Indigenous Studies: Australia
- Peter MinterPeter MinterDepartment of English, University of Sydney
Contemporary Indigenous Australian literature draws on tens of thousands of years of sustained cultural continuity and diversity, while bearing witness to the destructive impacts of colonization and assimilation, and imagining new horizons of restoration, healing, and sovereign expression. The late 18th-century arrival of the English language amid complex Indigenous societies presented Indigenous peoples with a set of unfamiliar literary, linguistic, and rhetorical conditions and forms, the sudden appearance of Western literary modernity forever changing Indigenous modes of expression. This “intercultural entanglement” of Indigenous Australian literature is central to an appreciation of its achievements, from its earliest appearances in letters, petitions, and chronicles aimed at negotiating with or at times subversively mimicking modes of colonial authority, to its growing confidence and autonomy in the 20th century as Indigenous Australians fought back again colonization, asserted civil and land rights, and began the long process of cultural restoration and healing, through to the sovereign expressions of Aboriginal consciousness today. Across various modern literary genres, from mythological narratives to political manifestos, in poetry, plays, short stories, and novels, Indigenous Australian authors have borne witness to tragic and humiliating histories of violence, incarceration, and cultural suppression and fragmentation, but have also assertively developed new and at times revolutionary reimaginings of Western literary modes and styles. Realist testimonial narratives and lyrics in prose and poetry are today complemented by assured works of the imagination in which genre and mode are transformed in the recovery of blood memory, country, and language. The literature of Indigenous Australia continues to make a profound contribution to the literature of the world.
The earliest known writing in English by an Aboriginal person is a letter dated August 29, 1796 by Wollarawarre Bennelong (1764?–1813, Wangal).1 A senior man of the Wangal people, Bennelong was captured near Sydney by order of Governor Arthur Phillip in November 1789 and became one of the first Aboriginal people to learn English. As interpreter, translator, and intermediary, Bennelong was instrumental to the earliest meaningful cultural exchanges between the English colonists and the Eora people of Sydney Harbour, and, with his younger kinsman Yemmerrawanne, Bennelong was taken to England in 1792 to be presented to London society. Both took ill, Yemmerrawanne died and Bennelong returned home to Sydney in 1795 suffering very poor health. Bennelong dictated his letter to an unknown scribe, and the original is lost; only a mid-19th-century handwritten copy of the letter exists in the National Library.2
Addressed to Lord Sydney’s steward Mr. Phillips, who had assisted in the care of Bennelong at the house of Mr. Edward Kent in Eltham near Lord Sydney’s estate Frognall Manor, the letter is remarkable for evidencing a set of linguistic, rhetorical, and political conditions that are central to an appreciation of the emergence of Aboriginal literary writing in English. In the leading critical survey and analysis of 18th- and 19th-century Australian Aboriginal writing, Penny van Toorn’s Writing Never Appears Naked: Early Aboriginal Cultures of Writing in Australia (2006), van Toorn uses Nicholas Thomas’s term “entangled object” to illuminate how, from an exegetical perspective, Bennelong’s letter can best be understood as “a product of intercultural engagement.”3 When Bennelong writes “Sir, I am very well, I hope you are very well . . . I live at the Governor’s. I have every day dinner there. I have not my wife: another man took her away: we have had murry doings: he spear’d me in the back, but I better now . . . Sir, send me you please some Handkerchiefs for Pocket. you plese Sir send me some shoes: two pair you please Sir,” it’s not difficult to see the convergence of a Western mode of epistolic address, an Aboriginal sensibility rooted in what linguist Jakelin Troy (Ngarigu) has named “the Sydney language,” and Bennelong’s skilled exploitation of genre (such as in personal and bureaucratic discourse). Bennelong’s intercultural agency is unambiguous as he adeptly maneuvers through the linguistic and rhetorical expectations of the language of the colonizer while simultaneously invoking, for instance, a model of gift exchange that is intrinsic to Aboriginal kinship networks and Aboriginal systems of reciprocity. As van Toorn writes, “Bennelong’s authorial practices can be seen as a product of his individual agency working within the dynamic intercultural contact zone that emerged after 1788.”4
In the 19th century, Aboriginal people writing in English were essentially motivated to write in resistance to the expanding colonies’ increasingly brutal invasion of sovereign Aboriginal polities and cultures, which, by the first decade of the century, had resulted in the established settlement of New South Wales and large outposts in what would soon become Victoria and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). As part of a comprehensive struggle to survive colonization,
writing became a tool of negotiation in which Aboriginal voices could be heard in a form recognisable to British authority . . . and it is in their transactions with colonial administrations that the principal characteristics of the early literature were forged. Aboriginal authorship, as a practice and a literary category, first appears in genres that are common to political discourse: letters by individuals to local authorities and newspapers, petitions by communities in fear of further forms of dispossession or incarceration, and the chronicles of those dispossessed.5
Not unlike Bennelong, 19th-century writers of letters, articles, and petitions emerged at an “dynamic intercultural contact zone” where Western linguistic and rhetorical conditions were entangled with Aboriginal sensibilities and needs. Perhaps the earliest example is an 1831 petition to Governor Darling by Maria Lock (1805–1878, Dharug, Boorooberongal), daughter of “Chief of the Richmond Tribes” Yarramundi, who requested ownership of her deceased brother’s land to make “an honest livelihood, and provide a comfortable home for [ourselves], and [our] increasing family.”6 While, like Bennelong’s letter, Lock’s petition was composed by an unknown interlocutor, her articulation of an Aboriginal filial and political voice is representative of significant early Aboriginal authorship and its intercultural texturings of English and Aboriginal modes of address. It’s important to note that many such early letters and petitions were written by women. Incarcerated with many of her fellow Tasmanian Palawa people in an Aboriginal settlement at Wybalenna on Flinders Island, in 1846 Mary Anne Arthur (c.1819–1871, Palawa) petitioned the Colonial Secretary of Van Diemen’s Land with a remarkably confident letter expressing her contempt for the settlement’s superintendent, a letter which includes one of the earliest expressions of what today can be considered an appeal to Aboriginal civil and land rights, when she writes “we do not like to be his slaves nor wish our poor Country to be treated badly or made slaves of.”7 In the same year her husband Walter George Arthur (c.1820–1861, Palawa) reiterates her claims and declares “my poor Country-people cry out plenty.”8 Other female 19th-century letter writers include Kitty Brangy (c.1859–1918, Dhudhuroa?), Annie Rich (c.1859–1937, unknown), Bessie Cameron (c.1851–1895, Nyoongar), and Margaret Green (c.1853–1898, Kerrupjmara), among many others.9
While early Aboriginal letter writers and petitioners show great determination, fortitude, and at times good humor in the face of colonization, their texts also reveal the darker side of the “intercultural entanglement” of the English language. At Wybalenna on Flinders Island, which had been established in 1833, Mary Anne and Walter George Arthur’s letters emerged after a decade of conceivably well-meaning but nevertheless assimilationist indoctrination under the yoke of George Augustus Robinson, a Londoner appointed as the settlement’s commandant and minister. Robinson set out to “civilize” his wards by suppressing traditional language and culture while teaching English composition from the Bible. Van Toorn writes how
the Bible, both as material object and as verbal text . . . [was put to use] under the watchful eyes of colonial officials who saw [it] as a tool for cultural assimilation, and refracted their will to power through the voices of a tiny literate Aboriginal elite.10
At Wybalenna, such an elite consisted of two teenage men, Walter George Arthur and Thomas Brune (c.1823–1841, Nuenonne), who had both been students at the Hobart Orphan School and were quite possibly the only literate Aboriginal people on the island. Arthur and Brune assisted in the school, where the principal mode of instruction was copying out passages from the Bible, and under Robinson’s tutelage they wrote and delivered short sermons to their fellow countrymen to help Robinson underscore his persuasiveness in the church. Of considerable interest is the Flinders Island Chronicle, a publication orchestrated by Robinson to help mediate his authority on the island, which was written by Arthur and Brune across thirty-one issues between September 1837 and January 1838. “A mixture of reportage, prayer and moral exhortation,”11 the Flinders Island Chronicle is the first ever regularly published journal written and produced by Aboriginal authors. It survives as an exemplary moment of “intercultural entanglement” in which the earliest writing in English by Aboriginal people can be interpreted not only for its copybook rehearsals, under the watchful eye of the commandant, of biblical paraenesis projected for an interned audience, but also for how it evidences the deep reach of the assimilationist, Christianizing impulse that characteristically overdetermined Aboriginal life from the early 19th century, and how this impulse molded the linguistic and rhetorical conditions and choices of the earliest writing. In their first issue, published on Saturday, September 10, 1837, Arthur and Brune, “Under the Sanction of the Commandant,” write that “[t]he object of this journal is to promote christianity [sic] civilization and Learning amongst the Aboriginal Inhabitants at Flinders Island. The chronicle professes to be a brief but accuate [sic] register of events of the colony Moral and religious.”12 Likewise, on November 17, 1837, they write:
Now my friends you see that the commandant is so kind to you he gives you every thing that you want . . . will you thank the Commandant for all that he done for you in bringing you out of the bush when you knew not God and knew not who made the trees that where before you when you were living in the woods yes my friends you should thank the Commandant yes you should thank the Commandant. There is many of you dying my friends we must all die and we ought to pray to God before we get to heaven yes my friends if we dont [sic] we must have eternal punishment.13
Keeping in mind Thomas’s term “entangled object,” Arthur and Brune’s writing demonstrates a reasonably masterful execution of the expectations of sermonesque genre and rhetoric, but can also be unmasked for its unremitting deference to “the will to power” of colonial ideology. It’s no surprise that some slippage occurs between the figures of “Commandant” and “God.” On December 21, 1837, Arthur and Brune write, “[a]nd now my freinds [sic] let us love the Commandant and let him not be growling at us for our greed and let us love him . . .”14
There is no reason to suspect that Arthur and Brune may have been ironically recasting the rhetoric of Christian salvation for a knowing, albeit incarcerated, audience, although on November 17, 1837 they did also write “[w]hy dont [sic] the black fellows pray to the king to get us away from this place.”15 This flash of a sovereign, resistant sensibility echoes through Mary Ann Arthur’s letter almost a decade later, and registers the survival, notwithstanding the impact of colonization, of a critically engaged consciousness in writing that becomes all the more outspoken as the 19th century wore on. As the South Eastern Australian colonies grew and, following years of decimation and dispersal, surviving Aboriginal families and communities were grouped into reserves and missions, writing in the language of the colonizer became a necessary tool in Aboriginal peoples’ negotiations with colonial authorities.
