I was looking for a cover of a novel by an Australian Catholic for the banner of a new FB group page THE AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC WRITERS’ FORUM (to be developed). I had a few of Christopher Koch’s novels on hand and chose Highways to a War, the 1996 Miles Franklin Award winner. I then looked around for some information about the now (almost) forgotten Christopher Koch and found this inspiring article by Karl Schmude.
Christopher Koch: A novelist for an age with no answers
The Catholic imagination of Christopher Koch, the Australian novelist most remembered for The Year of Living Dangerously (1978), was shaped by two intense experiences.
The first was his childhood immersion in the popular Catholic culture in Australia in the first half of the 20th century. Abounding in hints of supernatural mystery and memory, it showed the power of earthly symbols and cultural ritual to evoke timeless realities.
The other was his upbringing in Tasmania, the Alaska of Australia, an island state nearer to Antarctica than the northern Australian mainland. This sense of remoteness sharpened his appreciation of the cultural centre. It embraced not only the traditions of his modern Australian homeland but also the deeper Christian heritage of historical Europe.
Both these experiences, religious and cultural, supplied the background to his eight novels. His Catholic insights enlivened his depiction of human character, especially the dualities of nature and identity that comprise a flawed being who was yet made in the image of God and destined for eternal life. His Tasmanian childhood, meanwhile, nurtured a sense of cultural isolation and the perspective of separation. Tasmania was for Koch a metaphor for Australia – its people, as he wrote, “marooned in the southern hemisphere”. Yet this experience held a wider meaning in a Western culture that was itself religiously marooned, embroiled as it became in his lifetime in uprooting its religious and cultural traditions.