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Shilton, L 2016, 'Giving voice to silence: Uncovering Bertha Strehlow's voice through poetry', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright L Shilton 2016


‘Giving voice to silence: Uncovering Bertha Strehlow’s voice through poetry’ documents and explores issues of feminism, race relations and marriage in the postcolonial experience of Central Australia in the years between the first and second world wars. The thesis consists of an original creative work and accompanying exegesis. Giving voice to silence is a verse novel exploring the story of the historical figure Bertha Strehlow, who lived in Central Australia from 1936–1942. The novel focuses particular attention on the camel trek she took with her husband in 1936 when she came close to death following a miscarriage.

The exegesis ‘Uncovering Bertha Strehlow’s voice through poetry’, is presented in two parts: History and background explores Bertha Strehlow’s story by providing an insight into her marriage and her role in the development of her husband’s career, set against the political, historical and cultural backdrop of Central Australia. Drawing on Deleuze’s concept of the ‘two books’ (1997, p. 72), these chapters also explore the complexities of fictionalising the story of an historical figure. Bertha’s story and my own story are intertwined in place. This is examined in a chapter on the creative practice of journalling.

Poetry, poetics and the verse novel interrogates the poetry of the verse novel as a genre with reference to the success of the genre in providing biographical and historical accounts. By drawing on biographical verse novels such as The Darwin Poems (Ballou, 2010), Jane, Lady Franklin (Eberhard, 2004) and What a piece of work (Porter,1999), this section examines the development of narrative, character and voice in poetry, providing an in-depth critique of the genre to reveal its effectiveness as a vehicle for providing voice to Bertha Strehlow.

Though based on historical events, the use of fiction in the poetry of Giving voice to silence provides a mediated voice for Bertha, around whom there has been a significant silence in the historical dialogue. This is despite the profound contribution she made to the work of her husband, prominent linguist and anthropologist, TGH (Ted) Strehlow.