The Poetics of Travel: Rodney Hall’s The Lonely Traveller by Night (excerpt)

April 25, 2012

The Poetics of Travel: Rodney Hall’s The Lonely Traveller by Night (excerpt)

Dr Ian Dixon

Writer and theorist E. M. Forster (1984) insists that the traveller imbibes a quality of the land they visit. Similarly, Rodney Hall’s deep interest in travel and its effect on the individual mind are richly apparent in The Lonely Traveller by Night (1996). In Lonely Traveller, Hall tells the story of the internal and external journeys of Isabella Manin and Yuramiru, two unlikely travellers, who accidentally intersect in Venice, Italy in 1667.

The book is the second instalment of Australia’s only septalogy of novels and represents a versatile use of physical journey as metaphor for his characters’ internal transformation. Hall utilises both poetry and musicality in his language, which heightens the reader’s experience both through the literature and across the foreign terrain he depicts. This includes a telepathically projected expedition across Australia before its official (British) discovery. I will analyse some of the poetic effects and devices utilised in Hall’s art concentrating on Lonely Traveller.

Despite Hall’s oeuvre warranting serious analysis, there has not been enough secondary literature devoted to him. Of those studies written, only two give fitting credence to the excellence of Hall’s craft. Firstly, Paul Genoni’s ‘Rodney Hall: Exploring the Land in the Mind’ in Subverting the Empire: Explorers and Exploration in Australian Fiction’ provides insightful analysis. Genoni gives a detailed illustration of mapmaking and its connection to imperialistic thought in Australia as depicted in Hall’s novel The Second Bridegroom (1991). Secondly, David Tacey’s ‘Rodney Hall: Old, New, Black and White Dreamings’ in Edge of the Sacred: Transformation in Australia (1995) gives a short but insightful Jungian analysis of his work. This essay also draws on personal communications I have made with Rodney Hall during a decade of our close professional association. This includes travel in its own right: a three-month trip around Europe revisiting the salient places Hall visited in his three-year walk around Europe as a 22 year old in the 1950s. I will draw upon these sources whilst analysing Lonely Traveller.

As a seasoned traveller, Hall understands the beauty and terror of foreign lands from an experiential standpoint. This is where his knowledge and his love of travel amalgamate. Hall’s writing visits a maze of countries and examines the mythologies contained within them. His ability to encapsulate the inner experience of the traveller in poetic metaphor leads him to the deeper perceptions of Lonely Traveller (Chekhov in Leonard, 1977).

Lonely Traveller is part of a septalogy of novels merging themes and sharing characters and spans (in narrative chronology) from Terra Incognita (1996) set in the seventeenth century to The Day We Had Hitler Home (2000) set in 1917. The seven novels consider Australia’s mythical place in European history. The first of the seven reveals Australia’s discovery as an idea for an opera in the 17th century. The last sees Europe reinvented as a documentary film through the eyes of a young Australian.

Lonely Traveller is the second book of the trilogy The Island in the Mind (1996) after Terra Incognita. Its title is taken from the sorceress’s curse in the lyrics from Henry Purcell’s travel-rich first opera Dido and Aeneas (1688):

Wayward sisters, you that fright
The lonely traveller by night,
Who like dismal ravens crying
Beat the windows of the dying (Tate, 1688).

These words predict the journey for Isabella as she will indeed face the horrors of cultures clashing and the death of her Aboriginal avatar Yuramiru, leaping from the ship’s window. Although from a libretto of questionable literary merit, the very phrase ‘the lonely traveller by night’ rises and falls in a series of peaks and troughs akin to the experience of a sea voyage (an experience common to both Lonely Traveller and Dido and Aeneas) (Tate, 1688). The novel’s title initiates the poetry of the novel and integrates it immediately with the concept of travel.


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The Pharaohs Exhibition

April 20, 2012

The Pharaohs Exhibition

The Melbourne museum hosts the plan for reassembling our lives. This is how we refer to the pharaohs, as a phenomenon defining our reality. The exhibition Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs prompts us to ask: what do we think of the ruler who reinstated the traditional pantheist gods over his father who opted for monotheism (Freud, 1986)? There are people from all socio-economic areas attending – the patrons of the museum in their finery and tastefully arranged Egyptian-influenced gowns and frocks bump up against the begrudgingly inquisitive common Australian. They are aligned in their worship, not of the gods, but of science and history: the making of history in the DNA research matching of Tutankhamun to his father Akhenaten. We see here the faces of the fascinated wanting to define their own reality and ideology (Barthes, 1993). We ponder why the gods are left alone in the attacking of history. The gods are fair game. There is no mention of slaves or slavery as a system supporting governance. This supports us in our post-capitalist society because we are the known entity. As with Barthes’ (1993) ‘Toys’ or ‘World of Wrestling’ we seek the public display that keeps us in our self-arranging order. Why are there so many people here when local theatre struggles to survive? They are looking for a taste of the universal (McKee, 1999). However, their universal is a lie. It is only the myth-making proclivity of us: the masses, who seek an image of themselves in the pharaohs. We see, amongst the worshippers, the narcissists and psychotics who think themselves the reincarnation of this goddess or that bowling into this temple as conceited figures – so beautiful and dedicated to the forms they know as their own. This psychosis, this modern game, this Jerusalem Syndrome (Abramowitz, 2012) is as apparent at this exhibition as the misfit who does not know why they are here (Abramowitz, 2012). It is as apparent as the rich who know exactly why they are here: to acknowledge the greatness of their own type. Yet their type is to pretend they were always here on the earth and see that the slaves have no place in history.

