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Dreams and realities: E.J. Brady and Mallacoota
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posted on 17.05.2017by Mirams, Sarah Jane
Edwin James Brady (1869-1952) is best known as a minor figure from the political and literary world of the 1890s and the author of Australia Unlimited, a book and a phrase that has come to represent the development ethos that characterised Australia in the inter-war years. Brady has been described as a writer who celebrated nature, but also encouraged the unsustainable exploitation of Australia’s natural resources. This biographical study, informed by environmental history, attempts to ‘flesh out’ the man behind ‘Australia Unlimited’ by exploring the relationship he had with the place he came to regard as his own domain, the small coastal settlement of Mallacoota, in far East Gippsland. This study traces Brady’s journey to Mallacoota, explores what expectations he had of this place and whether they were realised. I consider how the physical environment of Mallacoota and far East Gippsland helped shape the human experience of Brady and the local community, and how humans shaped and changed this environment over time.
Brady came to see in Mallacoota’s wild beauty a place of poetic inspiration and solitude and also a source of natural wealth that should be closely populated and developed for the good of the nation. His dream was to create, in far East Gippsland, a model for a democratic and prosperous Australia. Brady was inspired by the social idealism of the 1890s, the progressive agenda of post Federation Australia, his commitment to socialism, as well as individual needs and desires. His visions for Mallacoota were formed and shaped by national and international events such as war, depression and technological change. In Mallacoota Brady wrote, farmed, ran a tourist business, helped establish a utopian socialist settlement and acted as an advocate for the region. This became his home for forty years and as such this study also considers his personal domestic life, and relationships between people living in this small remote community. This study, through the central figures of Mallacoota and Brady, therefore draws together national, local and domestic themes.
Ultimately Brady failed to transform Mallacoota into a closely populated, economically diverse rural region through immigration and the exploitation of its natural resources. His principal legacy was rather to help shape the idea of Mallacoota as a tourist retreat for visitors, who wanted to experience the solitude and natural beauty that originally drew him there.