In the second half of the century, William Barak (c.1824–1903, Wurundjeri, Woiwurung) became widely known as a political leader, artist, and teacher who put the potency of letters and petitions to good use. Driven with his people from his traditional country near Melbourne, Barak was a ngurungaeta, a senior traditional leader and spokesperson who, with his ngurungaeta cousin Simon Wonga (c.1824–1875, Wurundjeri, Woiwurung) and many others, agitated for the acknowledgment of Aboriginal civil and land rights from the late 1850s, particularly those of the Kulin nations of the colony of Victoria. The gazetting of the Coranderrk reserve in 1863, which soon became a refuge for a great number of dispossessed Aboriginal peoples, followed Barak and Wonga’s written “loyal address” to Queen Victoria.16 Like Bennelong and others before him, Barak only had rudimentary writing skills, but in keeping with “traditional Kulin structures of authority and protocols of communication,” as a ngurungaeta he would use an authorized spokesperson and scribe to communicate with others both within and outside Coranderrk, such that the structuration of “the [traditional] roles of ngurungaeta and speaker” was essentially duplicated in the contemporary roles of author and amanuensis.17 We can thus read Barak’s transcribed words as his own. In a petition to colonial authorities dated November 16, 1881, Barak and his countrymen declare “[w]e want the Board and Inspector . . . to be no longer over us,” underlining van Toorn’s claim that “[t]he Coranderrk petitions occupy an important place in the history of Indigenous Australian writing because they attest to the resilience . . . of Indigenous cultures.”18 In a letter to the Argus newspaper dated August 29, 1882, Barak echoes Mary Anne Arthur’s emergent civil rights discourse when he writes that “it seems we are all going to be treated like slaves . . . We should think we are all free [like] any white men of the colony.”19 Unfortunately, the injudiciously named Board for the Protection of Aborigines consistently refused all such expressions: the power of Barak’s English-language pleas was constrained by the power of English bureaucracy. It wouldn’t be until after the mid-20th century that the sentiment and potential of Barak’s expressions of land rights and self-determination would truly be heard by the Commonwealth.
The scarcity of 18th- and 19th-century Aboriginal writing in English attests to the devastation of Aboriginal life during this time, but in those examples that have survived we can witness the emergence of modes of literary performativity that are central to literary writing. Letters, petitions, and sermons may be addressed to those in authority or immurement, but for Aboriginal peoples the novel literary demands of, say, the epistolary genre, required adaptation to new, textually mediated expressions of, for instance, voice, connotation, point of view, figure, and setting, among others. This is not to suggest that such formations were not present already in other kinds of Aboriginal cultural expression, but that the development and acquisition of such discursive and expressive elements of literary writing in English represents a profound cultural transformation in Indigenous Australian societies, one that is characterized, as we have seen, not only by an explicit nexus between the literary and the political, but also by the translation onto the page of sophisticated modes of Indigenous cultural expression that had developed over tens of thousands of years.
Legends and Manifestos
This complex and far-reaching metamorphosis began to cohere in the second decade of the 20th century. Unlike most literatures of the world, it could well be argued that one can readily identify the exact moment that modern Indigenous Australian literature sprang into being. In 1929, David Unaipon (1872–1967, Ngarrindjeri) published a slim, fifteen-page volume with a metropolitan publisher, entitled Native Legends.20 A collection of just seven short traditional stories and sayings, Native Legends represents a watershed moment for Indigenous Australian literature. It is considered to be the first book by an Indigenous Australian, and is emblematic of the revolutionary translation of Aboriginal cultural expression into the discursive and expressive frameworks and expectations of literary English. Unaipon was born at the Point McLeay (Raukkan) mission in South Australia, and as an exceptionally gifted learner soon developed a strong interest in science, music, and philosophy, and in adulthood was sometimes described in the press as a “black genius” and “Australia’s Leonardo” for his numerous lectures, sermons, and inventions, which included a breakthrough modified shearing handpiece and a number of other registered patents.21 His first published work was a short essay entitled “Aboriginals: Their Traditions and Customs. Where Did They Come From?,” published in the Daily Telegraph Saturday Magazine on August 2, 1924.22 Unaipon is introduced somewhat imperiously by the editors as “a full blooded aboriginal . . . [who] [e]ducated among white people became a brilliant scholar [who] reads Greek and Latin, is a splendid speaker, and a fine pianist . . .” The article evinces Unaipon’s enthusiastic engagement with Western culture, which throughout his life was aimed at bringing rich and complex Aboriginal traditions into a syncretic dialogue with those of the west. Unaipon writes that
The aboriginals have always known the four points of the compass, and the four winds of the earth . . . The way of our coming was probably over an isthmus that has long since been sunk under the sea. This seems to agree with science that Australia was once part of a large and ancient continent . . . All the stars and constellations in the heavens, the Milky Way, the Southern Cross, Orion’s Belt, the Magellan Cloud, etc., have a meaning. There are legends connected with them all.23
In an influential 1997 essay, John Alexander underscores Unaipon’s comparatist impulse, highlighting how
Unaipon studied western culture in terms of its underlying similarity to his people’s culture, and his writing attempted to disprove the theories which emphasized the systematic differences between the west and other cultures . . . he considered such studies to be scientific [and] . . . repeatedly compared Aboriginal beliefs not only with Christianity but with all religions.24
As Alexander points out, while early scholarship on Unaipon by John Betson and Adam Shoemaker emphasized what they interpreted to be Unaipon’s uncritical absorption of Christian and Western preeminence in his ideas and writing, a more considered approach might emphasize Unaipon’s elegant balancing of both Aboriginal and Western cultural domains and the possibility of an intelligent dialogue between them.25 Alexander quotes Aboriginal leader Eric Willmott, who, in the inaugural 1989 David Unaipon lecture, said that
Unaipon . . . explored the methods of the new Australians and focused upon two of their areas of expression. The first of these was the use of English literacy and the second was science. Unaipon was in this sense the first Aboriginal scientist who concentrated his investigations upon Europeans.
Unaipon’s comparatist agnosticism is clear at the conclusion of his first published work, where he writes
It will be seen from the foregoing account, and from other sources, that my race, living under native and tribal conditions, have a very strict and efficacious code of laws that keeps the race pure. It is only when the aboriginals come in contact with white civilisation that they leave their tribal laws, and take nothing in place of these old and well-established customs. It is then that disease and deterioration set in.
Unaipon’s comparatist agency, and his mastery of the textual and rhetorical conditions of writing in English, reminds us of Thomas’s “entangled object” and van Toorn’s recognition that in some respects Indigenous writing can be best understood as the “product of intercultural engagement.” Unaipon’s work is an early example of the translation of Aboriginal cultural material into Western literary formations. Indeed, as Alexander reminds us, in the introduction to the important 1990 anthology Paperbark: A Collection of Black Australian Writings, Unaipon was described by the editors as “the first Aboriginal ‘writer,’ in the European romantic sense of an individual expressing his or her ideas.”26 The correlation of the Western Romantic tradition and Unaipon’s literary oeuvre is fitting, although others have also noted a neoclassical propensity and “the influence of Milton and Bunyan.”27 Native Legends is a breakthrough text not only for being the first book by an Aboriginal author, signaling the material emergence of Aboriginal writing within the central technology of Western literary modernity, but also for its prescient demonstration of an Aboriginal cultural and philosophical intelligence working with Western literary traditions. The volume collects seven short pieces across its slim, fifteen pages (“Release of the Dragon Flies,” “Totemism,” “Pah Kowei: The Creature Cell of Life and Intelligence,” “Yuon Goona the Cockatoo,” “Hungarrda,” “The Song of Hungarrda,” “Narrinyerri Saying”), which together convey a set of important Ngarrindjeri cultural stories. Unaipon’s style is conspicuous:
from The Song of Hungarrda
Bright, consuming Spirit. No power on earth so great as Thee,
First-born child of the Goddess of Birth and Light,
Thy habitation betwixt heaven and earth within a veil of clouds dark as night. Accompanied by furious wind and lashing rain and hail. Riding majestically upon
the storm, flashing at intervals, illumining the abode of man.
Thine anger and thy power thou revealest to us. Sometimes in a streak of light, which leaps upon a great towering rock, which stood impregnable and unchallenged in its birth-place when the earth was formed, and hurls it in fragments down the mountain-side, striking terror into man and beast alike.
. . . Thus in wonder I am lost. No mortal mind can conceive. No mortal tongue express in language intelligible. Heaven-born Spark, I cannot see nor feel thee. Thou art concealed mysteriously wrapped within the fibre and bark of tree and bush and shrubs.