We note the difference between the beautiful middle-aged ladies and their husbands. This figure has beauty as her asset, as it would seem, so did the pharaohs, in particular Nefertiti whose classic features describe a face, which was obviously beautiful in a classical sense and we value these spurious reasons for supremacy (Tutankhamun, 2011). The pharaohs declare their birthright: they were beautiful despite the diseases, which plagued them as a result of incest. They were the faces that shone on earth as the object of desire. They took the shine off their people. They are depicted here sitting on thrones arm-in-arm with their mothers, celebrating the great feminine superiority (Stevens, 1991). They are presented as if they are waiting for the afterlife and they are arranged as if waiting for the bus. Their blank faces wait if their ride to work will pull up to their bus-stop or step out of their heads and bodies along with their ‘ba’ and float off upon their silver cord to the heavens (Wallis Budge, 2010). In this afterlife (as a child’s book in the exhibition’s tempting souvenir shop puts it), the pharaohs may hunt, fish, enjoy life as they did on earth and even have parties (Tutankhamun, 2011). One wonders what these parties entail. What kind of party does a god have in the afterlife? Like a French toy, we are ‘in training’ not only for adulthood, but for the stain of adulthood in our promise of divinity (Barthes, 1993).

So it is the ideology of our time which interfaces with the ideology of the pharaohs, each justifying the other. As the pharaohs believed, the discovery of the royal burial chamber and the repetition of their very names gave them the divinity they sought as a prophesy. However, this does not consider that we ourselves bear resemblance to grave robbers (Tutankhamun, 2011). The depiction of some Egyptian scientist drills for DNA in Tutankhamun’s leg, begs the question of his living soul: does he not perceive this as akin to our own depictions of aliens experimenting on humans. By this process, do we not imitate the gods’ entrapment within their 3000 year old bodies? What does the soul entrapped here perceive of god? This is the divine afterlife they were promised: to be worshipped even in their death with slave-like modern persons filing past them staring, learning, ogling the ruins of the pharaohs’ bodies, their beauty, their art and aesthetics? Where does that leave us, the slaves of the future, marveling at the past and wondering how we fit in, but knowing it is more of us then them? It is as if the evolution of societies from pharaohs to feudalism, from serfdom to capitalism, through revolution and counter-revolution, through fascism and anarchy settles in this ‘Valley of the Kings’ in our hearts and minds (Foucault, 2008). It bears pondering. The swords and scepters and daggers that assisted Tutankhamen in the afterlife, that saw him bear his dignity with flail and scepter only to find himself re-discovered in 1881, viewed with casual fascination by the dignitaries in 1925, born open to science in 1968, 1978, 2005 and now (Tutankhamun, 2011). This exhibition, this floating paradise, which wanders the world presenting itself in museums as the pharaohs on display like a mummification of idiots, all at the pace of a slave trudging under the weight of the Egyptian empire. The need for blocks and pulleys and projections of our current search for aliens in our refusal to accept that the mathematicians of the time put in intellectual thought rather than received the divinity of progress from the probing aliens, as the modern mythology informs us. This, our ideology, finds itself reinventing us as Barthes (1993) might say. Even this essay is derived as a product of its time and thinking beyond it is inconceivable. And what might Foucault (2008) say? That before the experience of confession, sexuality is defined as the right of the natural family to claim the throne (like India, like the British Empire) a collection of psychotics breathing their last as they justify their incest and search like the iconic European vampire for the blood that will sustain their reign (Cleary, 2010).


Abramowitz, L. (2012). The Jerusalem Syndrome. In Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved May 20, 2012, from

Barthes, R. (1993). Mythologies. Great Britain: Vintage.

Cleary, S. (2009, May). Horror lecture. Arista lecture series. Lecture presented Melbourne, Victoria.

Freud, S. (1986). Moses and monotheism. In A. Dickson (Ed.), The origins of religion (pp. 42-224). (J. Strachey, Trans.). Middlesex, England: Pelican Books Ltd. (Original work published 1913)

Foucault, M. (2008). The history of sexuality. Australia: Penguin Books.

Tutankhamun and the golden age of the pharaohs. (2011). Retrieved May 20, 2012, from

McKee, R. (1999). Story: Substance, structure, style and the principles of screenwriting. Great Britain: Methuen Publishing Limited.

Stevens, A. (1991). On Jung. London: Penguin Books.
Wallis Budge, E. A. (2010). Egyptian magic. Montana, United States: Kessinger Publishing, LLC.

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Coming Soon!

March 08, 2012

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