Department of English and American Studies. English Language and Literature

Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies English Language and Literature Representations of Aboriginal People i...
Author: Roger McGee
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Masaryk University Faculty of Arts

Department of English and American Studies English Language and Literature

Representations of Aboriginal People in the Novels of Kate Grenville, Doris Pilkington and Kim Scott Master’s Diploma Thesis

Supervisor: Mgr. Martina Horáková, Ph.D.

2008 1

I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently, using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography. …………………………………………….. Author’s signature


Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Mgr. Martina Horáková, Ph.D. for her kind help and valuable advice. Many thanks also need to go to the Department of English and American Studies. I can not omit to express many thanks to my family and everybody that encouraged me to write this work.


Table of Contents 1. Introduction…………………………………………………………………………...5 1.1 The Concept of Aboriginality …………………………………………………….8 2. Aboriginal Writing ………………………………………………………………….15 2.1 Doris Pilkington – Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence …………………………….21 2.2 Kim Scott – True Country ………………………………………………………27 2.3 Kate Grenville – The Secret River ………………………………………………31 3. Portrayal of the Aboriginal Protagonists ……………………………………………38 3.1 Molly …………………………………………………………………………....40 3.2 Billy ……………………………………………………………………………..42 3.3 Fatima …………………………………………………………………………..46 3.4 Scabby Bill and the Aboriginal People of the Hawkesbury River ……………...48 4. The Relationships between the White People and the Indigenous Inhabitants ...…..52 5. The Relationship to the Land ……………………………………………………….57 6. Parallels and Similarities in the Novels …………………………………………….60 7. Conclusion ………………………………………………………………………….63 8. Works Cited ………………………………………………………………………...66


1. Introduction The aim of my thesis is to analyze the representations of Aboriginal people1 in selected Australian novels. I have chosen three novels to trace and explore various kinds of portraying Indigenous people in literature. I will examine and compare portrayal of Aboriginal people in Kate Grenville’s The Secret River (2005), Doris Pilkington’s Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence (1996) and Kim Scott’s True Country (1993). These three novels are written from personal point of view of each author and they use different narratives and techniques. Each of these authors comes from a different background and each of the books deals with different part of Australian history. In my thesis that analyses three novels by Grenville, Pilkington and Scott, I argue that despite the fact that they differentiate in their style and structure, their purpose is very similar – they represent the instrument of bringing Aboriginal people closer to non-Aboriginal readers. I explore representations of the Aboriginal characters in the novels, where the significance of the Aboriginal past and cultural heritage is emphasized. There is also a great diversity of the characters in these three works but still they represent a certain group of people and show the life of the Aboriginal folk. I have attempted to find some common features, although the books do not describe the Aboriginal people from the same period of time. All these works have contributed significantly not only to Australian literature as such, but also to the broader context and perception of Aboriginality. Each work is unique and their originality enables them to occupy a significant place in Australian literature. The introductory part of the thesis deals with the concept of Aboriginality. Various stereotypes of Indigenous inhabitants of Australia and their complicated situation are discussed. The second chapter is devoted to the Aboriginal writing which is an 1

“An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which s/he is associated” (Heiss 20). This official definition was introduced in 1978. The term Aboriginal people or Indigenous inhabitants is used throughout the thesis, other terms might be used only as a part of a quotation.