Synthesizing elements of Ngarrindjeri culture and language with neoclassical, sermonic syntax, vocabulary, and prosody, Unaipon’s legends produce a compelling material and rhetorical alloy whose style mimics Western literary conventions while preserving Aboriginal cultural knowledges. Contemporary Unaipon scholar Benjamin Miller succinctly defines Unaipon’s “style of resistance” aimed at “performatively overcome[ing] preconceptions of Aboriginality,” acknowledging Stephen Muecke’s analysis that Unaipon “intended to prove the point that ‘Aboriginal people can do it too,’ his cultivation . . . [aimed] against the primitivising and historicising tendencies to ‘keep the natives in their place,’” and Sue Hosking’s analysis of how Unaipon’s “syncretic world view . . . [can] assum[e] the potential for racial harmony.”28 This potential was not forthcoming from the other side of the racial divide. Although Unaipon had attracted the attention of the publisher Angus & Robertson, who commissioned from him a larger, more comprehensive manuscript of thirty-two stories, in a now infamous case of literary theft the publisher sold the collection that Unaipon delivered to the anthropologist William Ramsay Smith, who in 1930 subsequently published it in London as Myths and Legends of the Australian Aborigines without acknowledging Unaipon as the original author. This injustice was rectified in 2001 when, after consultation with Unaipon’s descendants, Stephen Muecke and Adam Shoemaker published Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines, reinstating Unaipon’s original title and finally acknowledging him as the work’s true author.29
Unaipon’s syncretic vision left him curiously unmotivated by the ongoing suppression of Indigenous human, civil, and land rights in Australia, a position that saw him refuse to write for an increasingly politicized Indigenous fraternity who were steadily more vocal in their resistance to early 20th-century government policies in Aboriginal affairs. Following the federation of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, where the constitution specifically quarantined the federal government from any authority over Indigenous peoples, who were not considered to be citizens, state governments applied an increasingly harsh assimilationist agenda which caused a correspondingly passionate response from Indigenous political activists and writers. John Maynard (Worimi) has identified how early 20th-century Aboriginal activists, who were often employed as laborers at major ports, were inspired by interactions with African American merchant seamen, leading to the inauguration of Aboriginal participation in transnational resistance movements that went on to flourish in the second half of the century.30 Organizations such as the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (1924–1928) led by Charles Frederick (Fred) Maynard (1879–1946, Worimi), the Australian Aborigines League (1932–1936), led by William Cooper (1861–1941, Yorta Yorta) and others such as pastor Doug Nicholls (1906–1988, Yorta Yorta), and the Aborigines Progressive Association (APA; 1937–1944) led by William Ferguson (1882–1950, unknown), Jack Patten (1905–1957, unknown), and Pearl Gibbs (1901–1983, Ngemba, Muruwari), were central to these developments. While Unaipon was widely lauded for his writing, lectures, and sermons, he resisted any involvement with the production of the political literature of the time. Patten and Ferguson were central to the writing of such articles during the 1930s, and through the APA with Pearl Gibbs organized one of the most important demonstrations against state administration of Aboriginal affairs, the remarkable “Day of Mourning and Protest” held at the Australian Hall in Elizabeth Street Sydney on Wednesday, January 26, 1938, the sesquicentenary of the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney and the establishment of the colony. The demonstration’s appeal for “full citizen status” and equality for Aboriginal peoples was underscored by a radical and now famous manifesto produced by Patten and Ferguson, Aborigines Claim Citizen Rights! This astutely militant text takes aim at the state-based New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board and, as was the case in other states of the Commonwealth, its aggressive and damaging enforcement of policies of assimilation. It opens:
The 26th of January, 1938, is not a day of rejoicing for Australia’s Aborigines; it is a day of mourning. This festival of 150 years’ so-called “progress” in Australia commemorates also 150 years of misery and degradation imposed upon the original native inhabitants by the white invaders of this country . . . You hypocritically claim that you are trying to “protect” us; but your modern policy of “protection” (so-called) is killing us off just as surely as the pioneer policy of giving us poisoned damper and shooting us down like dingoes!31
Not unlike the letters and petitions of the 19th century, Patten and Ferguson’s manifesto exploits the usual conventions of political literature, such as a conspicuous hortatory modality and elevated linguistic register, but is also compelling for its confident employment of irony and satire in metaphoric figures, evident in lines such as “[w]e do not wish to be regarded with sentimental sympathy, or to be ‘preserved,’ like the koala bears, as exhibits,” and “Aborigines are interested not only in boomerangs and gum leaves and corroborees!”32 Such self-assured humor is underscored by the authors’ sophisticated literary rhetoric, shown, for example, in the hyperbolic anaphora of one of the manifesto’s most remembered sentences, “We ask for equal education, equal opportunity, equal wages, equal rights to possess property, or to be our own masters—in two words: equal citizenship!” a claim that continues to echo through Australian history. At the time, the manifesto and activities of the APA were completely ignored by the state; however, their work was frequently complemented by colleagues such as Gibbs, whose various articles, speeches, and radio lectures were particularly aimed at raising awareness of the exploitation of young Aboriginal women. While the political literature of the 1920s and 1930s evinced a growing confidence and assertiveness in Aboriginal authors’ public expressions of the Aboriginal plight, the creation and circulation of such texts essentially stopped during the Second World War.
“The Dawn is at Hand”
It wasn’t until a generation after Unaipon’s Native Legends that modern, contemporary Indigenous Australian literature truly emerged. In 1964, renowned political activist, environmentalist, poet, and artist Kath Walker (1920–1993, Noonuccal) published We Are Going, the first full-length book by an Aboriginal person, and the first book by an Aboriginal woman.33 It’s important to note that in late 1987, in protest against the nationwide celebrations of the bicentenary of colonization, Kath Walker publicly readopted her traditional name Oodgeroo Noonuccal, meaning “paperbark tree of the Noonuccal clan.” She is essentially known as “Oodgeroo,” which will be used hereon. Published in the middle of the 1960s, during the era of the American civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and complex social change, We Are Going appeared at a time of social and political transformation in Australia. After many decades of political agitation, the human, civil, and land rights claims of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were becoming increasingly visible to non-Indigenous Australians. Often described as the grandmother of Aboriginal literature, Oodgeroo played a leading role in that tectonic shift, and her prominent profile resulted in We Are Going becoming one of the fastest-selling books of poetry in Australian publishing history. The book opens with the poem “Aboriginal Charter of Rights”—“We want hope, not racialism,/Brotherhood, not ostracism”—drawing on the civil rights focus of her predecessors, her claims for the acknowledgment of Aboriginal dispossession, and suffering, underlined throughout the collection in poems such as “Colour Bar,” “The Dispossessed,” “United We Win,” “White Australia,” and “The Protectors,” in which she echoes the sentiments of the 1938 Day of Mourning in a protest against “[t]he protector who does not protect.” While Oodgeroo’s volume was extraordinarily popular amongst the general public, it was not so appreciated in orthodox, Anglophilic Australian literary circles. In an anonymous review published in the Australian Book Review in May 1964, Oodgeroo’s poetry was deplorably described as “bad verse . . . jingles, clichés, laborious rhymes all piled up . . . this has nothing to do with poetry.”34 Such responses failed to grasp the real achievement of Oodgeroo’s poetry, her translation, not unlike Unaipon’s, of an Aboriginal cultural philosophy into English language poetry and literary modernity. Shoemaker counterclaims that in We Are Going Walker’s “free verse is often impressive in its directness and poignancy,”35 a view he notes is echoed by other critics of the time, such as Jill Hellyer (“Her free verse . . . has great fluidity . . . an innate lyricism”36), and in the Times Literary Supplement (“We Are Going is on the whole a refreshing book”37). Oodgeroo quickly followed We Are Going with The Dawn is at Hand (1966), and went on to publish numerous books of poetry, a play, books illustrated with her own artwork, books for children, and various essays and speeches. Her titles include My People: A Kath Walker Collection (1970), Stories from Stradbroke (1972), Quandamooka: The Art of Kath Walker (1985), Kath Walker in China (1988), The Rainbow Serpent (1988), and Australia’s Unwritten History: More Legends of Our Land (1992).
Oodgeroo’s literary impact is immeasurable. Her breakthrough achievement helped establish a set of critical frameworks that remain central to the analysis of Indigenous Australian literatures: essentially, as has been noted, the translation of traditional Indigenous cultural material into Western literary technologies and, in a related sense, the development of literary writing from predominantly oral storytelling modes of cultural transmission, and the ongoing inseparability of the literary and the political. In her foreword to The Dawn is at Hand, Oodgeroo writes that much of her poetry in the volume is drawn from “old tribal tales [that are not] my own invention, but were heard from the old people when I was a child.”38 The renowned Aboriginal novelist Alexis Wright (b. 1950, Waanyi) writes that
Oodgeroo was continuing an ancient message about the value of respect, a message at the heart of the epical stories of Aboriginal law in our long civilisation. . . . she also saw way back into the timelessness of culture, ever present in a changing world for Aboriginal people . . . an ancient race of people of high intelligence and philosophy who had survived as the oldest living culture on the planet.39
Oodgeroo’s writing inaugurated a “style” of Aboriginal poetics that draws upon traditional patterns and modes of oral storytelling, and synthesizes them with elements of Western prosody to develop literary texts that are both “ancient” and “modern” at the same time. Native American literary theorist Chadwick Allen (Chickasaw) suggests that the anonymous 1964 reviewer of We Are Going, who also wrote of Oodgeroo’s poetry that “[t]he authentic voice of the song-man using the English language still remains to be heard,” is representative of a classical colonial gesture that reifies a binary distinction between “ancient/uncivilised” and “modern/western” writing, and of a failure to grasp the Aboriginal “refusal to conceal the constraints of coloniality . . . a refusal to comply with the expectation that an Indigenous voice will conceal and thus naturalise the coloniality of settler knowledge and power.”40 If we hold Wright and Allen’s insights together, we can apprehend a poetics in which the thematic, metaphoric, and prosodic properties of the writing are enacted through a doubled inscription of Aboriginal expression within Western form and Western expression within Aboriginal form. Thus, in Aboriginal poetry (and Aboriginal literature more generally) both Aboriginal oral storytelling modes and Western prosodic modes are transformed. As Australian poet John Kinsella suggests, Oodgeroo’s poetry “utilize[s] the tools of the colonizer against the colonizer . . . [and] us[es Western] style against that style.”41
As Oodgeroo’s publications testify, Aboriginal writing in the late 1960s emerged as a confident and incisive expression of Aboriginal cultural and political consciousness at a time of great social upheaval. Other Aboriginal authors of the time, like those of the early 19th and 20th centuries, were often explicitly motivated by the call to assert Aboriginal human, civil, and land rights against the ongoing impacts of colonization. Oodgeroo was instrumental in the successful constitutional referendum of May 27, 1967, which saw the Commonwealth finally empowered to engage in Aboriginal affairs, and in the lead up to this highly significant moment many letters, petitions, and speeches were composed by Aboriginal authors. The historic Yirrkala Bark Petition, presented to the Commonwealth parliament in August 1963 in an expression of Aboriginal sovereignty against the excision of traditional lands for mining, is significant for being the first petition by Aboriginal authors to be properly recognized in the Australian parliament, and therefore represents the first formal recognition of Aboriginal law by the Crown. Vincent Lingiari (1919–1988, Gurindji) led the famous Wave Hill walk-off in 1966, and in 1967 wrote to the Crown to appeal for the return of his people’s traditional lands in a letter that, like Aboriginal authors before him, linked the survival of traditional culture with citizenship rights:
Our people have lived here from time immemorial and our culture, myths, dreaming and sacred places have evolved in this land . . . we are capable of working and planning our own destiny as free citizens.42
By the end of the 1960s, multiple and more frequent expressions of the rights of Indigenous Australians were reaching an increasingly sympathetic Australian society. It was the work of the literature, in poetry, letters, and petitions, that underpinned this success.
