Places of the Imagination: Ecological Concerns in David Malouf’s “Jacko’s Reach”

by Antonella Riem

Malouf’s ecological concerns and interest in the natural world and their relationship with the cultural can be traced in most of his works, both in prose and poetry. Space and place such as the wilderness and the garden, the steppe and the Roman Empire, the Australian bush and the city are fundamental elements in Malouf’s delineation of individual, social, political and cultural relationships with the land. This article focuses on “Jacko’s Reach” (Malouf 2000), where, under the label of progress, globalisation is enforcing the development of a local natural place. Jacko’s Reach, “our last pocket of scrub”, will be destroyed by “mechanical shovels and cranes”, to build “a new shopping mall” (93), deceptively advertised as a necessity for the benefit of the community. The narratorial voice on the surface describes a usual event, the building of a new shopping centre, and at the same time criticises the destruction of the natural world for the sake of progress, which leads to the annihilation of
wilderness in order to domesticate and acculturate it. This article focuses in particular on Malouf’s narrative strategies, which, more relevantly, emphasise the mythological power of the imagined or remembered place as a form of resistance to the devastation of the natural environment. In “the dimension of the symbolic” (99), through memory, imagination, creativity and dream, the total erasure of wilderness – in both the natural world and ourselves – cannot be fully achieved. Constantly re-imagined and re-configured in our memory, it will be forever “pushing up under the concrete” (99), and “in our head” (100), in a profound visionary and creative interconnectedness between the natural world and the human being.