Close Relations

Irishness in Australian Literature

This project is funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project, from 2023 to 2026. It is a collaboration with Professor Ronan McDonald, University of Melbourne, and Associate Professor Maggie Nolan, Australian Catholic University.

Irishness is both ubiquitous and critically neglected in Australian literature. Many iconic Australian characters have strong Irish associations, and many Australian authors either claim an Irish-Australian identity or write an ‘Irish work’. Yet Irishness frequently disappears in Australian literary studies as it is folded into the categories of British, to which it has never belonged, and whiteness, which historically excluded it, through a process that is yet to be well understood. Recent computer-enabled modes of enquiry reveal a previously lost archive of Irish works, including in 19th and early 20th century Australian periodicals.

By exploring the production and reception of Irishness in Australian literature, ‘Close Relations’ will offer a new account of the complex and fissile nature of white Australian identity in relation to class, gender, race and religion. Attentive to the entangled forces by which literature, and the story of Australia, emerges, the Project will develop a new critical practice and method of ‘relational literary history’ to explore this transnational and disaporic literature within print cultural and digital systems.

The project has two overarching aims, which it develops by pursuing three essential practices:


  1. Disciplinary: To reappraise the development of Australian literature via its relation to Irishness. By analysing the traces, elisions and amalgamations of Irishness, we will investigate its constitution in Australian literature by intersecting formations of race, religion, class and gender, as well as by the values, institutions, and infrastructures of literary production and reception.
  2. Methodological: To develop and demonstrate relational literary studies. This approach will make good on the oft-promised potential of combining established literary methods with emergent digital-computational ones, and discussions of formal and aesthetic features of literature with their historical and material conditions of production and reception, by understanding these dimensions as informing and transforming each other.


  1. Critical: To use relations of absence-presence to explore the capacity of Irishness to disrupt and rethink prominent paradigms in literary studies in Australia and internationally.
  2. Recovery: To investigate connections between an unexplored body of colonial and early national periodical stories, full of references to bushrangers, priests, saintly Irish mothers, and drink-sodden fathers, and a range of other texts, including canonical works, that develop, incorporate and elide these tropes and stereotypes.
  3. Cultural: To introduce the importance of Irishness in Australian literature to readers in Australia and Ireland, including through a crowdsourcing project to recover and edit this history in the periodical press.