'A Window of Life' The Writing of Ruth Park: ASAL Mini-conference 2024

'A Window of Life' The Writing of Ruth Park: ASAL Mini-conference 2024
Ruth Park 'Fishing in the Styx' 'A Fence Around the Cuckoo'


Date & time

Wed 14 Feb 2024, 5pm – Fri 16 Feb 2024, 4pm


Sir Roland Wilson building #120 McCoy Circuit, Acton 2601

'A Window of Life': The Writing of Ruth Park

14 - 16 February 2024, Sir Roland Wilson building #120 McCoy Circuit, ANU

Mini-conference presented by RSHA, The Association for the Study of Australian Literature (ASAL), Copyright Australia (CA) and the ANU Centre for Australian Literary Cultures (CALC)

In a 1942 letter to her penfriend and fellow writer D’Arcy Niland, Ruth Park wrote: "I feel, and I know you do too, that I'm a window of life... I can, when clear enough, be the medium through which others may see. This is the mission of the writer, surely—not to propagandise, which is to subtly twist the simplest things, but to depict good and bad as they are. However, one is so damnably impotent to express the exquisiteness of life as it surges within one.” At the time she wrote these words, Park—aged 25—was working as a journalist and editor at the Auckland Star. Her self-characterisation as a “window of life” reflects her confidence and self-aware writerly ambition. It also highlights her dedication to her particular brand of realism—to present “good and bad as they are” without “subtly twisting the simplest things.”

Written in the year that she migrated to Australia, where she would marry Niland, these words serve as a touchstone for the 2024 mini-ASAL conference that focuses on the work, life, and legacy of New Zealand-Australian author Ruth Park. The conference invites participants to explore Park as a writer who embraced opportunities in emerging media industries, and who produced a body of works that help us better understand the transformative forces shaping her century.

The 2024 ASAL Mini-conference focuses on Park's life and legacy, delving into her identity as a writer who embraced emerging media and whose works illuminate the transformative forces of her time.




This hybrid conference offers several options of registration to maximise accessibility.  

The lecture and all conference sessions will be delivered online and in-person (registration required for both options)

Register for lecture (14 Feb) here

The ASAL Patron lecture is free and open to the public.

Registration and payment for conference (15 -16 Feb) here

  • Full conference (i.e covering day one and two) in-person registration: $50.00 AUD
  • Full conference online registration: $40.00 AUD
  • Postgraduate: $25.00 AUD

Attendance is dependent on payment of the conference fee.

*Conference presenters who are not ASAL members will need to renew their membership through the ASAL website prior to registering for the conference.





Wednesday February 14


Level 3, SRWB




Theatrette, 2.02 SRWB





ASAL Patron’s Lecture “Reading Ruth Park”

Fiona Kelly McGregor

(Chair: Kate Mitchell)

Thursday February 15


Theatrette, 2.02 SRWB


Introduction, ‘A Window of Life’: The Writing of Ruth Park

Monique Rooney


Keynote Lecture, “The Hills are Full of Irish People”: Settler-Colonial Celticism in The Harp in the South (in-person)

Ronan McDonald, Maggie Nolan


(Chair: Julieanne Lamond)


Level 3, SRWB

Morning Tea



Theatrette, 2.02 SRWB


Session 1: Science, Religion and New-Victorian Narrative

(Chair: Dashiell Moore)

A Secret Tide of Solitariness: Plural Possibility Versus One Dimensionality in Ruth Park’s Serpent’s Delight (1961) (online)

Nicholas Birns

Science and Mermaids in My Sister Sif (in-person)

Jessica White

Fantasy and the Colonial Past in Ruth Park’s Playing Beatie Bow (1980) (online)

Michelle J. Smith


Level 3, SRWB




Theatrette, 2.02 SRWB


Session 2: Time and Place

(Chair: Stacey Roberts)

Shadow Places: The Life Writing of Ruth Park and Janet Frame (online)

Jessica Gildersleeve, Kate Cantrell and Nycole Prowse

Goldfields theatrics in Ruth Park’s One-a-pecker, Two-a-pecker (1957) and Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (2013) (in-person)

Brigid Magner

“Shanks and Shiv’s” / “The Skyline I See Scaffolding”: Ruth Park’s Urban Reach (in-person)

Eva Phillips


Level 3, SRWB

Afternoon Tea



Theatrette, 2.02 SRWB


Session 3: Gender, Sexuality and Class in Ruth Park

(Chair:Zoe Smith)

Intimacy, Domesticity and Violence in Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South (1948) and The Witch’s Thorn (1951)

Catherine Kevin

“A Dozen Rich and Luscious Phrases”: the Language of the Working-Class Women in Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South (1948) (in-person)


Stacey Roberts

Shame in Ruth Park’s Slum Novels

Eve Vincent

6.30pm Conference Dinner - please email Monique Rooney (monique.rooney@anu.edu.au) for booking information

