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The Australian National University

School of History Seminar Series 2012 - Tracking: Settler Consciousness and Aboriginal Representation in Twentieth Century Australian Literature

Date and time

Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - 16:15 - 17:30

McDonald Room, Menzies Library, ANU

Tracking: Settler Consciousness and Aboriginal Representation in Twentieth Century Australian Literature

Jeanine Leane, School of History, ANU

In 1857, English writer Frank Fowler, wrote in Southern Lights and Shadows that; ‘our fictionists have fallen on the soil of Australia like so many industrious diggers and though merely fossicking and scratching the surface have turned up much of the precious malleable stuff.’ J.J Healy takes up this reference in his phenomenological study Literature and the Australian Aborigine (1978) and points out that ‘the Aborigine was definitely part of the malleable stuff.’

Since 1788 Aboriginal Australians have been constructed and re-constructed in the Anglo-western literary canon from the exotic, the primitive, the noble savage, the barbarian, the innocent, the child-like, the tragic ‘half-caste’, the depraved, fringe dweller and the inferior intellect.

This paper explores the historical trajectory of Anglo-western representations of Aboriginal Australians, with particular focus on twentieth century authors, Katharine Prichard, Coonardoo (1929), Xavier Herbert, Capricornia (1938) and Poor Fellow My Country (1973), Patrick White, Riders in the Chariot (1961) & A Fringe of Leaves (1976) and David Malouf, Remembering Babylon (1993). These narratives are manifestations of cultural territories and important sites for analyzing settler consciousness of Aboriginal presence at the time of writing.

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Jeanine LeaneJeanine Leane is a Wiradjuri woman from South-west New South Wales. A Doctorate in literature and Aboriginal representation followed a long teaching career at secondary and Tertiary level. Formerly a Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Studies, she currently holds a post-doctoral fellowship at ANU. In 2010, Jeanine’s first volume of poetry, Dark Secrets After Dreaming: AD 1887-1961 won the Scanlon Prize for Indigenous Poetry from the Australian Poets’ Union and her manuscript, Purple Threads won the David Unaipon Award at the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards and was shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize. Jeanine is the recipient of an Australian Research Council grant for a proposal called Reading the Nation: A critical study of Aboriginal/Settler representation in the contemporary Australian Literary Landscape.



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