Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Katherine Susannah Prichard, Coonardoo (1929)

Katherine Susannah Prichard’s novel Coonardoo (1929) is about the social interactions between blacks and whites in the Australian outback in the 1920s.  It speaks favourably about coexistence and interdependence while expressing concern about the fragility and precariousness of these mutually beneficial attitudes and situations.   The novel also celebrates what the author regards as the naturalistic behaviour and virtues of the tribal Aborigines while generating a concern about the vulnerability of Aboriginal cultural and spiritual life.  The novel also celebrates the pioneering spirit that still characterised Australian society at the time Prichard wrote while criticising the racism of whites and their exploitation of Aborigines, especially of Aboriginal women. 

The novel features the love, affection and sexual desire (which is mostly suppressed or repressed) in a romance that crosses the racial divide.  It involves an Aboriginal woman, Coonardoo, and a white station owner, Hugh.  The lovers must overcome the obstacles of Coonardoo’s tribal obligations to her Aboriginal husband and of Hugh’s adherence to a religious-inspired code of decency and fidelity.  The novel proposes that genuine love can exist between blacks and whites.  The novel is set at a time when the sexual exploitation of black women by white men was understood to be rife in the outback, yet the existence of genuine reciprocal love across the racial divide was a taboo subject that was rarely acknowledged.  In addition, by drawing attention to examples of racism and injustice, Prichard seemed to be hoping that her novel may encourage white Australians to refrain from these unfair sentiments and practices. 

Like other Australian writers of the time, Prichard was interested in contributing to the creation of a genuine Australian literature that was defined by its setting, subject matter, its use of the distinctive elements of the Australian version of the English language, and by its inclusion of appropriated vocabulary from Aboriginal tribal languages.  This approach saw Prichard pay great attention to the details of the Australian climate, flora, fauna, and the hardships of life in the outback.  She also paid attention to the Australian vernacular, Aboriginal languages and Aboriginal customs in a manner as if these elements merited attention in their own right regardless of whether they directly contributed to the development of the plot and major themes. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2021 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Coonardoo meaning, Coonardoo themes, Coonardoo analysis,  Coonardoo notes