inseparable part of Australian literature. Each author is presented in a separate chapter including the introduction of the analyzed novels as well. A lot of attention is paid to historical and cultural background of the novels and the authors themselves, I therefore introduce the authors and their work for creating the context. All three authors are strongly influenced by their origins and life experiences. This fact is closely related to the narratives which must be considered in terms of fact – fiction conception. We must keep in mind that some of the books about Aboriginal people are based on the true stories, but some of them are completely fictional. This will also be discussed within each chapter devoted to the authors and their work. In the third chapter I focus on the analysis of Aboriginal characters depicted in the examined novels. As it was mentioned above, Indigenous people in these works come from different parts of Australia and from different periods of time. There is a huge diversity among Aboriginal people who form different communities with unique cultures. The Indigenous people of Australia retain their culture and they are rightly proud of their cultural and social heritage. Although they are not a homogenous community, they share similar religious and traditional values and their lives are influenced by the same events in the history of their country of birth. They were oppressed in their own land and were not allowed to live full-fledged lives. Their history will always be stigmatized with the horrible events which took place during colonization of Australia many years ago. The two following chapters provide the analysis of the Aboriginal protagonists mainly in terms of their relationships. The fourth chapter is devoted to the encounters between white settlers and Aboriginal people. The clash between these two cultures plays an important role in the Aboriginal history. Not only interpersonal relationships but also the relation to the land is analyzed. The importance of this bond is highlighted in all the three novels.


The sixth chapter deals with the similarities and common aspects of the Aboriginal protagonists which I managed to find in these three works. In spite of the differences mentioned above, I suggest that Pilkington, Scott and Grenville have very similar intentions – to inform the diverse readership about important parts of Australian history such as European colonization. All three works express the authors’ personal attitudes towards Aboriginal people and towards history of Australia and the common element in all the three works is that the authors try to introduce the historical facts about Australia. It provides an insight into Australian culture for foreign readers who want to learn more about Australia. Lastly, I would like to mention the fact that although I have studied a lot of sources – articles, reviews, essays, books etc. – I am not a specialist in this field. I have consulted a lot of various materials which I found very useful for my thesis. I would like to depict one book called Dhuulu-Yala – To Talk Straight written by Anita Heiss from Wiradjuri Nation of New South Wales. She is not afraid to deal with tackling issues such as Aboriginal identity through Aboriginal writing. This book is one of the most significant books for my analysis. The book Literature and the Aborigine in Australia written by J. J. Healy helped me a lot with understanding the ways Australian literature represents Aboriginal people and it gave me an overview of Aboriginal writing as such. Books such as The Stolen Children edited by Carmel Bird and Dark Side of the Dream by Bob Hodge and Vijay Mishra were crucial for getting to know and understanding the atrocities of Australian history, such as the European invasion and subsequent attempts of white settlers to assimilate Indigenous inhabitants to their standards. Also some online journals such as Australian Humanities Review helped me a lot to find some reviews of these three works.


1.1 The Concept of Aboriginality Aboriginal people are inseparable part of Australia. They are one of the oldest cultures in the world, their existence going back at least 40,000 years. When looking at Australia we can not consider just the isolated continent and its exceptional animal species but also its inhabitants. In Black Words, White Page, Shoemaker stresses the importance of Aboriginal people although they make up only 2% of the country population: “How the nation is perceived internationally depends, in part, on its own Fourth World: The Aboriginal people” (1). The Aboriginal people are not the only native inhabitants who had to face the cruel reality of European invasion and later settlement. However, the development of land seizure was distinct from other parts of the world: Australian Aborigines have much in common with other indigenous peoples who suffered under the impact of European colonisation. But there are a number of distinctive features about the Australian Aborigines and the formation of the Australian colony that need to be recognized, in order for us to understand the particular forms of the representational complex which was constructed on their behalf. (Hodge and Mishra 24) One of the most important features which distinguishes Australian Aboriginal people from other Indigenous people is the attempt of Europeans to reeducate Aboriginal people by sending them to special settlements or to white families and thus stealing the children from their families. Although Aboriginal people are the minority of Australian population, they play a very important role in Australian culture and history. As it was mentioned in the introduction, they are not a homogenous folk – the Aboriginal people who do not live in the urban areas still remain in isolated rural communities and they share a common heritage which may be different from community to community. According to Heiss “Aboriginality like sexuality is a personal issue,” (21) so it must be


