Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Arts


This thesis examines the enduring theme of apocalypse in Australian speculative fiction. Australia has been a frequent choice as the location for narratives about disaster and the end of the world, including some of the most famous apocalyptic texts, such as Nevil Shute’s On the Beach and the Mad Max films. Australian apocalypse is a popular and recurring tradition, appearing within the tropes of nuclear war, ecological disaster, violent invasions and brutal colonisation narratives, in speculative literature and film, and in works for adults and children.

This thesis argues that the popularity of apocalypse in Australian fictions has its origins in pre-colonial European speculation about the terra australis incognita. For hundreds of years prior to colonisation, European cartographers and writers imagined the unknown southern land in many different ways. Speculation about this new land ranged from hopes of a new world – the apocalyptic New Jerusalem – or a secular place of wealth and fortune, to fictions that imagined the land as a place of horror and dystopia, the end of the world. This perpetual and persistent speculation established an apocalyptic map of Australia before colonists even experienced the land, and has resulted in a tradition of imagining the nation in apocalyptic terms ever since.

Apocalypse means revelation, but the popular imagination often associates it with destruction, such as writers and filmmakers who reveal a catastrophic future or past Australia. This thesis examines Australian fictions that adopt and adapt a secular version of the biblical apocalypse, and these texts often concentrate on disaster and suggest that there is no new world, that all hope for a better future is false. These speculative fictions utilise apocalypse for different reasons. The texts undermine complacency, warn of future environmental disasters, and act as a language of resistance and protest for minority groups. Despite the different approaches and scenarios, many of the texts display similar anxieties about the nation and its vulnerability to its neighbours, and construct the landscape as an apocalyptic space, a place of exile and punishment. Some of the fictions articulate and then deny these anxieties, while in others the fears remain as a shadow to more optimistic visions of the southern land.

Many of these narratives imagine Australia as, and at, the end(s) of the world, both geographically and psychologically. These recurring and pervasive associations of the nation and disaster suggest that there is a significant and integral relationship between Australia and apocalypse.