffer from others. The beach works as both a physical and moral boundary,” Christine said.

As part of her Masters by research degree, Christine is writing a Gothic mystery set on the NSW North Coast.

Christine said the conference's Gothic migrations theme eminently suited her theory on Australian coastal Gothic.

“The coast is the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde of locations. Troubled men retreat to the beach to surf and fish. They go to the coast for healing and restoration,” she said.

“But the coast can be a menacing location, particularly at night, and in many coastal stories there are grotesque and disturbed characters such as the paedophiles in Peter Temple’s Broken Shore and the murderous alcoholic father in Favel Parrett’s Past the Shallows.

“There is also a sense of personal turmoil. In Tim Winton’s book Breath the main character is as trapped as a Gothic heroine in a haunted castle even though he’s always surfing. He is trapped by his addiction to risk and becomes increasingly reckless in the surf and life.”

Breath is currently being made into a feature film by The Mentalists actor Simon Baker, who comes from Ballina.

“I believe the restorative power of the beach deters many Australians from seeing these brooding coastal stories as Gothic, but I’m determined to claim them for the genre,” Christine said.

Christine will present her paper on the first day of the conference, Wednesday July 29, in a session called ‘At the Gothic Margins: Coasts and Beaches’.

The conference features the superstars of Gothic academia: Catherine Spooner, who has examined SCU PhD students, and Marie Mulvey-Roberts whose books are studied by SCU writing undergraduates.

Christine has been a finalist in two North Coast writing competitions. Her work is contributing to the formation of a regional Gothic literature, along with other local writers, and SCU student and graduate Jessie Cole and Tessa Chudy (respectively).

Photo: Christine Tondorf (credit: Jeremy Bannister).

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