Friday February 16


Theatrette, 2.02 SRWB


Session 4: Memoir, Fiction and the Marketplace

(Chair: Monique Rooney)

When the Drums Went Bang: Ruth Park Seeks the “Truth in There Somewhere”

Paul Genoni

“Ruth Park’s Fiction in the American Marketplace”

Roger Osborne


Level 3, SRWB

Morning Tea



Theatrette, 2.02 SRWB


Session 5: Spatial Imaginaries

(Chair: Paul Genoni)

The Precarious Home in Ruth Park’s Fiction

Meg Brayshaw

Closing Distances: Ruth Park’s A Power of Roses (1953)

Brigid Rooney

“Islanded”: An Archipelagic Reading of Ruth Park’s Fishing in the Styx (1993)

Dashiell Moore



Keynote speakers

Fiona Kelly McGregor is a writer, essayist, and art critic. She has published eight books, including her most recent novel, Iris, which has been nominated for prestigious awards such as the Miles Franklin Award, the NSW Premier's Award, and the Stella Prize. Notably, her novel Indelible Ink won the Age Book of the Year and was published in French by Actes-Sud. McGregor's non-fiction works include the essay collection Buried Not Dead, which was shortlisted for the VPLA, the groundbreaking photo-essay A Novel Idea, and the travel memoir Strange Museums. In addition to her literary achievements, McGregor is known for her involvement in performance art and event curation. Her commentary on literature and art can be found in publications such as The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, Sydney Morning Herald, Art Monthly, and more. When in Sydney, McGregor lives and works on Gadigal country.

Kate Mitchell (ANU) is Director of the ANU Research School of Humanities and the Arts and Professor of Literary Studies, in the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics, ANU. Her research is focused on neo-Victorian fiction and film and contemporary historical recollection in literature and film more generally, including fiction and creative non-fiction. Her work examines the role of fictional narratives in creating public memory of contested, marginalised or occluded pasts; the ways that 'memory' travels through time and space, especially via novels, film and television; and the ethics - and creative possibilities - involved in fictionalising past lives and events. How can fiction be used to speak the unspeakable, in the past and today? She is author of "History and Cultural Memory in Neo-Victorian Fiction: Victorian Afterimages"; co-editor of Reading Historical Fiction: the revenant and remembered past; and her articles on historical fiction have appeared in journals including Neo-Victorian Studies, Australian Literary Studies, Victoriographies, College Literature and in a number of edited collections. Her current work examines the use of art and the figure of the artist in contemporary fiction about the Victorian period, including the representation of the Pre-Raphaelites, Impressionists and other artists and their work.

Ronan McDonald (Melbourne University) holds the Gerry Higgins Chair of Irish Studies at the University of Melbourne. He has research interests in Irish and Irish-Australian literature, the history of criticism and the value of the humanities and has published widely in these areas. He is Chief-Investigator, with Maggie Nolan and Kath Bode on an ARC Discovery Project, 2023-25 entitled ‘Close Relations: Irishness in Australian Literature,’. He is the series editor for Cambridge Themes in Irish Literature and Culture.

Maggie Nolan (University of Queensland) is the Director of AustLit and an Associate Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage in the School of Communication and Arts at the University of Queensland. Her research interests include reading and reception, literary imposture, contemporary Indigenous literature and representations of race and ethnicity in Australian literary culture. With Kath Bode and Ronan McDonald, she is looking at Irishness in Australian literature using both traditional and computational approaches.


Nicholas Birns (New York University) teaches at New York University, He is co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to the Australian Novel (Cambridge University Press, 2023). His previous books include (Broadview, 2010) and The Hyperlocal in Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century Literary Space (Lexington, 2019). He has previously written on Anglo-Russian literary connections in Victorian Studies, Victorians Institute Journal, and the Brigid Rooney-edited anthology Scenes of Reading. He has published in journals including MLQ, Partial Answers, and Studies in Romanticism as well as in The New York Times Book Review and other general-interest periodicals. He co-edited the American Journal of Australian and New Zealand studies, Antipodes, from 2001 to 2018

Meg Brayshaw (University of Sydney) is the John Rowe Lecturer in Australian Literature at the University of Sydney. Her research interests include the twentieth and twenty-first century Australian novel, modernism, women's writing and literary engagements with place, environment and climate. At Sydney University Press she serves as editor of the Sydney Studies in Australian Literature series.

Kate Cantrell (University of Southern Queensland) is a Senior Lecturer in Writing, Editing, and Publishing at the University of Southern Queensland. Her research specialisation is contemporary representations of trauma in Australian literature and media, and narrative depictions of illness, immobility, and displacement, particularly in works of children’s and young adult literature. Her short stories, creative non-fiction, and poetry appear in highly esteemed magazines and journals, such as Overland, Meanjin, and Westerly, among others.

Paul Genoni (Curtin University) is an Adjunct Associate Professor with the School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry at Curtin University. He is the author and editor of several books on Australian literary and cultural studies, including co-author (with Tanya Dalziell) of Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreamers and Drifters on Hydra, 1955-1964. He is a former President of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature.

