The Motif of Strangeness in David Malouf's Works: Remembering Babylon

Jörg Heinke, University of Kiel, Germany

In Remembering Babylon we meet a savage, Gemmy, who comes to a white settlement in mid-19th century Queensland. He does it voluntarily because in his 'first' life he was a boy from England having been cast overboard by a ship crew just off the Australian shore, sixteen years before his arrival at the settlement. During that time he lived with Aborigines, learned their language(s) and customs. Despite his total assimilation, all the time there were still unresolved glimpses of memories from the past in his head which tended to appear from time to time.

After he was 'found' by eleven-year-old Lachlan Beattie and his cousins Janet and Meg McIvor he is taken in by the children's parents to stay with them. Among most of the settlers his presence seems to disturb their way of living and nourishes fear of possible attacks by blacks on the settlement. These threats are not mentioned openly because nobody wants to accuse Gemmy of being a spy. On the contrary, the secret suspicions manage to split the group of settlers after a while. Gemmy is attacked twice and after his removal from the settlement to the beekeeper Mrs. Hutchence he finally leaves the whites altogether.

During his stay Gemmy does not only evoke suspicion but also manages to change some people's attitudes towards the environment and towards life. His 'child-like' perception of the world opens the eyes of Jock McIvor, the minister Mr. Frazer and Lachlan Beattie so that they have a closer look at nature and are able to better appreciate what it has to offer. Janet McIvor has a special incident which occurs alone to her when being covered all over with bees. She suddenly hears and feels the animals 'single mind'. She feels a sort of belonging to them, belonging to nature, in which she moves without contact to the artificial rules of society. This incident brings her closer to her self and prepares her for her later life as a beekeeper.

This document has been adapted by kind permission of the author from the English summary of "The Phenomenon of the Stranger in David Malouf's An Imaginary Life, Remembering Babylon and The Conversations at Curlow Creek," his University of Kiel Master's thesis. You can contact Jörg Heinke at or visit his personal home page.

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