Behind the Mountain

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

At the age of twenty, Conrad left Tasmania for the literary world of Oxford, London, and New York. With BEHIND THE MOUNTAIN, he has returned to the remote island that is his birthplace. Conrad points out how Tasmania seems to be a little Australia. It is a speck at the bottom of the world and it seems unreal that anyone actually comes from there. Tasmania was originally called Van Dieman’s Land, but when the colonists wished to wash clean the island’s violent past, they changed the name to Tasmania.

Conrad provides an overview of Tasmania’s brutal history, relating how the aborigines were exterminated, and how women and the land were raped. Tasmania became like the American West: a place to be tamed at any cost. Like the West, too, it is a place of great beauty, at once inviting and inhospitable. The one landmark that rises out of Conrad’s childhood is Mount Wellington. It represented a great barrier when he was young. Everything beyond it was the vast unknown.

On this return journey, it was necessary to get beyond Mount Wellington both literally and symbolically. Conrad travels to the rain forests, the wild rivers, the mining areas, and ghost towns. He even visits a convict museum that is more grisly than he could have imagined. Conrad’s prose is powerful and full of metaphors. Tasmania itself as metaphor invokes bitter irony--an exotic island that has been made habitable by being ravaged. Conrad understands that his home will go with him everywhere; in BEHIND THE MOUNTAIN, he comes to terms with what it means to be from Tasmania.