Testimony and Blood Memory
It is widely recognized that Indigenous Australian cultural and political life underwent an extraordinary renaissance in the 1970s. A vital mood of political self-determination inspired Indigenous creators across the arts to establish new and powerful platforms for expression that have since been embraced nationally and internationally. The emergence of the Western Desert art movement in the early 1970s heralded the blossoming of world-leading contemporary Aboriginal art, and in metropolitan centers Aboriginal writers contributed to new developments across a range of literary forms, especially in poetry, works for the theater, and, for the first time, works of prose in autobiography and fiction. This new literature amply demonstrates what by now had become the central conceptual and thematic touchstones in Aboriginal writing—negotiation with political and literary coloniality, and the recovery and revitalization of traditional cultures—but it also signals a radical expansion of these terms to embrace a more vigorous examination of the impact of colonization on individuals, families, and communities, and the emergence of more confident and, perhaps most importantly, relatively autonomous literary cultures in which Indigenous material, philosophical, and aesthetic systems could be renewed. Theoretical criteria such as “entanglement” and “intercultural engagement” remain central, but from the 1970s onward such frameworks are substantially recalibrated. On one hand, having assuredly taken control of the necessary linguistic, prosodic, and rhetorical dimensions of literary writing across a range of genres and modes, Aboriginal authors were now positioned to address and make visible a far more complex and powerful range of domestic Aboriginal cultural and historical experiences. Likewise, following global social and political advances during the 1960s, Indigenous Australian literature began a far-reaching period of internationalization that saw Aboriginal authors respond to and localize key trends in global expressions of Black and First Nations rights and modes of decoloniality.
A critical appreciation of Indigenous Australian literature from this period hinges on at least two related conceptual frameworks that are themselves embedded in Aboriginal cultural philosophy. To “entanglement” and “intercultural engagement” we can add the emergence of testimonial, autobiographical narrative and the recovery of “blood memory.” In keeping with its development as a major movement in postwar Native American literature, the inauguration of Australian Indigenous autobiographical and testimonial literature (particularly fiction) in the 1970s can be understood as a generational reckoning with the impacts of colonization, its regimes of assimilation and disenfranchisement, and the cross-generational trauma of loss and despair resulting from the stolen generations and the fragmentation of traditional kinship ties with family, culture, and country. Testimonial literature bears witness to history in an autobiographical mode that reaches deeply into elements of traditional Aboriginal cultural practices, especially oral storytelling and song, where an interlocutor vocalizes both an immediate witnessing or performance of story alongside its more general historical and aesthetic dimensions as a narrative shared across time and space. “Blood memory,” a term first coined by prominent Native American author N. Scott Momaday in his breakthrough 1969 novel House Made of Dawn, is critically elaborated by Chadwick Allen as a vital and recuperative “blood/land/memory complex” in which intergenerational healing can be catalyzed and substantiated in literary narrative as it recuperates sovereign Indigenous histories.43 The literature of the 1970s and beyond is characterized by both an ongoing entanglement and intercultural dialogue with Western literary and political forms, and a progressively increasing autonomy and assertiveness built upon generations of bearing witness and the reassertion of cultural knowledges and pride.
These conceptual and thematic frameworks are visible in the emergence of testimonial fiction and nonfiction by authors intimately involved in the postwar struggle for Aboriginal rights and in the publication of the first Aboriginal novel in 1978. Leader of the 1965 Freedom Ride and prominent Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins (1936–2000, Arrernte, Kalkadoon) published A Bastard Like Me in 1975, and in 1977 Margaret Tucker (1904–1996, Wiradjuri, Yulupna) published If Everybody Cared: Autobiography of Margaret Tucker (1977). Perhaps the most significant publication of this kind, and what scholars today cite as the first novel by an Indigenous Australian, was Karobran: The Story of an Aboriginal Girl (1978), written by Monica Clare (1924–1973) and published posthumously. At the height of the assimilationist period in the 1920s and 1930s, when thousands of Aboriginal children were stolen from their families, like many so-called “half-caste” children Clare was placed into a state institution in 1931. Clare never saw her family again, but after growing up in a series of foster homes she dedicated her life to the struggle for Aboriginal rights. Meaning “together,” Karobran tells the story of her life as a state ward and her lifelong search for her family and identity. The narrative is seminal not only for being the first novel by an Aboriginal person, but also for its innovative form. Constructed over two parts, a dramatic, colloquial section on her early life, followed by a section in a more formal, instructional voice, the book draws on the conventions of both autobiographical literature and the political essay by refracting her personal experience through a political consciousness informed by racial politics and a metropolitan experience of class struggle. While Karobran fell into obscurity after its publication, it is highly significant for its entangled synthesis of the conventions of autobiography and political literature in the form of the testimonial novel, a precedent that somewhat set the scene for the Aboriginal novel in the coming decades.
Alongside the emergence of testimonial and autobiographical prose, and following the breakthrough publications by Oodgeroo in the decade prior, the 1970s also witnessed a sudden proliferation of poetry and plays. The first major work of the 1970s was The First-Born and Other Poems (1970), the first book by West Australian author Jack Davis (1917–2000, Nyoongar). The title poem is representative of Davis’s skillful employment of conventional English prosody to engage with cultural life and dislocation:
Where are my first-born, said the brown land, sighing;
They came out of my womb long, long ago.
They were formed of my dust—why, why are they crying
And the light of their being barely aglow?
Like Oodgeroo, Davis was central to the promotion of Aboriginal literature at the time, particularly as editor of the important Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander journal Identity from 1973. Alongside his poetry, which also included books such as Jagardoo: Poems from Aboriginal Australia (1977), John Pat and Other Poems (1988), and Black Life: Poems (1992), Davis is perhaps best known as one of the most prominent early Aboriginal playwrights, particularly for the groundbreaking plays Kullark (1979) and the “First-Born” trilogy The Dreamers (1982), No Sugar (1985), and Barungin: Smell the Wind (1989), which essentially helped define modern Aboriginal theater and its testimonial exploration of the survival of cultural traditions amid the impact of colonization and immense dislocation and suffering. Other later works by Davis include the plays Honey Spot (1987) and Moorli and the Leprechaun (1989), and the compelling autobiographical work A Boy’s Life (1991).
The first play by an Aboriginal author, The Cherry Pickers, was written by Kevin Gilbert (1933–1993, Wiradjuri). Alongside Oodgeroo and Davis, Gilbert is recognized as one of the founders of modern Aboriginal literature, and as a leading Aboriginal artist was also the first Aboriginal printmaker. The Cherry Pickers, written in the late 1960s while Gilbert was in prison, was first produced by Nindethana Theatre Group in Melbourne in 1971. At the time, the recently freed Gilbert had embraced the bourgeoning Aboriginal rights movement, and he was a founding member of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy that was established on the lawn of Parliament House in Canberra in 1972. Also mostly written in prison, his first poetry manuscript End of Dreamtime was published in 1971; however, in a notorious act of editorial interference Gilbert’s poems were radically edited at Island Press without his permission in order to sanitize them for a mainstream White readership. Gilbert renounced the volume and republished the corrected version of his first book as People Are Legends: Aboriginal Poems in 1978. Gilbert was a leader in the growing Aboriginal literary scene, and he edited a number of significant surveys and political volumes, including Because a White Man’ll Never Do It (1973), Living Black: Blacks talk to Kevin Gilbert (1977), Aboriginal Sovereignty: Justice, the Law and the Land (1988), and the groundbreaking Inside Black Australia: An Anthology of Aboriginal Poetry (1988). In his final years Gilbert was honored with various awards for his work, including a four-year Prime Minister’s Creative Fellowship in 1992, and produced The Blackside: People are Legends and Other Poems (1990), a book of poetry for children entitled Child’s Dreaming (1992), and, posthumously published, Black from the Edge (1994). Gilbert’s achievement was to bring what Shoemaker describes as a “remarkable directness” to Aboriginal literature, informed no doubt by having endured difficult circumstances in childhood, his years in prison, and his forthright dedication to the Aboriginal political cause.44 While at the time many White critics, as they did with Oodgeroo, criticized Gilbert’s poetry for being too political and prosodically unsophisticated, his writing is representative of the voice of Aboriginal social protest and its exploitation of Western literary conventions. His work is renowned for its straight-talking political urgency, but is also remarkable for its sustained and sensitive representations of cultural loss, blood memory, and the recovery of cultural autonomy.
Works in poetry and drama were central to the emergence of Indigenous Australian literature in the 1970s, but it was perhaps in the theater that metropolitan Australians were most forcefully exposed to the emergent Aboriginal consciousness. In 1971, Jack Charles (b. 1943, Bunurong, Wiradjuri) and Bob Maza (1939–2000, Meriam, Yidiny) established Melbourne’s Nindethana Theatre Company, which aimed “to promote and encourage the performance of Aboriginal drama, music, art, literature, film production and other cultural activities.”45 Around the same time, Aboriginal street theater became increasingly visible, especially at political rallies and protests in cities. The National Black Theatre was established in Redfern, Sydney, in 1972 by a community of Indigenous dancers and performers, including Maza and others such as Brian Syron (1934–1993, Eora), Paul Coe (b. 1949, Wiradjuri), Lester Bostock (1934–2017, Bundjalung), and Euphemia Bostock (b. 1936, Bundjalung, Munajali). Its first street performances were in aid of Aboriginal rights protests, such as demonstrations in aid of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, the nascent Aboriginal Legal Service, and land rights protests organized by the Black Moratorium Committee. The theater’s first stage production, a satirical comedy review entitled Basically Black, was held at the Nimrod Theatre in Kings Cross from October 27, 1972, and was subsequently produced as a short comedy for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1973, the first television program written and produced by Indigenous Australians. The theater supported the early careers of writers, actors, and community leaders such as Aileen Corpus (b. 1949, Ngangiwumirri, Wageman), Gary Foley (b. 1950, Gumbainggir), and Bindi Williams (b. ?), among many others, and productions by a new generation of Aboriginal playwrights, such as Robert J. Merritt’s (1945–2011, Wiradjuri) The Cake Man (1975) and Here Comes the Nigger (1976) by Gerry Bostock (1942–2014, Bundjalung). The history of the National Black Theatre is told in the compelling film documentary The Redfern Story (2014), directed by renowned Aboriginal filmmaker Darlene Johnson (b. 1970, Dunghutti). In her groundbreaking monograph Creating Frames: Contemporary Indigenous Theatre 1967–1990, Maryrose Casey describes the growth of Nindethana and the National Black Theatre, from “community development work . . . activities includ[ing] street theatre, guerilla theatre and . . . drama and dance workshops,” to a professional national Indigenous theatre scene that “laid the foundations for . . . Indigenous actors performing Indigenous stories . . . Indigenous theatre workers collaborating to establish Indigenous-controlled companies and productions, and through achieving recognition and critical attention for their work.”46 As such, the emergence during the 1970s of writing for the theater by Indigenous Australians can be appreciated for its reflection of the increasing visibility of Indigenous literature generally, and as an attestation of the growing influence of a culture of self-determination.
