IASPR2018: Romancing Australia

This represents my notes on the presentations at the 2018 International Association for the Study of Popular Romance conference. Please consider my status as an imperfect recorder of literary academia. I hope you enjoy reading about this conference as much as I enjoyed observing it. This blog uses affiliated links.

Session One: Romancing Australia

Heart Of The Country by Tricia Stringer

Colonial Reinscription and Imperial Nostalgia in Tricia Stringer’s Flinders Ranges Series – Amy T Matthews and Amy Mead (Flinders University).

Amy opened with an Acknowledgement of Country.

Tricia Stinger is a highly successful rural romance (ruro) author. This series includes the usual problems of ruro – imperial nostalgia and colonialism.

Overview of the Australia Council’s protocols for representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Aboriginal works:

  • Anita Heiss, Toni Birch, Jaren Thomas

Fundamental differences between USA westerns and Australian historical ruro

  • USA had more popular fiction at the time of westernising
  • Australian history highly whitewashed
  • Aus has Thorn Birds etc, big epics, no HEA, settling was difficult and even place names reflect this (Desperation Point, Broken Hill, etc)
  • USA westerns happier

Aus hist rom can be very racist (Amy showed one of Tricia’s books with all racists comments highlighted by post-it notes).

History is a bunch of things that happen – we, as novelists, turn them into a narrative

Aus history is trauma filled for Aboriginal communities

  • How do we represent that?
  • How do we do better?
  • How do we write history?

Literary fiction has tried to do this (Kim Scott, Kate Grenville, Alexis Wright, Rohan Wilson), but literary books don’t have much cultural impact due to low sales. Popular fiction can provide more impact re: tensions between settler narratives and Aboriginal communities/perspective.

Romance hasn’t tried yet. Why?

  • Hard to do HEA with trauma narratives
  • Romance has, so far, tended to dig into the settler past
  • No challenge to the status quo yet
  • Continue to regurgitate old ideas, problematic tropes

Bad Aboriginal and indigenous representation

  • Noble savage (bound to local place and time, too weak to counter settlers)
  • Recalcitrant Black (the “thieving black”, “thieving mongrels”)
  • Faithful Servant (maids, nannies, shearers, the good stockman, not paid by settlers. Reminder South Australia had no convicts, but still pressed the local Aboriginal people into work)
  • Sexual Slave (exotic, other, power disparity)

Stereotypes have a fixed nature of otherness which leads forgetfulness by settler narratives

Anita Heiss “the strongest argument against non-Aboriginal people writing in this area stems from the history of negative representation of Aboriginal people in history.”

Why do we want to tell these settler stories?

Why do they sell? (reinforcement of settler privilege)



Women in Akubras: Paratexts, patriotism, and a professional blurb writer. Kate Cuthbert (Escape Publishing)

The first major rural romance (ruro) in Australia was Rachael Treasure’s Jillaroo in 2005. Ruro dominates local sales with up to 15k sales per book.

These books erase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Ruro shifted romance from niche bookshelves to mainstream in Australia.

Rural setting (low population, far from urban/suburban, limited social interation)

The covers force communication with the reader (consumer packaging), and all have a read code.

BigW is the largest book seller in Australia

  • Tended towards harlequin category with no other romance
  • Ruro moved into general fiction by removing the cinch pose on covers, thus getting more shelf space


  • Woman in hat cliché
  • Depressingly conservative/overwhelmingly white
  • Non-threatening woman (young, no sun damage, no fuss hairstyle, casual clothes, open expression)
  • Windmills (nostalgic pastoral feel)
  • Overtly Australian backgrounds (rocks which look like Uluru, but aren’t, as you need permission to show that image)

Australia is one of the most heavily urbanised covers, yet ruro has big reader impact

This talk had plenty of examples via the powerpoint presentation, and included a discussion on different styles of cover, image location, title v name locations, and gilded colours of author names to represent a gold standard.


Australia as Bachelor Nation: Falling in Love Locally on The Bachelor/ette Australia. Jodi McAlister (Deakin University)

I didn’t take notes on this, but most of the discussion was around the show, and how it paints a story.



  1. Very interesting, thought provoking comment from a different perspective. It’s an interesting commentary on both rural life, as perceived by a ruro reader, and as seen from the inside of a rural community. I have wondered about the recent plethora of “gals in hats” and wondered if this was cliched.

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