treated very carefully. It is quite a delicate issue nowadays and it always was. It is a matter of subjectivity and everybody has the chance to build up their own opinion of Aboriginal people. Marcia Langton underlines the subjective approach to Aboriginality: ‘Aboriginality’ arises from the subjective experience of both Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people who engage in any intercultural dialogue, whether in actual lived experience or through a mediated experience such as a white person watching a program about Aboriginal people on television or reading a book. Moreover, the creation of ‘Aboriginality’ is not a fixed thing. It is created from our histories. It arises from the intersubjectivity of black and white in dialogue. (31) Aboriginal people are a distinctive group of people who have strong traditions and whose culture is rooted in the remote past. A lot of books and materials have been devoted to the theme of Aboriginality because it seems to be a ‘secret chamber’ which remains unrevealed for most people. It is a quite complicated concept which can not be fully understood by non-Aboriginal people. However, there is more to this concept: “The concept of Aboriginality is certainly a difficult thing to grasp for contemporary Australians; indeed, sometimes even for Aboriginal people themselves, especially those who have been denied access to family, culture and community due to government policies of the past” (Heiss 42). The Aboriginal people who were taken from their families suffer from a certain kind of estrangement from their culture which needs to be restored. The concept of Aboriginality started to be used only after white people came to Australia and demanded the land which had already been occupied by somebody else. Anita Heiss claims that “the actual concept of Aboriginality didn’t exist before colonisation” (20). In ‘Well, I heard it on the radio and I saw it on the television…’,


Marcia Langton draws attention to the concept of Aboriginality in terms of history: “Before Cook and Phillip, there was no ‘Aboriginality’ in the sense that is meant today. […] The term ‘Aboriginal’, and the colonial and post-colonial implications of the concept, began to take shape in Australia to some extent in 1770, but more so in 1788” (32). Since that time Aboriginal people have become the limelight not only for specialists but also for writers, scientists and other people. In Blacklines – Contemporary Critical writing by Indigenous Australians, Michael Dodson stresses that “since first contact with the colonisers of this country, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been the object(s) of a continual flow of commentary and classification” (25). Perception of Aboriginality depends on deeper understanding of this concept and it is important to point out that it has changed a lot. Dodson supports this theory when he says: “Representations of Aboriginality are not simply isolated phenomena which can be eliminated. They are both weapons and symptoms of the oppressive relationship that exists between Indigenous peoples and colonising states” (32). This phenomenon can not be treated separately but only in a broader context. Aboriginal people share similar principles within their community and their relations are very close. Aboriginality is defined with “identity, descent and acceptance” (Heiss 22). Generally speaking, it is not enough to be Aboriginal in your own eyes but the others from the community must agree on your membership in the community. The colour of skin is not the only factor determining the ‘extent’ of Aboriginality. Moreover, Aboriginality is rather a social concept. Marcia Langton discusses the role of Aboriginality: “Where my discussion is pointing here is that ‘Aboriginality’ is not just a label to do with skin colour or the particular ideas a person carries around in his/her head which might be labelled Aboriginal such as an Aboriginal language or kinship system. ‘Aboriginality is a social thing […]” (31). It bears many negative connotations which


come from the experience of white settlers. The judgements of European newcomers were quite narrow-minded at that time. They perceived Aboriginal people as ‘savages’ living in the bush without knowing the principles which were common for white people. Without any effort to get to know Aboriginal people, white settlers condemned them as inferior human beings. Langton supports this notion: “The racism of conviction that blacks are morally and/or intellectually inferior defines the ‘common sense’ perception of blacks” (41). Portraying of Aboriginal people in literature and films is always stereotypical to a certain extent. The picture of the Aboriginal person as a wild savage “of inferior innate capacity” (Healy 5) is quite common. The Aboriginal people are usually shown as members of a cruel nation. As Michael Dodson emphasizes in Blacklines: The defining characteristics of ‘Indigenous’ were frequently described in unambiguously loaded language; Indigenous people were generally identified not in terms of their positive attributes, but in terms of what they lacked: they were ‘under-developed’, ‘primitive’, unable to speak the language of the non-Indigenous population, uneducated in the ways of the non-Indigenous population, ‘backward’. (29) The European traditions and cultures differs significantly from the Aboriginal ones and that is the main reason why Europeans can not understand that Aboriginal people do not need to read in the bush but they need completely different skills to be able to survive there. Aboriginal people had to cope with the European colonization. They had no choice, nobody had asked them if they wanted to share the land with some strangers. They had to adapt to European practices and a way of life. White settlers wanted Aboriginal people to be institutionally assimilated. They wanted to eliminate Aboriginal culture and let it ‘dissolve’ in the European one. Anita Heiss draws attention to the origin of assimilation


