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Australian and New Zealand Literatures  
 
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In the past two decades Australia has come to occupy a leading place in gay and lesbian literature, and New Zealand has recently produced some significant gay and lesbian texts.

Until the late twentieth century, homosexuality was forbidden throughout the Pacific colonies of Britain. Nonetheless, the Australian penal colonies and the whaling and sealing crews around New Zealand's shores encouraged the practice, as did the exclusive "public" (that is, private) school, the army, the university sports team, and other nation-building institutions within which homosexuality could have a fugitive existence.

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The Beginnings of Gay Male Literature in Australia

A discreet literature used these contexts to tell stories in which homosexuality occupied subtextual levels. Although the desires they treated could only be suggested, the stories may have somewhat reassured those who could identify the impulses they recorded, while readers who wished to could ignore any sexual resonance.

Early Novels: The Public School and the Military

Some Australian novels now have the status of homosexual classics. Kenneth "Seaforth" Mackenzie's The Young Desire It (1937) is a public school story. Mr. Penworth, a teacher fresh from Oxford, becomes infatuated with the adolescent Charles and attempts to seduce him. Charles responds to Penworth's kind attentions but draws away as he realizes what Penworth really wants of him. He falls in love with a girl he meets near his mother's farm and, faced with a choice, rejects Penworth for Margaret.

This is a significant novel for the way it reveals gaps between sex and gender. Within the larger society, Penworth is masculine in gender as well as male in sex, adding the schoolmaster's authority to his influence over Charles; however, his Englishness, youthfulness, and profession of the Classics, modify this masculinity.

Charles, on the other hand, feminized by masters and students as a "pretty" boy, falls in love with a female and brings gender in line with sex. It seems anachronistic, given the explicitness of scenes between Penworth and Charles, that The Young Desire It won an Australian award, particularly since Mackenzie treats Penworth with sympathy. Perhaps readers, well aware of the endemic in elite schools, applauded Charles's unequivocal choice of Margaret over Penworth.

Besides schoolyard and institutional dormitory, the army is a milieu that has permitted limited expression of homosexual bonds within its society. Randolph Stow's The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea (1965) testifies to this. Rick Maplestead, blond inheritor of wealthy grazier blood, is the potential homosexual of this novel. Leaving to fight in Southeast Asia in 1941, he seems "normal": handsome, physically admirable, brave.

But through the eyes of his young cousin Rob, who has worshipped him, the reader watches Rick's masculinity disintegrate. Imprisoned in Japanese camps, he establishes tender bonds with his fellow prisoners, especially with working-class Hughie. In fact, as war ends, Rick and Hughie seem to plan their return as a "couple."

Set adrift when Hughie marries into suburban normality, Rick finds a girlfriend but cannot bring himself to marry. "I wish I could go with you," he tells Hughie; the latter's response is, "boys grow up, and they marry girls." Whether Rick will seek homosexual satisfactions is not clear, but the novel has destabilized the myth of normative heterosexuality.

As in The Young Desire It, sex-gender alignment is shaken, given Stow's exposure of vulnerability in the ideally masculinized Rick and the heterosexual disillusionment of his cousin.

The private school and the army have continued to provide opportunities for the exploration of homosexual nuances within all-male institutions. Hal Porter's story "The Dream" (1962) adds collective resonance to the situation Mackenzie dealt with, while also sexualizing it in surrealistic tones.

As for homosexuality in the army, in Fairyland (1990) Sumner Locke Elliott presents the consummation of the love between an Australian officer and a private in terms that are serious and lyrical.

Robert Dessaix's recent Australian Gay and Lesbian Writing: An Anthology (1993) includes these two items in its generous selection.

Unspoken Love Between Men

Another novel, David Malouf's Johnno (1975), elegizes the unspoken love between two men during the 1950s and 1960s, when strong male-male ties could find alibis that permitted the limited exchange of devotion. As Dante looks back on his relationship with Johnno, after the latter's death, he recognizes how he refused to acknowledge the more-than-emotional investments of the friendship.

Where he once characterized Johnno as a heterosexual rebel, Dante now sees him as dependently in love with him. Acknowledging his own sexual confusions, and realizing that he will not marry, he comes to see his affiliations with the dead Johnno in reconstructing their enigmatic relationship.

In shock, he rereads one of Johnno's letters: "I've spent years writing letters to you and you never answer, even when you write back. I've loved you--and you've never given a fuck for me, except as a character in one of your funny stories. Now for Christ sake write to me!" But Dante had never responded to this plea.

David Malouf has written little explicitly gay fiction, but exploration of unspoken bonds between men animates much of his fiction and poetry, including his war novel The Great World (1990).

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David Malouf (above) elegizes the unspoken love between two men during the 1950s in Johnno (1975).
  
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