The Contemporary Indigenous Novel
Following the emergence of radical Aboriginal writing in the 1970s, which included the achievements of Oodgeroo, Davis, Gilbert, and Clare, and the establishment of a vibrant Aboriginal theater scene across metropolitan centers, Indigenous Australian literature was perhaps most significantly enriched by the blossoming of the Indigenous novel. Clare’s Karobran had established a nexus between autobiography and political writing in literary prose, and during the 1980s growing popular interest in Aboriginal culture and narratives underpinned a rapid increase in the publication of Aboriginal novels. Robert Bropho (1930–2011, Nyoongar) published Fringedweller in 1980, and Shirley Perry Smith (1924–1998, Wiradjuri) Mum Shirl: An Autobiography in 1981; however, a more novelistic, testimonial narrative style was first realized in Pride against Prejudice: Reminiscences of a Tasmanian Aboriginal Girl (1984) by Ida West (1919–2003, Palawa).
The mid-1980s were characterized by a period of attenuated political hubris associated with the national 1988 bicentennial celebrations of the arrival of the First Fleet. While White Australia saluted the perceived successes of colonization, the border zones of intercultural engagement were permeated by an amplified and more visible struggle for the recognition of Aboriginal civil, land, and cultural rights. Following the politicized recovery of the “blood/land/memory complex” by Aboriginal activists, writers, and artists during the 1960s and 1970s, by the mid-1980s Indigenous Australian authors and publishers were well advanced in rebuilding platforms for Indigenous sovereign expression for both mainstream and Indigenous audiences. While poet Kath Walker was successfully protesting the bicentenary by returning her OBE and changing her name, a set of novels by Aboriginal authors completely recast the trajectory of Aboriginal testimonial prose. In 1987, Glenyse Ward (b. 1949, Nyoongar) published Wandering Girl, a compelling account of life endured under policies of assimilation, and the first novel published by one of the first and now most prominent Aboriginal publishers in Australia, West Australian press Magabala Books.
On the east coast, Eric Willmot (1938–2014) published Pemulwuy: The Rainbow Warrior (1987). Unique for its time, Pemulwuy is an account of one of the most important 19th-century Aboriginal (Eora) guerrilla leaders who fought against English colonization. However, perhaps the most striking achievement of the period was the January 1, 1988 publication of the instant bestseller My Place (1987) by Sally Morgan (b. 1951, Palku, Nyamal). My Place is perhaps the most significant testimonial novel of the 1980s, as for the first time it brought Aboriginal literature to an wide national and international readership and single-handedly revolutionized mainstream awareness of Aboriginal historical experience against the backdrop of coloniality and the fragmentation of Aboriginal kinship relations. An account of her search to uncover the truth of her mother’s and grandmother’s Aboriginal ancestry, My Place was one of the first Aboriginal novels to bring the plight of the stolen generations to a mainstream White audience, exploring transgenerational trauma through family and racial histories. Morgan’s recovery of blood memory, her candid and detailed exploration of the loss and eventual recovery of filial and cultural integrity, played a central role in the profound late 1980s shift toward a more sympathetic appreciation of Aboriginal history in Australia.
Also in 1988, multi-award-winning author Ruby Langford Ginibi (1934–2011, Bundjalung) published her first novel Don’t Take Your Love to Town, which she followed with Real Deadly (1992), My Bundjalung People (1994), Haunted by the Past (1999), and All My Mob (2007). Langford’s work is masterful for not only its foregrounding of the experiences of young Aboriginal women and Aboriginal family and community life, but also for its sometimes sprawling, relational narratorial fabric and its frequent use of an Aboriginal English vernacular. As has always been the case with Aboriginal literature, Ginibi was cognizant of how her work is representative of the intersection between traditional Aboriginal culture and language, contemporary Aboriginal struggle, and the language of the colonizer. In an interview conducted in 1999, Ginibi discussed her friendship and positive working relationship with her non-Indigenous editor, Penny van Toorn:
Penny sat down and listened to what I was saying, and to begin with I said: “Don’t Gubbaize my text.” Don’t Anglicise it, the way I write, that’s it. She respected my wishes for that. . . . We come from an oral tradition, you know. This stuff is handed down from generation after generation since time immemorial, but we’ve always had to be the ones to conform to other people’s forms of English, and Aboriginal people have had to make the English language our own in this respect. We had to learn the Queen’s English so that we can write and people can comprehend what the hell we’re on about. But you are walking into a white literary frame that’s always been there.47
Ginibi’s entangled writing, exemplified here in her use of Aboriginal English (“Don’t Gubbaize my text,” where “gubba” is an Aboriginal English word derived from “government man” or “governor,” and designates a “white person”) is emblematic of what Michelle Grossman describes as an “Indigenous vernacular text” that hybridizes traditional Aboriginal oral and modern Western literary conventions:
[A] hybridised Aboriginal vernacular mode of written representation . . . The Indigenous vernacular text, . . . is a discursive formation at once resistant and collusive, playful and threatening, that refuses to be pinned down; it tenants an interstitial zone between the polarities of “black orality” and “white writing.”48
Ginibi’s autobiographical novels are complemented by the breakthrough Auntie Rita (1994), coauthored by Rita Cynthia Huggins (1921–1996, Pitjara) and her daughter, historian, author, and academic Jackie Huggins (b. 1956, Pitjara, Birri-Gubba Juru), who went on to publish the celebrated Sister Girl: The Writings of Aboriginal Activist and Historian in 1998. Auntie Rita is a profoundly intimate and moving chronicle of the impacts of the stolen generation and the ongoing struggle for Aboriginal rights and recognition, and is renowned for its innovative address across the two voices of mother and daughter throughout the text. While most testimonial fiction of this period was published by Aboriginal women, highly respected stockman, drover, and now author and storyteller Herb Wharton (b. 1936, Kooma, Guwamu) published his first novel Unbranded in 1992. Wharton’s fiction is noteworthy for its blood-memory recovery of the lives and tribulations of mid-20th-century male Aboriginal pastoral workers and the sustenance of traditional culture and pride within the hostile pastoral industry, stories he continued to publish in books such as Where Ya’ Been, Mate? (1996). Also from a male perspective but in a metropolitan context, John Muk Muk Burke’s (b. 1946, Wiradjuri) Bridge of Triangles (1994) is a lyrical, social-realist account of a young man’s mixed-race childhood on the fringes of Sydney.
It was from the early 1990s that the trajectory of the Aboriginal novel, which had so far been anchored in autobiography and testimonial fiction, was increasingly invigorated by the development of purely imaginative fiction. Indigenous Australian literature embarked upon another remarkable transformation which built upon the entangled intercultural social and political textuality of previous decades by radicalizing the substrate of blood memory in compelling new directions. Indigenous historical, cultural, and lived experience were now the bedrock for literary works built upon the achievements of generations of writers who had gradually wrested control of Western form and language to produce a sovereign (and widely read) Indigenous literature. These advancements coincided with real progress in the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander civil and land rights, shown especially by the 1992 success of the Mabo native title case at the High Court of Australia, which saw the Crown’s root-title unsettled by its judicial recognition of a form of Indigenous title to land that preexisted and in many cases survived colonization. Such achievements energized and inspired Indigenous authors to explore new modes of expression.
In broad terms, these new dimensions can be described across at least two principal categories: a generational recasting of testimonial fiction in ways that combine both historical realism and imaginative conjecture, and the emergence of Aboriginal writing in popular mainstream modes of genre fiction such as romance, crime fiction, and, in the last decade or two, a Black and First Nations futurist literature aligned with international trends in, for example, Native American and Afro-futurism, sci-fi, and speculative fiction. Of course, such demarcations become more complex when such categories are viewed in a more granular way. As has been shown, all contemporary Indigenous Australian literature is founded in traditional cultural philosophy and the implicit representation of blood-memory relationality across family, culture, land, and language, and is likewise enmeshed in networks of intercultural entanglement with modes of Western literary modernity. What is perhaps most significant about late 20th- and early 21st-century Indigenous Australian literature is the confident proliferation of multiple modes of literary expression that all build upon the past but also demonstrate how Aboriginal culture, history, and experience are being recast in new forms by a new generation.
The 1990s were a time of tectonic shifts in the social, political, and legal landscape shared by Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Following sporadic gains for Indigenous Australians between the late 1960s and the late 1980s, the success of the Mabo decision in 1992 changed Australian politics forever. Following the Mabo decision at the High Court on June 3, on December 10, 1992 Prime Minister Paul Keating launched the 1993 International Year for the World’s Indigenous Peoples with his now famous Redfern Speech, in which the truth of violent colonization, dispossession, and suffering were finally acknowledged by the highest Australian office. Five years later, in 1997, the painful transgenerational impacts of colonization and enforced assimilation were laid bare in the Bringing Them Home report. Delivered by the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s national inquiry into the “stolen generations,” the report marked a watershed moment in the country’s recognition of two centuries of colonization and the cruel policies of assimilation that affected thousands. The history of injustice was made unequivocally visible to the general public, and like those who faced the inquiry’s commissioners and told their personal stories around the country, Indigenous writers were again emboldened by testimony that bore witness to the stolen generations, spearheading new Indigenous voices and narratives in works of fiction, theater, and film.
Having already gained a strong foothold in the popular Australian consciousness following Sally Morgan’s My Place, autobiographical and testimonial novels by Aboriginal women became even more popular, their narratives of stolen children and broken families reaching a broadly sympathetic audience in Australia and overseas. In 1996, Doris Pilkington Garimara (1937–2014, Mardu) published Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, an extraordinary account of the stolen generation told through the experiences of the author’s mother and two aunts in the 1930s, who escaped from incarceration and walked 1,600 kilometers through wilderness and desert to be reunited with their families. In 2002 the novel was developed by Australian director Phillip Noyce into a highly successful feature film, Rabbit-Proof Fence. Pilkington had previously published Caprice: A Stockman’s Daughter (1990), winner of the 1990 David Unaipon Literary Award, a testimonial novel which also narrates the brutal impact of assimilation on Aboriginal women and their families.
