Provenance: a novel by Jane Messer

The novel Provenance (2007) is set against the heat of Queensland cane-fields, the lush farmland of northern New South Wales and the bustle of early 1960s Melbourne.

Written by Dr Jane Messer, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Macquarie University, it explores the impacts of mothering on identity and social position, and looks at the subaltern experience for young, second generation immigrant women in 20th century Australia.

The novel engaged interdisciplinary research across creative writing, post-colonial studies and history. Critical reviews identified its significant portrayal of Australia as a part of Asia, with Nury Vitachi describing it as, “A good example of the Australian novel recognising its near neighbours in the Asia Pacific” (ABC Radio National 2009).

The impetus for Messer’s radio script Mermaid of Cockatoo (2007) was the reopening of Cockatoo Island and the Sydney Foreshore Trust’s encouragement to artists and writers to engage with the island. This fictional narrative of one girl’s attempt at escape in the 1800s is positioned within literary practice as cultural history. It explores themes of exile and migration through the trope of needlework as storytelling and a means to threading together identity; and the mythology of the mermaid’s power to drown or save seafarers.

Publication of Provenance by the esteemed imprint Vintage, and the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s national broadcast of Mermaid of Cockatoo, have been a gateway for further productions including the author’s third novel, Hopscotch (Picador 2015). Seed funding for the script Dear Dr Chekhov from the Australia Council for the Arts’ Digital and New Media fund has progressed to a multimedia project, Two Islands (2015-2016).

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