Against a broad sweep of Australian twentieth century history, Frank Harland, an artist, lives a life that is emblematic of that country’s evolving social identity, even though he remains an outsider, set apart by his calling.
Harland lives on the fringes of society but seeks an artistic identity rooted in society—more specifically, in his sense of family. A family-tied, worldly undertaking symbolizes that spiritual pursuit: From the early decades of the century until his death in the 1980’s, Harland quietly buys up the farmland that had been worked by his forebears until, during the nineteenth century, it was lost at a card table. That loss dispossessed those ancestors and, in a sense, all the Harlands who came after.
Only occasionally, as Harland’s renown increases, does the reader hear of his land purchases. They betoken his gradual acquisition of a spiritual, artistic landscape. From youth, Harland has endowed his ancestry with a modest kind of mythical quality, and by the time he dies, he has supplemented this with a personal artistic mythology that he has constructed through his life and work.
Harland lives most of his life on the road, gathering impressions of Southern Queensland. Then, approaching death, he is content to inhabit a series of rough-hewn enclosures on an almost uninhabited island. Yet the half acre of the title does not refer specifically to the small plot of sheltered land of his last days, which is...
(The entire section is 524 words.)