practices: “The assimilation policy was developed from the racist notion that European society is superior/more highly valued socially than Indigenous cultures” (17). This led to one of the most dreadful aspects of Australian history which gave rise to the so called “Stolen Generation”. White settlers took Aboriginal children of usually mixed parentage from their Aboriginal families and sent them to be raised in white households or the so called missions or native settlements. White authorities started to solve the problem “[…] how to make a useful worker and member of society, and at the same time protect the Aboriginal from contacts which no government had been determined or able to control” (Healy 5). Aboriginal people seemed to be an obstacle to the life of Europeans in Australia. White authorities needed to find a solution how to treat them. Dodson discusses the role of Aboriginal people from the white settlers’ point of view: “Since their first intrusive gaze, colonising cultures have had a preoccupation with observing, analyzing, studying, classifying and labeling Aborigines and Aboriginality. Under that gaze, Aboriginality changed from being a daily practice to being ‘a problem to be solved’” (27). And the problem had to be solved. The institutional authorities started categorizing Aboriginal people according to the genealogy. The Aboriginal people whose blood was ‘mixed’ with “white blood” were considered to be higher in the social hierarchy of Australia. That is the reason why the authorities wanted to separate these children from the rest of Aboriginal community. Part-Aboriginal children were considered to be more intelligent and also more adaptable than their full-blood Aboriginal contemporaries. The aim was to send the part-Aboriginal children to white families to re-educate them. For “half-caste” children it was not easy to find and discover their identity because they did not know where they belonged. Anita Heiss stresses the fact that “being defined as ‘half-caste’ or ‘part-Aboriginal’ not only detracted from someone’s Aboriginality, forcing even Aboriginal people to question their identity, but


also supported the policy of assimilation designed in 1951[…]” (17). The problem of reeducation of part-Aboriginal children was to be solved by placing these children into white households. The solution was brutal and ill-considered. The tremendous consequences were not taken into account. It is a widely known fact that about 100,000 mixed-descent children were stolen away from their families and were disconnected from their culture. The great irony about this is that the white settlers wanted to “protect” these children. Aboriginal Protection Officers were in charge of these cases and they decided about removing “half-caste” children from their parents. The separation from everything the children of the Stolen Generation had and liked had severe impact on them. On the 13th February 2008, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized for the past policies towards Aboriginal people. His predecessor, the conservative Liberal Party leader John Howard, refused to do this. Now, this date is very important for Aboriginal people, even though it is just a formal apology without any promise of compensation. On the other hand, nothing can rectify the violation of the Indigenous inhabitants. The words can not heal the ‘wounds’ of the Stolen Generation members. Aboriginal people can not forget the injustices as their rights were limited and they were forced to abandon their heritage and were forbidden to speak their language. They were not given full citizenship in Australia until 1967. Nowadays, Australia is said to be one of the so-called multicultural countries. Such a country should be tolerant to the immigrants and Indigenous inhabitants but the reality is different. Aboriginal people are still living on the margin of Australian society. The images of Aboriginal people are all around Australia in many different forms. Dark Side of the Dream by Bob Hodge and Vijay Mishra draws attention to the fact that Aboriginal people still remain inseparable part of Australia despite several attempts to change it:


The role of Aboriginal Australians in the dominant constructions of Australian identity is at first sight contradictory and ambiguous. The ‘typical Australian’ is all White and he occupies a landscape from which all Aboriginal traces have been removed. But the iconography of Australia that is packaged for the tourist industry is full of Aboriginal motifs. (23) Modern Australian society can not be presented as a ‘white society’ as Indigenous people are the rightful inhabitants of Australia. All these aspects mentioned above will be applied to the Aboriginal characters from the three works and they will be considered while analyzing the individual protagonists. The concept of Aboriginality is projected in all the three novels and a lot of attention is paid to it. Aboriginality helps to show the different kind of life in Australia which is in contrast to the European settlers’ tradition.


