Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

David Malouf clearly intends that Harland should stand as a personification of his country’s artistic and cultural growth from meager beginnings. It is a growth that is both based on, and divergent from, its roots in European cultural history. Malouf establishes this opposition at the very beginning of the novel when he describes the plot of land that the Harlands lost: “Named like so much else in Australia for a place on the far side of the globe that its finders meant to honour and were piously homesick for, Killarney bears no resemblance to its Irish original.” Harland advances beyond this slavish cultural attachment by an art that carves out a “half acre” of native life and a spirit that augments his country’s meager cultural heritage.

Harland’s Half Acre provides a glimpse of the social history of Australia during this century. It is regularly punctuated by powerful events in Australian and world politics and society. The Great Depression propels Harland into a life on the road. World War II introduces him to Knack, the intellectual Polish antiquarian and refugee from Nazism who expresses for Harland both the overwhelming suffering and superior cultural wealth of Europe. With the increasing affluence in Australian society in the 1970’s, Harland’s paintings appeal to investors as tax shelters, and his name becomes fashionable.

The events in Australian and global twentieth century history are primarily a backdrop,...

(The entire section is 469 words.)