Jessica Gildersleeve, FHEA (University of Southern Queensland) is Professor of English Literature and Associate Head of School (Research) at the University of Southern Queensland. She is the author and editor of several books, including The Routledge Companion to Australian Literature (2021), and is the current President of the Australian University Heads of English (AUHE).

Catherine Kevin (Flinders University) is an Associate Professor at Flinders University who teaches and researches in the fields of Australian history and feminist history, particularly Indigenous-settler relations, the politics and experience of the reproductive body and gendered violence. She has published widely on these topics, including her book Dispossession and the Making of Jedda: Hollywood in Ngunnawal Country which was published in 2020 (Anthem Press).

Julieanne Lamond (ANU) is Associate Professor of English and Head of the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics at ANU, and co-editor of the journal Australian Literary Studies. Her research focuses on literary reception, especially in the Australian context. Her monograph, Lohrey, was published by Melbourne UP in 2022.

Brigid Magner (RMIT) is Associate Professor in Literary Studies and co-Director of the non/fictionLab at RMIT University. Born in Aotearoa, she has been writing about transtasman literature for the last two decades. Her book Locating Australian Literary Memory was published in 2020.

Dashiell Moore (University of Sydney) is an early career researcher with research interests in world literature, island studies, and postcolonial theory. He has published scholarly articles in the leading journals of these fields, including Textual Practice and ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies of Literature. His upcoming book, The Literary Mirroring of Aboriginal Australia and the Caribbean, examines the relationship between Indigeneity and creolisation in Aboriginal Australian and Caribbean literature, appearing with Oxford University Press in February, 2024.

Roger Osborne (James Cook University) is Associate Professor of English Literature at James Cook University, Cairns campus. He is co-author of Australian Books and Authors in the American Marketplace, 1840s–1940s and author of The Life of Such is Life.

Eva Phillips is an MCW student at University of Sydney. She is researching the poetics of printmaking in Australian print culture and was shortlisted for the 2023 Thomas Shapcott Award.

Nycole Prowse, AFHEA (University of Southern Queensland) teaches into the English Literature program at the University of Southern Queensland. She is a poet and playwright and has 30 years’ experience in teaching English Literature at tertiary level and in the creation and production of theatre and literary projects and festivals in Australia, Japan, China, the UK, and the Middle East. She is the author and editor of Intervening Spaces: Respatialisation and the Body (Brill 2018) and Heroin(e) Habits: Potential and Possibility in Female Drug Literature (Gylphi 2018).

Stacey Roberts is a PhD candidate in English and Theatre Studies at the University of Melbourne. Her thesis examines the representation of working-class women in twentieth-century Australian women’s fiction.

Brigid Rooney (University of Sydney) is an Associate Professor (Affiliate) at the University of Sydney where she taught Australian literature and Australian studies. Her research publications focus on the role of Australian literature in figuring space and place and in shaping cultural and national debate. She is the author of Literary Activists: Writer-Intellectuals and Australian Public Life (2009) and Suburban Space, The Novel and Australian Modernity (2018). She is co-editor with Fiona Morrison of Time, Tide and History: Eleanor Dark’s Fiction, forthcoming with Sydney University Press.

Monique Rooney (ANU) teaches literature, film and new media in the English Program, School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics, ANU. In 2023, she was Nancy Keesing Research Fellow at the State Library of New South Wales, and she is preparing to write a literary biography of Ruth Park.

Michelle J. Smith (Monash University) is an Associate Professor in literary studies at Monash University, Australia. Her most recent monograph is Consuming Female Beauty:British Literature and Periodicals, 1840–1914 (Edinburgh University Press). She is the author of two books on the history of children’s literature, including From Colonial to Modern: Transnational Girlhood inCanadian, Australian, and New Zealand Children’s Literature, 1840–1940 (2018; co-authored with Kristine Moruzi and Clare Bradford). She has also co-authored seven edited collections in the fields of children’s and Victorian literature, including The Edinburgh History of Children’s Periodicals (2024) and Literary Cultures and Nineteenth-Century Childhoods (Palgrave, 2024).

Eve Vincent is chair of anthropology in the Macquarie School of Social Sciences. Her books include Who Cares? Life on Welfare in Australia (MUP, 2023).

Jessica White (University of South Australia) is the author of the novels A Curious Intimacy and Entitlement, and a hybrid memoir about deafness, Hearing Maud. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Australian and international literary journals, and she has won awards, funding and residencies. Jessica is currently a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of South Australia.

The event will be held in ground floor theatrette and upstairs foyer (for food/drink) of the Sir Roland Wilson Building #120 on the Australian National University campus.

There is adjacent parking immediately to the north and west of the building, and it is only a short walk from hotels in the Canberra City and New Acton area. 

Campus facilities

Useful links below provide details on:

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