2. Aboriginal Writing “Aboriginal literature begins as a cry from the heart directed at the whiteman. It is a cry for justice and for a better deal, a cry for understanding and an asking to be understood” (Narogin 1). These are the first words in Writing from the Fringe by an Aboriginal author Mudrooroo Narogin. His novel Wild Cat Falling was published in Australia in 1965 and it is an important event for Aboriginal people because it is one of the landmarks of Aboriginal literature. To start from the very beginning, we must bear in mind that Aboriginal writing was preceded by the oral tradition of Aboriginal people. Storytelling is without doubt the integral part of Aboriginal culture. It plays an important role not just in keeping traditions but it also functions as an effective learning tool. Rosemary van den Berg highlights the importance of storytelling for Aboriginal people in her essay: “Aboriginal story telling gave information of where the best game and water sources were to be found; where people could venture and where they weren’t permitted to go […]” (“Aboriginal Storytelling”). Storytelling was an effective means of communication between Aboriginal people in the past. The knowledge of landscape, hunting techniques, healing processes and other important things were passed on from generation to generation. The storytelling is “a learning process” (van den Berg, “Aboriginal Storytelling”) through which children acquire a diverse knowledge of their tribal heritage even today in contemporary Aboriginal communities. Storytelling is the first form of literature. The oral tradition of Aboriginal people is rooted deep in the past, nevertheless, it still influences the modern Aboriginal literature. Before written literature was introduced, storytelling was a widespread form of culture. Anita Heiss emphasizes the oral tradition of storytelling:


Throughout the history of Aboriginal Australia, most aspects of Aboriginal society, culture, religion and history were passed on to family and community via an oral tradition that included approximately 200 distinct Aboriginal languages spoken by 600 Aboriginal nations. This involved storytelling to pass on information over generations and this practice endures today. Storytelling was the oral literature, the artform likened to dance, performance and visual arts (which also pass on information). It is this storytelling, or ‘oral’ technique, that contributes to a distinct Aboriginal style of writing. (28) Aboriginal people must have relied on their memory. They trained it through telling stories – the more they talked and listened, the better their memory was. Storytelling is thus an instrument for education, keeping traditions, transferring information and last but not least entertainment. It is almost unimaginable for people who have not experienced the oral tradition that storytelling could work for such a long time. It is admirable that Aboriginal people were able to absorb so much information and pass it further on. When we move to contemporary times, oral tradition still remains an inseparable part of Aboriginal life. However, as well as all the other nations in the world, Aboriginal people discovered the advantages of writing. Suddenly, it was possible to express their ideas in a different way and share them not only with people from their surroundings but also with people from all over the world: “Over the last few decades, Aboriginal people have found a new ‘voice’ for keeping their stories alive and that is through literature: printed storytelling” (van den Berg, “Aboriginal Storytelling”). As soon as Aboriginal people could express themselves in writing, they took advantage of this possibility. Kim Scott draws attention to the main reason for the beginning of Aboriginal writing: “The long neglect–the silencing–of Australia’s Indigenous voices must be noted” (Foreword i).