Melissa Lucashenko (b. 1967, Bundjalung, Yugambeh) published her first novel, the award-winning Steam Pigs in 1997. Lucashenko’s breakthrough work contemporizes testimonial, autobiographical fiction in a sharp-witted exploration of the experiences of a young woman pursuing the truth of her identity in mixed-race suburbia, bringing the entangled intersectionality of gender, class, and feminism to bear on Aboriginal consciousness and extending the range of Aboriginal women’s fiction. Lucashenko’s Hard Yards (1999) and, later, Mullumbimby (2013) and Too Much Lip (2018), winner of the 2019 Miles Franklin Award, chronicle the blood memory of Aboriginal women through deep cultural narratives about the survival of kinship, family, and connection to country and identity amid conflicting pressures of contemporary life in metropolitan and regional settings. Throughout her work, Lucashenko is representative of a contemporary Aboriginal consciousness that articulates a complex, resistant expression of Indigenous sovereignty and its intercultural entanglements with settler cultures, recasting the relation between Indigenous peoples and the colonial state. In Meanjin she writes:
The “natural” destiny of an Aboriginal person in Australia will . . . [one day] transform from that of mendicant and prisoner and alien. Our roles will revert to what they were for millennia, this time in a twenty-first-century context: landholders, managers, parents, grandparents, diplomats, scientists, adventurers, teachers, entrepreneurs, creatives and full citizens with agency over our lives. Like the Native Americans and Native Canadians, we will exercise real decision-making power in our own domains. A revolutionary thought for the Great Southern Land, but not an impossible one.49
In the same period, Bruce Pascoe (b. 1947, Bunurong, Palawa), who was editor of the influential journal Australian Short Stories from 1982 to 1998, published a trilogy of novels, Fox (1988), Ruby-Eyed Coucal (1996), and Shark (1999). Not unlike Lucashenko, Pascoe similarly reshapes the testimonial mode of prior decades by writing with great intimacy and at times lyricism about country, culture, and language, the “blood/land/memory complex” of Aboriginal philosophy often entangled in damaging Western legal, economic, and political systems. Pascoe has also been widely celebrated for his revisionist histories such as the breakthrough Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? (2014), which makes an unequivocal case for pre-invasion Aboriginal agriculture in Australia.
The energy and potential of revolutionary thought is central to the work of Alexis Wright (b. 1950, Waanyi), who is today considered to be one of the leading Indigenous Australian novelists. Wright’s first two books appeared in 1997, the nonfiction Grog War, an account of alcohol abuse in the remote community at Tennant Creek, and her well-received debut novel Plains of Promise, a work of testimonial fiction which chronicles the suffering of Aboriginal women incarcerated under assimilationist policies at a Christian mission. Wright’s next three novels—Carpentaria (2006) and The Swan Book (2013) and Tracker: Stories of Tracker Tilmouth (2017)—completely transformed Aboriginal fiction by introducing, alongside elements of testimony and autobiography, radical kinds of imaginative conjecture and language experimentation that tested the boundaries of Western literary form and genre in ways that could express an autonomous Aboriginal imagination in new and challenging ways. Wright’s inspired, visionary writing synthesizes Aboriginal cosmology and philosophy with a strong, social realist representation of contemporary political and economic forces in Australia, invoking the history of Aboriginal experience and its complex negotiations with Western modernity in far-reaching conceptualizations that speak to the literature of the world. Her works enact a transformative, Indigenous-centered reinterpretation of Western literary genre conventions, her constructions of place, character, and discourse are infused with a radically Indigenous sense of country, personhood, and time. Wright has received numerous accolades and awards for her novels, not least Australia’s most prestigious prize for fiction, the Miles Franklin Award for Carpentaria in 2007, and the Stella Prize for women’s literature for Tracker in 2018.
The novels of Kim Scott (b. 1957, Nyoongar) have been similarly transformative and influential. Scott’s well-received first book, the semi-autobiographical True Country (1993) inaugurated his ongoing and deeply rooted inquiry into the “blood/land/memory complex” of Nyoongar life and country of southwest Western Australia, and its contemporary expression amid complex social and political histories, not least the impact of assimilationist policies that affected so many Indigenous communities during the 20th century. Scott’s two subsequent novels, Benang: From the Heart (1999) and That Deadman Dance (2010) both won the prestigious Miles Franklin Award. Not unlike Wright, Scott’s novels address the impacts of colonization and assimilation on families, communities, and cultures alongside representations of transgenerational suffering, recovery, and the revitalization of identity, culture, and country, but also challenge the expectations of Western literary and linguistic formations in ways that allow the expression of a contemporary Aboriginal consciousness steeped in traditional philosophy. That Deadman Dance, for instance, looks back to early 19th-century interactions between Nyoongar and the first colonists, a moment of complex human interaction in an increasingly politicized landscape, offering a vivid, elegiacally charged account of cross-cultural contact and possibility, both the tragic and beautiful. These themes are explored further in Scott’s latest novel Taboo (2017), a poetically and morally charged account of how contemporary reconnections with Aboriginal cosmology, country, and language are still refracted through the pain and destruction of the past. As with Wright’s achievement, Scott’s fiction is renowned for its consummate contemporaneity, and especially for its often lyrical and insightful reworking of Western literary conventions from a uniquely Indigenous standpoint.
Since 2000, the dramatic reshaping of the Aboriginal novel has encouraged a new wave of authorship and publishing, and produced new horizons and audiences for Indigenous writing in Australian and internationally. Wright and Scott are perhaps the most prominent representatives of an explosion of new writing that has transformed testimonial and realist fiction. Novelists such as Alf Taylor (b. 1947, Nyoongar), Vivienne Cleven (b. 1968, Kamilaroi), Larissa Behrendt (b. 1969, Kamilaroi, Eualeyai), Fabienne Bayet (1970–2011, Bundjalung), Nicole Watson (b. 1973, Birri-Gubba Juru, Yugambeh), and Torres Strait Islander author Terri Janke (b. 1966, Meriam Mir, Wuthathi, Yadaighana) heralded a new generation and new ways of writing about the impacts of colonization and the recovery of blood memory, culture, and country. Leading fiction writer and poet Tony Birch (b. 1957, Aboriginal) has published a number of well-received novels and short story collections, such as Shadow Boxing (2006) and Ghost River (2015), which have placed him at the forefront of a new wave of male Aboriginal novelists that also includes South Australian author Jared Thomas (b. 1976, Nukunu, Ngajuri). Birch and Thomas’s work reminds us of the centrality of cultural healing and integrity in contemporary Aboriginal life, themes shared in the work of novelist and short-story writer Tara June Winch (b. 1983, Wiradjuri), who won the 2020 Miles Franklin Award for The Yield, and in autobiographical novels such as Purple Threads (2011) by Jeanine Leane (1961, Wiradjuri) and Too Afraid to Cry (2013) by Ali Cobby Eckermann (b. 1963, Yankunytjatjara, Kokatha).
Chick Lit, Murder, Sci-Fi, and Spec.
While many Indigenous Australian authors have revolutionized the scope and form of testimonial and realist fiction, others have been making entirely new choices about audience and genre. The emergence of genre fiction in this late period, in both stable and more experimental modes, evinces a special and renewed confidence in metropolitan Aboriginal cultures that have become successful at autonomously negotiating the vicissitudes of intercultural entanglement by adapting generic Western literary and economic formations to tell Aboriginal stories to both informed Aboriginal readers and wider audiences. Burgeoning global genre fiction scenes, and their huge audiences and far-reaching publishing and marketing systems, have presented new opportunities and challenges to contemporary Aboriginal authors. Popular genres such as chick lit, crime thrillers, and science or speculative fiction are now counted amongst the most successful modes of Indigenous Australian writing, and so can be appreciated as particularly effective vehicles for the successful transmission of Aboriginal cultural philosophy to ever wider audiences.
Philip McLaren (b. 1943, Kamilaroi) published the first Aboriginal thriller Sweet Water: Stolen Land in 1993, which he followed with a number of crime thrillers such as Scream Black Murder (1995) and Murder in Utopia (2007), and later West of Eden: The Real Man from Snowy River (2013), in which figures from A. B. Paterson’s iconic poem are recast from an Aboriginal perspective. Prominent emerging writer Ellen van Neerven (b. 1990, Mununjali, Bundjalung) received considerable attention for her crime thriller Hard, published in 2012. One of the most prolific and well known of the new genre writers is Anita Heiss (b. 1968, Wiradjuri). Heiss began her literary career in poetry, publishing her celebrated Token Koori in 1998, and is perhaps best known for her genre-bending Black “chick lit” in popular novels such as Not Meeting Mr Right (2007), Manhattan Dreaming (2010), and Tiddas (2014), as well as a number of books for children such as Me and My Mum (2003) and Yirra and Her Deadly Dog, Demon (2007). Heiss’s Black Australian chick lit speaks to an international Black sisterhood and trends such as “sistah-lit” and other contemporary Black and native women’s genre writing, bringing an Indigenous Australian perspective to a significant international readership. Heiss is also well known for her critical writing, especially for her study of the Indigenous publishing industry, Dhuuluu-yala: To Talk Straight (2003), which makes a strong comparative, trans-Indigenous reading of Indigenous Australian literature alongside that of First Nations and Maori publishing in North America and New Zealand.
In 1990, political activist, lecturer, author, and film producer Sam Watson (1952–2019, Birri-Gubba, Munaldjali, Bundjalung) published The Kadaitcha Sung, an apocalyptic, at times hard-hitting, gothic fantasy novel which draws upon traditional knowledges of country and sorcery. Watson’s early achievement has been widely recognized as a masterful contribution to late 20th-century Aboriginal literature, especially for its tragi-ironic, sometimes satirical representations of complex intercultural entanglements and experiences, but also for its deeply imagined representation of active Aboriginal culture surviving amid the turmoil of colonization, violence, and displacement. The Kadaitcha Sung can be also be considered as an early exemplar of Indigenous Australian futurist or speculative fiction. By writing about Aboriginal spiritual and cosmological dimensions and their entanglement with contemporary characters and settings, it opened a doorway to alternative Aboriginal approaches to questions of literary genre, content, form, and style. Today, contemporary Black and First Nations futurism, sci-fi, and spec-fic have become increasingly popular in Australia and internationally. Alexis Wright’s deeply moving and complex Swan Book speculatively warps and hybridizes genre and form in a future-tense, postapocalyptic narrative that bleakly imagines impacts of climate change and environmental catastrophe amid striations of colonial intervention. Later sci-fi and spec-fic novels such as Ellen van Neerven’s Heat and Light (2013) and Claire G. Coleman’s (n.d., Nyoongar) Terra Nullius have also been widely celebrated, and new cutting-edge First Nations-futurist work by Mykaela Saunders (n.d., Dharug) is gaining attention in Australia and internationally.
