My long-delayed article, “Strange Lands: The Lexicon of Settler-Colonial Landscapes in Charles Fletcher Lummis’s and Arthur Groom’s Portrayals of the American West and the Australian Outback” has finally been published in Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment. Clicking on the journal cover image should take you to it. And here’s the introduction, to whet your appetite.
In 1892, the American journalist Charles Fletcher Lummis published a book titled Some Strange Corners of Our Country in which he described for his fellow citizens various distinctive aspects of the landscapes and cultures of the American Southwest (a term he is credited with coining). In this book, he argued for the protection of what struck him as fascinating and unusual landscape features while simultaneously promoting a nascent tourism industry in the region. In 1950, the Australian journalist Arthur Groom published I Saw a Strange Land: Journeys in Central Australia, a book that portrayed the landscape and people of Central Australia with a similar goal of describing a vast but little-known region to his fellow citizens and of encouraging protection of the landscape and promoting tourism. Lummis and Groom, though separated by some
45 years in time and 8,000 miles in geography, were both Anglophone settler colonists engaged in a process of incorporating arid and semi-arid regions into their respective nation’s imaginaries while simultaneously championing a sometimes contradictory and morally ambiguous effort to preserve the character of the natural landscape. In each case, the author wrote for a distant urban audience that resided in a significantly more mesic climate. Each writer is a key figure in the transformation of the perception of their respective nations’ arid zones from forbidding and desolate wastelands into popular and accessible tourist destinations.
Admittedly, the appearance of the word “strange” in their respective titles may seem a slender coincidence upon which to hang a hefty thesis; however, through the use of an ecocritically informed comparative settler-colonial analysis, I wish to argue that the parallels are not accidental but rather derive from the common response of the Anglophone settler-colonial imaginary’s encounter with arid landscapes, whether in the United States or in Australia.
Charles Fletcher Lummis, from Some Strange Corners of Our Country
“In the southern portions of the desert are many strange freaks of vegetable life—huge cacti sixty feet tall, and as large around as a barrel, with singular arms which make them look like gigantic candelabra; smaller but equally fantastic varieties of cactus, from the tall, lithe ocalilla [sic], or whipstock cactus, down to the tiny knob smaller than a china cup, whose innocent-looking needles give it a roseate halo. The blossoms of these strange vegetable pin-cushions (whose pins all have their points outward) are invariably brilliant and beautiful.”
Arthur Groom, from I Saw a Strange Land
“I wanted to see if Central Australia’s scenery was grand enough, the climatic conditions moderate enough, to warrant tourist development in any large degree; and I wanted to find out what degree of protection over the native men and women and the wilderness areas they roamed in, might be necessary to preserve intact the heart of our continent for the education and benefit of future generations.”