Aboriginal people were aware of the fact that they could inform people all around the world about the history of their nation through writing. Although Aboriginal writing forms a great part of Australian literature, it has always been marginalized. Kim Scott supports this view in the Foreword to Anita Heiss’ book: Increasingly, enlightened Australians recognise how important Indigenous culture is to the connection of Australia (as a nation) to its land. Indigenous writing is an important, although undervalued, part of making that connection. Yes, it is a by-product of colonisation, but it can also be part of the continuation and regeneration of a prior Indigenous culture. (i) Australians had to accept Aboriginal writing as a part of Australian literature because Aboriginal people are the inhabitants of this land and thus they have the right to express their opinions by means of writing. In spite of this formal acceptance white Australians went on considering Aboriginal writing as something inferior: “Until recently, Aboriginal literature was treated as not even ‘literature’, much less part of Australian literature, and Aborigines appeared only on the margins of works in the mainstream of White literature” (Hodge and Mishra 27). However, Aboriginal writing is not inferior at all. As far as the themes of Aboriginal writing are concerned, they are manifold. It is important to point out that despite of this diversity, the purpose of Aboriginal writing is always very similar. The cultural heritage of Indigenous people is reflected in their writing and the Aboriginal experience is evident in the works of Aboriginal writers. Scott asserts further on that “it would appear that there is a consistent experience particular to Indigenous authors that reflects the fact of their being Indigenous regardless of the literary genre they are working in” (Foreword vii). It was not an easy task to introduce the Aboriginal writing to the public. The first writers must have tried hard to attract the attention of readership.


If we concentrate on individual topics of Aboriginal writing, dealing with history of European colonization and its consequences would probably prevail: “Regardless of genre, ‘rewriting history’ can be an appropriate phrase for much of the work currently being penned by Aboriginal writers in recent years” (Heiss 36). In my view ‘rewriting history’ means combining the historical facts with personal experience of Aboriginal people. Describing historical events is crucial for most Aboriginal writers. They want to show their views of various historical issues and express their feelings concerning these events. They are inspired by the oral tradition and their own knowledge of Aboriginal history. These writers want the readership to perceive the history of Aboriginal people, not the biased picture of it created by some non-Indigenous writers. History seems to be omnipresent in most works dealing with Aboriginal people in Australia. Adam Shoemaker supports this fact when he says: “[…] Aboriginal history is presented in almost all Black Australian literature, regardless of the genre of expression” (128). The three analyzed works are just a sample of the books dealing with or at least referring to Aboriginal history. Of course, there are various ways and modes how to portray Aboriginal history. Another popular topic of Aboriginal writing is searching for identity. As Aboriginal people form quite a distinctive group of people in Australia, it is difficult for them to identify themselves as the members of mainstream, predominantly white, society. Indigenous inhabitants differ so much from the rest of the Australian population that they have to resist assimilating pressure from their surrounding, as they try to retain their identity at all costs. The Aboriginal identity is often being discovered within the work. Adam Shoemaker discusses the role of identity in Aboriginal writing: “The self-reflective examination of Aboriginality is a major, but not the only, theme in black creative writing


in English” (10). The topic of searching for identity is evident for example in True Country by Kim Scott. The most important question still remains unanswered: Who can be regarded as an Aboriginal writer? It is a complicated issue and in my opinion there is no clear-cut answer to it. Anita Heiss asks herself this crucial question: “What makes an Aboriginal writer? Is an Aboriginal writer someone who is genetically Aboriginal and who writes, or can an Aboriginal writer also be someone who is not genetically Aboriginal, but who writes on Aboriginal issues?” (22). As far as world literature is concerned, a lot of writers who are citizens of a certain country are not considered to be national writers and vice versa. It is difficult to decide who belongs to national literature and the basic question is: Who is the authority that has the right to make this decision? “Because Aboriginality is something that is constantly scrutinized by people outside the Aboriginal community” (Heiss 23), it is quite obvious that a lot of writers of non-Aboriginal origin devote their works to Aboriginal issues. A huge discussion about the importance of authenticity arose when non-Aboriginal people started writing about Aboriginal people. Widespread prejudices surround Aboriginal writing. Most people think that only Aboriginal people are able to show the “real” picture of Aboriginality in their works and people who do not belong to this community should avoid judging Aboriginal people: “There are strong and original arguments coming from people who believe that white writers should not write about Aboriginal issues, especially sacred matters” (Heiss 10). However, even Aboriginal people are not able to judge themselves objectively. Langton supports this idea when she writes: There is a naïve belief that Aboriginal people will make ‘better’ representations of us, simply because being Aboriginal gives ‘greater’ understanding. This belief is based on an ancient and universal feature of


