The Motif of Strangeness in David Malouf's Works: Conversations at Curlow Creek

Jörg Heinke, University of Kiel, Germany

Strangeness and the strange again serves as a motif in The Conversations at Curlow Creek. Michael Adair, educated and an army officer, finds himself in a foreign country as the leader of a group of troopers who have to carry out the execution of Daniel Carney, a bushranger. Both, Carney and Adair, were born in Ireland and spent most of their lives in their mother country. For both of the protagonists this new country, Australia, is a place which goes beyond either experience. Seen as an enemy or -- in Carney case -- as a punishment the place where they meet is so remote from a settlement that the distances beyond Curlow Creek create a peculiar intimacy between them.

And as such develops their personal relation despite the fact that one is the convicted and the other one the executioner. For both, life seems to have is insoluble mysteries though each on a different level. Strange enough that Daniel Carney concerns seem to be on the one hand simpler -- being able to survive somehow -- but on the other hand he asks Adair the questions of universal significance. Carney's earnest questions about forgiveness, God, the law of man and so are the starting point for Adair to reflect upon his life. The question of Carney somehow seem to show Adair the red thread with which his life is woven and which before was for him not perceived. His thoughts about his won relationship to his foster brother and to his early love with the combination of Carney's simple, universal questions lead him to an image of himself in which he sees his own personality not so much in a dependency from others but rather a mind and person of his own. In the end he can accept himself with all his weaknesses and faults, longings, and feelings.

For Carney it seems to be important in the end that his life and all the doubts he has about it is not a result of his deficits but a general trait in men. He learns that though his counterpart is an educated and learned man in a socially accepted rank, not even he is sure about those thing in life which he represents and stands for.

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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