Deakin University
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Regionalism, well-being, and domestic violence in Tony Birch’s “the red house”

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journal contribution
posted on 2019-06-01, 00:00 authored by Patrick WestPatrick West
It is generally accepted that the creative arts make a positive contribution to regional well-being and a diverse range of actors (government bodies, commercial entities, artists, researchers) are active in this space. Given this, it is concerning that the voices of creative artists themselves are sometimes not heard in the conversation. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s work on “resistant speech” is important here for the strategic recourse it offers to a range of subalternate populations, including regional artists, women and children, and for its solidarity with modes of being reliant on qualitative research engagements. Admittedly, examples of creative work that dramatize and interrogate the problem of well-being across the divide between urban and regional areas are comparatively rare. One standout is Tony Birch’s short story “The Red House” (2006), in which a storyline of well-being under threat from domestic violence is interwoven with a peripatetic narrative of the characters’ movements within the city of Melbourne and between the regional community of Clunes and Melbourne. As the lead piece in Birch’s collection of linked stories, Shadowboxing, “The Red House” is a significant literary exploration of how a variety of human relationships and responses to place (regional and urban) might bring about, but also help to alleviate, the circumstances of domestic violence as a threat to the well-being of women and children. Even as it posits a link between regional life and well-being, “The Red House” eschews a simple binary opposition between bucolic Clunes and the inner-city grime and unease of Fitzroy. Some of the violence and threats to well-being sourced from Melbourne re-appear in Clunes, while certain props of well-being first experienced in Clunes are subtly reincorporated back into the red house in Fitzroy. The relationship between medical well-being (health) and well-being as a more general index of happiness, comfort and security is also explored. Birch’s story is a valuable, fine-grained creative analysis of well-being (extending from happiness, comfort and security to the negative well-being that is domestic violence), which is matched to an equally fine-grained engagement with multiple modalities of place. It contests certain more reductive definitions of the regional and challenges the reader to creatively re-think how regionalism and well-being might align.



M/C journal





Article number



Kelvin Grove, Qld.

Open access

  • Yes





Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2019, Patrick West




Queensland University of Technology