racism: the assumption of the undifferentiated Other. More specifically, the assumption is that all Aborigines are alike and equally understand each other, without regard to cultural variation, history, gender, sexual preference and so on. (27) The common aim of all authors dealing with the topic of Aboriginality is the same: to show the life of Aboriginal people through different means of writing: “[…] the role of these writers means that an analysis of Aboriginal creative writing in English has wider ramifications: one gains a clearer view of Aboriginal socio-political aspirations through interviews with the writers concerned and through reading their works” (Shoemaker 14). The readership can thus acquire a broader insight into the lives of Aboriginal people and their unique culture. Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, it does not change the final effect. As far as representing Aboriginal issues in literature is concerned, both groups of authors have to face their own constrictions – the Aboriginal writers because of their origin and non-Aboriginal ones because of lack of experience with Aboriginality. All the authors writing about Aboriginal society try to achieve the same aim – to express their personal ideas about Indigenous inhabitants and to share their views with readers. Shoemaker emphasizes the difference, yet the close connection, between Aboriginal and nonAboriginal writing at the same time as both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal writers do not deal with the same topics. However, sometimes their approach is similar (Shoemaker 10). As far as the function of Aboriginal writing is concerned, it is quite obvious: to inform, educate, entertain and make readers think about people who want to be heard. Scott summarizes the functions of Aboriginal writing: “Writing for entertainment and education has increasingly become an important aspect of reviving and maintaining Indigenous history and culture, and a logical and necessary move in the development of


Indigenous expression” (Foreword vi). The topics of Aboriginal writing are often very serious and they make possible to learn more about Aboriginal life in Australia. The insight into Aboriginal culture through writing makes it easier to understand the seemingly distant community of people: “Aboriginal literature has revealed more personalised accounts of Indigenous Australian life, instead of readers gaining their perspectives from historians, anthropologists and others from academia” (van den Berg, “Aboriginal Storytelling”). Personal experience of Aboriginal people and the accounts of their life stories bring forward the historical events by means of lively and emotive storytelling, in contrast to the blunt facts described in historical books.

2.1 Doris Pilkington – Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence Doris Pilkington is a descendant of Mardu People occupying the area of Jigalong in Western Australia. Her tribal name is Nugi Garimara and she is one of the Aboriginal poeple who are known as the ‘Stolen Generation’. In the course of this dark chapter of Australian history, a lot of part-Aboriginal children were taken from their Aboriginal families and they were placed into white families or native settlements to be culturally assimilated. When Doris was three years old, her mother had no other choice than to leave her behind at the mission where she was placed and escape with Doris’s younger sister. Doris was separated from the rest of Aboriginal community and their culture. Moreover, Pilkington believed that her mother abandoned her and did not want to bring her up. Doris Pilkington is one of many part-Aboriginal children who were constantly persuaded by white Australians that Aboriginal culture was evil: “They taught us Aboriginal culture was evil, that Aborigines were pagans and devil worshippers. […] They taught us to be ashamed of our own people. They tried to deprive us of our identity” (Pilkington qtd. in Marks). Aboriginal mothers had to face difficult decisions and they