The commercial and critical success of Indigenous Australian genre fiction, across thrillers, crime, romance, and futurist speculative novels, demonstrates how present-day Indigenous authors can mediate and transform the frames of popular genre fiction by projecting Indigenous characters, cultural norms, and themes into metropolitan narratives that are appealing to national and international audiences of all cultures. They are essentially subversive, as they recuperatively highlight the ongoing struggle between colonization and decolonization in contemporary society, a struggle amplified at the intersection of issues of gender and class as well as race, while also representing new modes of Indigenous agency that draw upon the survival and revitalization of the old.
“Stories about Feeling”
Given its organic historical and cultural proximity to oral performance and song, which has always been central to Indigenous cultural expression, poetry is often described as the quintessential mode of Aboriginal literary expression. However, like Indigenous literature generally, ever since the first book of poetry by an Aboriginal person, Oodgeroo’s We Are Going (1964), poetry has also been an explicitly political mode of expression, a space of intercultural entanglement in which traditional cultural knowledges and practices converge with Western social and literary conventions. Not unlike Indigenous Australian fiction, Aboriginal poetry necessarily entangles Western literary form with an Aboriginal philosophical and aesthetic standpoint in which the traditional and the contemporary are simultaneously expressed and substantiated. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander poets, locally in communities and in books published on the national stage, have necessarily foregrounded the lived impacts of colonization, state control, and the stolen generations in works that sensitively and often assertively chronicle the destruction and fragmentation of connections to country, culture, and kinship. In the poetry of the latter two decades of the 20th century, and now well into the 21st, these issues are most frequently interpolated though the social and political landscapes that emerged following the civil unrest of the 1960s, especially the hardship and militancy of the late 1960s through the 1970s and 1980s, when postwar urban Aboriginal life intersected with the struggle for land rights and the struggle for economic and cultural emancipation. Hand in hand with the political and cultural focal points seen in testimonial fiction, Indigenous Australian poetry bears witness to this history while it simultaneously seeks to recover and substantiate the “blood/land/memory complex” in what can be described as a mode of testimonial lyricism in which culture and country are restored through the revival and sometimes radical transformation of language, image, and metaphor from an Indigenous philosophical and cosmological standpoint.
These intersections are perhaps nowhere more radically visible than in the poetry of Lionel Fogarty (b. 1958, Yoogum, Kudjela), who completely revolutionized Aboriginal poetic expression in Australia following the achievements of Oodgeroo, Davis, and Gilbert in the 1960s and 1970s. Fogarty’s work is explicitly political while squarely placing an acutely imagined and sensitive Aboriginal “blood/land/memory complex” at the center of his lyrical consciousness. As a young man Fogarty became involved in the Black Power movement in Brisbane, and between 1980 and 1990 he published a series of five groundbreaking volumes, Kargun (1980), Yoogum Yoogum (1982), Kudjela (1983), Ngutji (1984), and Jagera (1990), a set of books that single-handedly revolutionized the entanglement of English language poetry and Aboriginal being. Fogarty’s poetry was distinguished from the outset by a radical recasting of conventional English prosody, grammar, and syntax, and an uninhibited use of Aboriginal English and Aboriginal vocabularies. In “Ode: Renewing to Spiritless” Fogarty writes:
Biami, written words I can’t resemble the torch
or sea talk, glaring you Biral faith
at ceremonial healing magic
gunya were, when changing chuck out psychic life
of tribes today.
No Murri ability of medicine can doubt Nunga Biami power
They ordinary didn’t transform our darkness hunt
to dew evidence that sticks and stones
never will brake our bones.50
Here, the Aboriginal creator spirit Biami is invoked for resilience and courage in the face of colonization, while simultaneously Fogarty distributes his summons through a series of puns, distorted grammar, and an echo of an English children’s rhyme, held together from an Aboriginal stance by the prominence of Aboriginal vocabulary and thought. Mudrooroo Narogin, writing under his first name, Colin Johnson, inaugurated a culturally informed critical appreciation of Fogarty’s work, describing him as “a poet guerilla using the language of the invader in an effort to smash open its shell and spill it open for poetic expression.”51 Following the highly successful New and Selected Poems: Munaldjali, Mutuerjaraera (1995) Fogarty has published numerous influential volumes, usually with small and Indigenous-run presses, in which his substantial textual energy and guerilla poetics underpins a self-determining Indigenous mode of poiesis, both on the page and in performance, which sustains what his latest editor, Philip Morrissey (n.d., Murri) describes as a “contemporary songman[’s] . . . vision of independent Aboriginal identity” emergent at a profound confluence of the “ancestral” and the “contemporary.”52
Fogarty’s revolutionary poetry signals the development of a sovereign Aboriginal consciousness in literature, where intercultural entanglements between “the Queen’s English” and Aboriginal English are amplified in a deadly choreography aimed at the emancipation of an Aboriginal poiesis. This provocation has been central to Indigenous Australian poetry from the outset, and can be observed in the work of poets across the country in both metropolitan and more remote locations. Outside the metropolitan capitals, deep cultural knowledge and language formations assist in the recovery and enunciation of ancestral cosmologies and knowledges in poetry. In 1989 Bill Neidjie (c.1913–2002, Bunitj) senior elder and last speaker of the Gagudju language of Central Australia, published Story About Feeling, in which significant traditional stories are conveyed in a compelling free-verse style that, like Fogarty’s innovations, disrupts conventional English prosody to make space for the emergence of a truly sovereign Aboriginal voice. Tasmanian (Palawa) author, artist, and political activist Pura-lia Meenamatta (Jim Everett, b. 1942, Plangermairreenner) has published poetry in numerous anthologies and collections, such as The Spirit of Kuti Kina: Tasmanian Aboriginal Poetry (1990) and the remarkable transcultural “blood/land/memory complex” collaboration with non-Indigenous painter Jonathan Kimberly, Meenamatta Lena Narla Puellakanny: Meenamatta Water Country Discussion. A Writing and Painting Collaboration (2006).
From the late 1980s, the struggle for the recognition of Aboriginal civil and land rights took central stage in poetry written in urban spaces, especially the large metropolitan cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. Following the impacts of dispersal and assimilation during the 19th and 20th centuries, large populations of variously disenfranchised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people sought political recognition and self-determination in ways that, in literary and aesthetic terms, saw the testimonial lyric emerge more prominently as a central medium for the expression of both political agency and cultural integrity. Following the precedents of Oodgeroo, Davis, and Gilbert, such poetry is usually direct in address and formally conventional, but likewise offers penetrating insight into the horrors of colonization and the fragmentation of families, cultures, and connections to country. On the east coast, elder and storyteller Norm Newlin (1934–2017, Worimi) published Where there’s Life there’s Spirit (1988) and My Worimi Lovesong Dreaming (1996), and in the west renowned poet and storyteller Alf Taylor (b. 1947, Nyoongar) published Singer Songwriter (1992) and Winds (1994). Taylor’s Nyoongar compatriot, Graeme Dixon (1955–2010, Nyoongar) published the influential Holocaust Island in 1990. Dixon spent the first twenty-five years of his life in orphanages and prisons, and his work, which also includes short stories, remains a searing testimony of the postwar stolen generations in Western Australia and the ongoing significance of transgenerational trauma for Aboriginal peoples. Other key poets of the period include John Muk Muk Burke, Jennifer Martiniello (b. 1949, Arrernte), Burraga Gutya (Ken Canning, b. 1952, Bidjara), Lisa Bellear (1961–2006, Noonuccal), Romaine Moreton (b. 1969, Goernpil, Bundjalung), and daughter of Kevin Gilbert, author and editor Kerry Reed-Gilbert (1956–2019, Wiradjuri). Like their prose-writing brothers and sisters, these poets write of the contemporary struggle to sustain family, culture, kinship, and ancestral connections to country amid the ongoing impacts of colonization, a reality they share with the highly respected elder and poet Barbara Nicholson (n.d., Wadi Wadi) of the south coast of New South Wales.
In the first decades of the 21st century, a new generation of Indigenous Australian poets reinvigorated the form while revitalizing the “blood/land/memory complex” from new perspectives. One of the most celebrated of this new wave is Samuel Wagan Watson (b. 1972, Birri-Gubba Juru, Munaldjali, Bundjalung), son of Sam Watson, who first published a small pamphlet of poetry Black Eye Junior in 1999. In 1999 he was also awarded the David Unaipon Award for his first full-length collection of poetry Of Muse, Meandering and Midnight, and he has since published a number of significant volumes such as Smoke Encrypted Whispers (2004), which won the 2005 NSW Premier’s Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry and the Book of the Year. Wagan Watson’s poetry is unique for its street-savvy hybridity, his mastery of free-verse prosody presenting a compelling array of contemporary pop-culture images, scenes, and expressions alongside sometimes gothic echoes of traditional culture and values.
Importantly, most of the newer, active Aboriginal poets are women. Jeanine Leane, Charmaine Papertalk Green (b. 1963, Wajarri, Bardimaya), Yvette Holt (b. 1971, Bidjara), Natalie Harkin (n.d., Nurungga), Ellen van Neerven, Alison Whittaker, and Evelyn Araluen (n.d., Bundjalung, Wiradjuri) have published numerous award-winning works to considerable interest. By far the most prominent of the new generation of Aboriginal women poets is Ali Cobby Eckermann. In 2017 Eckermann won the highly prestigious Yale University-administered Windham Campbell Prize for poetry, her achievement underscoring her widely applauded and frequently awarded volumes, which include Little Bit Long Time (2009), Kami (2010), Love, Dreaming and Other Poems (2012), the verse-novel Ruby Moonlight (2012), and Inside My Mother (2015). Eckermann’s verse, like the work of her contemporaries and those before her such as Oodgeroo, confronts intergenerational personal and collective experiences of assimilation, the struggle for the recovery and rejuvenation of Aboriginal identity, and the reinvigoration of traditional Aboriginal language and culture as it intersects with the sometimes brutal realities of Western modernity. In many ways Eckermann is representative of a generational renewal of the power and importance of the testimonial lyric, particularly for women, having personally lived through the trauma of family separation and the struggle to reconnect with her identity and rediscover her culture and country. Like many of her contemporaries in both poetry and fiction, Eckermann’s work points a way forward from the pain of the 20th century toward a literature that restores blood memory in Aboriginal thought and language, opening new spaces for the sovereign actualization of the Indigenous Australian imagination.
