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Reading the ‘Gold Coast Symphony’ in Thea Astley’s The Acolyte

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 December 2019

Alison Bartlett*
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Thea Astley is a figure who is strongly associated with music, both in her life interests and in her writing rhythms and allusions; this article investigates the uses of music in her 1972 novel The Acolyte. Drawing on a recent genre of critical musicology that understands music to be a social practice, The Acolyte is read in relation to mid-twentieth-century cultural debates around the development of a distinctive Australian classical music. Centring on the blind pianist turned composer Jack Holberg, The Acolyte is grounded in the Gold Coast hinterland as an inspiring and generative landscape, in contrast with the desolate outback favoured in national mythologies. Holberg’s ‘Gold Coast Symphony’, arguably the turning point of the novel, imaginatively writes this coastal fringe of urban debauchery into the vernacular of classical music through its performance in conservative 1960s Brisbane. In this article, I read The Acolyte as a novel positioned within an Australian musicological history that intersects with the poetics of place, the politics of gender and sexuality, and ongoing national formations through cultural production.

© The Author(s) 2019 

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