Tony Hughes-d'Aeth, Senior Lecturer in English and Cultural Studies, knows a thing or two about the Western Australian Wheatbelt.
That’s not surprising given his childhood fascination with the region. He came to Western Australia in his teenage years and has been living here ever since. While holidaying with his cousins, he would visit the Wheatbelt and often wondered what the arid place was about.
“When I used to drive out to the Wheatbelt it would always be immediately after Christmas, and I was just intrigued I suppose by the seeming emptiness of the place. Even as a child it captured my imagination,” Tony says.
It was in the twentieth century that the southwestern corner of Australia (an arc from Esperance to Geraldton) was cleared of rich native flora for the farming of grain and livestock. What was once a vast mosaic of scrub and forest came to be known as the Wheatbelt.
“I constantly wondered what had created this whole extensive world of cleared fields,” Tony says.
Decades on, Tony has finally turned this fascination into writing and Like Nothing on this Earth: A Literary History of the Wheatbelt by UWA Publishing will be launched on 9 March.
“Through my writing I am always keen to demonstrate the value literature has as a form of record – it tells you something very special that other kinds of writing don’t necessarily do: it tells you how people feel about things,” Tony says.
In this case he does this by examining the paradoxical destruction of the bushland and creation of the Western Australian Wheatbelt through the creative writing of some of Australia’s most renowned authors - Albert Facey, Peter Cowan, Dorothy Hewett, Jack Davis, Elizabeth Jolley, and John Kinsella - each writer offering a unique human experience of geographical change.
“I’m always interested in how we came about as a country and the kind of world we live in now, and how it was made.
“One of the things that drives me quite personally in my research is the desire to feel at home in a place. I was driven, after moving around a lot as a child, and coming to Western Australia to find a sense of this place and, creatively, I was driven by the need to understand where I live, and that’s an important part of why I approach my research,” Tony says.
Like Nothing on this Earth: A Literary History of the Wheatbelt will be officially launched by Professor Matthew Tonts on 9 March at 5.30pm, Patricia Crawford Courtyard, UWA.