Jessica Anderson’s vision of the 1970s, Elizabeth McMahon

Dollar Sign 9 (F. & S. II. 285) Andy Warhol
Dollar Sign 9 (F. & S. II. 285) from the Dollar Sign series by Andy Warhol

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Jessica Anderson published four novels between 1970 and 1980: The Last Man’s Head (1970), The Commandant (1975), Tirra Lirra by the River (1977) and The Impersonators (1980), the latter two of these winning multiple awards. Strong threads run through the four texts, which alternate between Brisbane and Sydney settings and narrate the dilemma of individuals negotiating the matrices of family, labour and history. As the last of the 1970s novels, The Impersonators draws many of these threads in its steely-eyed examination of individuals negotiating a modernising, capitalising Australia. Set in Sydney in 1977, the novel’s chronotope is explicitly constructed in the wake of the 1973-1975 global recession (Opec), the progressive changes introduced by the Whitlam government (1972-1975) and of Whitlam’s dismissal, and the shift from the White Australia Policy to the multicultural policy of the Whitlam and Fraser governments. It is poised also at the beginning of the decade defined by the ethos of ‘greed is good’ and the adoption of neoliberal policies of globalised deregulated markets. Reading The Impersonators as a novel about money, this paper analyses the way the text maps the interconnections of capital, identity, social institutions and the novel in late 1970s Australia.

Elizabeth McMahon is a professor of English at the University of New South Wales. She researches in the fields of Australian literature, women's writing and Island Studies. Her 2016 monograph Islands, Identity and the Literary Imagination won the Walter McRae Russell Award and the Australian University Heads of English Award. She is currently co-writing with Godfrey Baldacchino and Elaine Stratford, Rethinking Island Methodologies (Rowman and Littlefield 2022), in which she models interdisciplinary research and re-positions literary studies within Island Studies. With Brigitta Olubas she has edited four collections including the recent collection Antigone Kefala: New Australian Modernities (UWAP, August 2021). She is the editor of Southerly. In the last while she has become incredibly interested in the work of Jessica Anderson.

Date & time

Thu 19 Aug 2021, 4.30–6pm


Online (Zoom)


Professor Elizabeth McMahon, University of New South Wales


Monique Rooney


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