The breadth and depth of contemporary Indigenous Australian literature is testimony to the strength and determination of peoples who have not only survived the destructive impacts of colonization, but who in recent decades have drawn upon tens of thousands of years of continuous culture to imagine new and restorative horizons and possibilities. From the early letters and petitions, through to the autobiographical and testimonial fiction and poetry of the late 20th century and the sometimes radical reimaginings of genre and form of today, Indigenous Australian authors have always sought the voice of social and political visibility, witness and truth in the wake of dispersal, assimilation and the stolen generations, and the literary contours of cultural restoration and autonomy. Underpinning the achievement of Indigenous Australian literature is the centrality of what Allen terms the Indigenous “blood/land/memory complex” and its translation into Western literary genres and modes, a complex and energizing form of “intercultural entanglement” woven by sovereign Indigenous voices.
- Alexander, John. “Following David Unaipon’s Footsteps.” Journal of Australian Studies 21, nos. 54–55 (1997): 22–29.
- Allen, Chadwick. Blood Narrative Indigenous Identity in American Indian and Maori Literary and Activist Texts. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.
- Allen, Chadwick. “Dreaming in the Present Progressive: Kath Walker Across, Beyond, and Through an Indigenous 1964.” Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature: JASAL 17, no. 1 (2017): 1–16.
- Anonymous. “Kath Walker: We Are Going.” Australian Book Review, May 1964, 143.
- Barwick, Diane et al. Rebellion at Coranderrk. Aboriginal History Monograph. Canberra, Australia: Aboriginal History, 1998.
- Casey, Maryrose. Creating Frames: Contemporary Indigenous Theatre 1967–1990. St. Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 2004.
- Fogarty, Lionel. New and Selected Poems: Munaldjali, Mutuerjaraera. South Melbourne, Australia: Hyland House, 1995.
- Fogarty, Lionel. Lionel Fogarty Selected Poems 1980–2017. Melbourne: re.press, 2017.
- Grimshaw, Patricia, Elizabeth Nelson, and Sandra Smith. Letters from Aboriginal Women of Victoria, 1867–1926. Melbourne, Australia: History Department, University of Melbourne, 2002.
- Grossman, Michele. “Xen(Ography) and the Art of Representing Otherwise: Australian Indigenous Life-Writing and the Vernacular Text.” Postcolonial Studies 8, no. 3 (2005): 277–301.
- Harkin, Natalie. “The Poetics of (Re)Mapping Archives: Memory in the Blood.” Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature 14, no. 3 (2014).
- Heiss, Anita, and Peter Minter, eds. Macquarie Pen Anthology of Aboriginal Literature. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2008.
- Hosking, Sue. “Introducing David Unaipon.” In The Regenerative Spirit, edited by Syd Harrax, Nena Bierbaum and Sue Hosking, 7–13. Adelaide, Australia: Lythrum Press, 2003.
- Johnson, Colin. “Guerilla Poetry: Lionel Fogarty’s Response to Language Genocide.” Westerly 31, no. 3 (September 1986): 47–55.
- Klemens, Mark, and John Kinsella. “‘Where the Said and the Unsaid Meet’: Interview with John Kinsella at Kenyon College, 8 May 2001.” Antipodes 15, no. 2 (2001): 76–85.
- Lingiari, Vincent. “Gurindji Petition to Lord Casey, Governor General.” In The Macquarie Pen Anthology of Aboriginal Literature, edited by Anita Heiss and Peter Minter, 52–54. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2008.
- Lucashenko, Melissa. “The First Australian Democracy.” Meanjin 74, no. 3 (2015): 7–16.
- Maynard, John. Fight for Liberty and Freedom: The Origins of Australian Aboriginal Activism. Canberra, Australia: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2007.
- Miller, Benjamin. “David Unaipon’s Style of Subversion: Performativity and Becoming in ‘Gool Lun Naga (Green Frog).’” Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, Supplement (2008): 77–93.
- Momaday, N. Scott. House Made of Dawn. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.
- Muecke, Stephen. “‘Between Church and Stage’: David Unaipon at the Hobart Carnival, 1910.” UTS Review 6, no. 1 (May 2000): 11–19.
- Nindethana Theatre Company. “Nindethana Theatre Company Presents Kevin Gilbert’s ‘The Cherry Pickers,’ 1971.” Koori History Website, 2018.
- Patten, Jack, and William Ferguson. Aborigines Claim Citizen Rights! A Statement of the Case for the Aborigines Progressive Association. Sydney, Australia: Aborigines Progressive Association, 1938.
- Shoemaker, Adam. Black Words, White Page: Aboriginal Literature 1929–1988. Canberra, Australia: ANU E Press, 2004.
- Thomas, Nicholas. Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacific. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.
- Unaipon, David. “Aboriginals: Their Traditions and Customs. Where Did They Come From?” Daily Telegraph Saturday Magazine, August 2, 1924, 13.
- Unaipon, David. Native Legends. Adelaide, Australia: Hunkin Ellis & King, 1929.
- Unaipon, David. Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines. Edited by Stephen Muecke and Adam Shoemaker. Carlton, Australia: Melbourne University Press and Miegunyah, 2001.
- Van Toorn, Penelope. Writing Never Arrives Naked: Early Aboriginal Cultures of Writing in Australia. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2006.
- Walker, Kath. We Are Going. Brisbane: Jacaranda Press, 1964.
- Walker, Kath. The Dawn is at Hand. Brisbane: Jacaranda Press, 1966.
- Watson, Christine. “Interview with Ruby Langford Ginibi and Penny Van Toorn.” Hecate 25, no. 2 (1999): 156–163.
- Wright, Alexis. “A Weapon of Poetry: Alexis Wright Remembers Oodgeroo Noonuccal.” Overland 193 (2008): 19–24.
1. A note on author introductions: Where available, for each author I have introduced them with their name, followed by parenthesis in which I have shown years of birth and where necessary death, followed by the Indigenous country or language group to which they belong, for example, Jackie Huggins (1956, Pitjara, Birri-Gubba Juru). Where the Indigenous country or language group is uncertain, I have indicated thus with a question mark, as follows: Kitty Brangy (c.1859–1918, Dhudhuroa?). Where an Indigenous author is publicly identified by their traditional name as well as their Christian names, I have indicated thus as follows: Pura-lia Meenamatta (Jim Everett, 1942, Plangermairreenner).
3. Van Toorn, Writing Never Arrives Naked, 54. Van Toorn cites Nicholas Thomas, Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacific (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991).
4. Van Toorn, Writing Never Arrives Naked, 56.
7. Heiss and Minter, eds., Macquarie Pen Anthology, 12.
8. Heiss and Minter, eds., Macquarie Pen Anthology, 13.
9. See, for example, Patricia Grimshaw, Elizabeth Nelson, and Sandra Smith, Letters from Aboriginal Women of Victoria, 1867–1926 (Melbourne, Australia: History Department, University of Melbourne, 2002).
10. Van Toorn, Writing Never Arrives Naked, 95.
11. Van Toorn, Writing Never Arrives Naked, 107.
12. Heiss and Minter, eds., Macquarie Pen Anthology, 9.
13. Heiss and Minter, eds., Macquarie Pen Anthology, 10.
14. Heiss and Minter, eds., Macquarie Pen Anthology, 11.
15. Heiss and Minter, eds., Macquarie Pen Anthology, 11.
16. Van Toorn, Writing Never Arrives Naked, 125. See Diane Barwick et al., Rebellion at Coranderrk, Aboriginal History Monograph (Canberra, Australia: Aboriginal History Inc., 1998).
17. Van Toorn, Writing Never Arrives Naked, 131. Barak’s spokesmen and scribes were usually Taungurong man Tom Bamfield and Djadjawurung man Thomas Dunolly.
18. Van Toorn, Writing Never Arrives Naked, 131.
19. Heiss and Minter, eds., Macquarie Pen Anthology, 15.
23. Unaipon, “Aboriginals,” 13.
25. Alexander, “Following David Unaipon’s Footsteps,” 24–25.
26. Alexander, “Following David Unaipon’s Footsteps,” 23.
28. Benjamin Miller, “David Unaipon’s Style of Subversion: Performativity and Becoming in ‘Gool Lun Naga (Green Frog),’” Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, Supplement (2008): 79, 89; Miller cites Stephen Muecke, “‘Between Church and Stage’: David Unaipon at the Hobart Carnival, 1910,” UTS Review 6, no. 1 (2000): 17; and Sue Hosking, “Introducing David Unaipon,” in The Regenerative Spirit, ed. Syd Harrax, Nena Bierbaum and Sue Hosking (Adelaide, Australia: Lythrum Press, 2003), 12.
31. Jack Patten and William Ferguson, Aborigines Claim Citizen Rights! A Statement of the Case for the Aborigines Progressive Association (Sydney, Australia: Aborigines Progressive Association, 1938), 3.
32. Patten and Ferguson, Aborigines Claim Citizen Rights!, 9, 11.
36. Jill Hellyer, “Aboriginal Poet,” Hemisphere 8, no. 12 (December 1964): 18, cited in Shoemaker, Black Words, White Page, 183.
37. “Australian Poets,” Times Literary Supplement, September 10, 1964, 842, cited in Shoemaker, Black Words, White Page, 185.
40. Chadwick Allen, “Dreaming in the Present Progressive: Kath Walker Across, Beyond, and Through an Indigenous 1964,” Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature: JASAL 17, no. 1 (2017): 7, 11.
42. Vincent Lingiari, “Gurindji Petition to Lord Casey, Governor General,” in Macquarie Pen Anthology, ed. Heiss and Minter, 52–54.
43. N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn (New York: Harper & Row, 1968); Chadwick Allen, Blood Narrative Indigenous Identity in American Indian and Maori Literary and Activist Texts (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 14. Also see Natalie Harkin, “The Poetics of (Re)Mapping Archives: Memory in the Blood,” Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature 14, no. 3 (2014).
44. Shoemaker, Black Words, White Page, 192.
45. Nindethana Theatre Company, “Nindethana Theatre Company Presents Kevin Gilbert’s ‘The Cherry Pickers,’” The Koori History Website, 2018.
46. Maryrose Casey, Creating Frames: Contemporary Indigenous Theatre 1967–1990 (St. Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland Press), 44, 65.