Presented by Meg Brayshaw as part of the 2016 SLLL Literary Studies Seminar Series
In Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1934), Christina Stead evokes the city’s colonial past in her naming of the Tank Stream Press, the novel’s central location. The fresh water Tank Stream assured the colony’s survival in its fledgling years; however, it soon became a polluted stormwater drain beneath the city’s streets, as it remains today. The stream’s various identities of essential water supply, sewer and drain inform the functioning of Stead’s Tank Stream Press, which advances a narrative about the development and sustainability of networks of knowledge and culture in the antipodean city.
Stead’s narrative theorises the coming of a ‘pure stream’ of enlightenment that may transform the ‘barren and virgin’ Australian city into a longed for ‘Elzivir utopia’ (99). However, the potential of the Tank Stream Press to assume the role of that pure stream remains, like its namesake, buried beneath the city’s ‘steaming, congested’ streets (188).
Drawing insights from the fields of urban ecologies and literary geography, this paper frames Seven Poor Men of Sydney’s Tank Stream Press with the narrative of Sydney’s urban waterscape. In so doing, it examines Stead’s novel in light of questions of cultural, intellectual and environmental sustainability that remain significant to the city today.
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