often had to act quickly without further thinking. Tony Stephens describes Pilkington’s mother’s decision to leave her in the settlement as follows: “It must have been a Sophie’s choice for Molly. Pilkington Garimara says that her mother left her at Moore River because she couldn’t carry two girls. She knew that Doris would be cared for by Gracie, who was also back at Moore River” (Stephens). The children were usually too young to experience Aboriginal traditions so it was not difficult for them to adopt European beliefs. Doris’s sister Annabelle is a typical example of this. She was taken from her mother at a very early age and was sent to mission to be brought up by white Australians. Annabelle still refuses to accept her Aboriginal family and she believes she is an orphan. Pilkington admits how difficult it was to put up with the fact that her sister rejected her own family when Doris tried to contact her: “I waited eagerly for her reply and the prospect of reuniting my mother with her baby daughter. But, alas, the reunion was not forthcoming. The parcel was returned unopened and stamped clearly on the envelope were the words ‘Rejected by the addressee’, and ‘Return to sender’. My sister Anna will never know the pain of those words” (Pilkington, “The Hurtful Legacy” 159). Pilkington’s family is a representative of many other Aboriginal families who were destroyed by racist policies. Pilkington is eager to share her fate with others and that was the reason why she started writing. Her first novel Caprice – A Stockman’s Daughter deals with a serious and quite common topic of searching for identity. All her works include the authentic elements from her own life. She tries to take advantage of her childhood experience: “Pilkington-Garimara was not just the teller of her mother’s story, and a mediator in its translation to a western filmic product, she was one of the Stolen Generations herself […]” (Potter and Schaffer). It is believed that Aboriginal authors are more sensitive to the Aboriginal topics and they are better at dealing with them. It is closer to their hearts and


minds so they can draw on the experience of their culture. Rosemary van den Berg highlights the authenticity of works written by Aboriginal people: “These stories are real because they come from the heart and soul of Australia – the Aboriginal people” (“Aboriginal Storytelling”). Despite of the fact that Aboriginal works are very often biographies or autobiographies, they speak for the whole community, not just for individuals. Julia Ravell discusses the role of biographies in her essay: “Although biography is an individualistic genre, these novels are documents from a collective history yet to be acknowledged by Australia’s majority population” (Ravell). A lot of Aboriginal people can identify with Pilkington’s characters as the fates of Aboriginal children were in many cases similar. However, she does not consider herself a famous writer, but rather a representative of the Aboriginal community. In the paper delivered at the Regional Arts Australia National Conference in 2002, Pilkington denies to regard herself as an extraordinary author of Aboriginal works: “I, as a successful author, acknowledged nationally and internationally, could not have any notions of setting myself on a pedestal, as my people help me to remain an humble and dignified Garimara woman, the elder daughter of Molly Kelly of the Jigalong Community in the eastern Pilbara region” (Pilkington, Regional Regeneration). She admits that it is not only her merit that her work became popular as the stories are created by the Aboriginal people themselves. As far as the topics of Pilkington’s works are concerned she concentrates on life stories and retelling Aboriginal history. She judges the lives of Aboriginal people from a personal point of view which is, among other things, influenced by the fact that she is a woman. Her works depict the girls and women in various life roles and show them as strong and determined beings. Pilkington emphasizes feminity in the paper mentioned above:


I, as an Indigenous writer, believe in using the feminine part of our culture, the sharing of stories, to impart our own messages and reinforcing our social behaviour. Knowledge is gained by the sharing of stories, and to me and other Indigenous women writers, that knowledge is sacred because something of our ‘inner self’ is exposed. (Pilkington, Regional Regeneration) Pilkington highlights the tradition of Aboriginal storytelling and perceives it as a common aspect of Aboriginal nation, mainly of Aboriginal women. Pilkington’s most famous work is undoubtedly Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence which was published in 1996 and “brought into the published world a story of immense love, courage and survival” (Heiss 143). It is a story of determination, survival, defiance and resilience. “It highlights very simply and effectively the issue of the stolen generations and the Government policies that affected the lives of Aboriginal people such as the Aboriginal Protection Policy under the 1905 Act” (Pilkington, Regional Regeneration). It was made into a catchy and moving film in 2002 – directed by Phillip Noyce – and the book was also translated into 11 languages. After this noteworthy success Pilkington decided to devote the next book called Under the Wintamarra Tree (2002) to her own story – how she was brought into the world. It is a sequel to Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence follows the journey of three girls – 14-years-old Molly Kelly (Craig), her sister Daisy Craig (Kadibil) aged 8 and their cousin Gracie Cross (Fields) aged 10 who were forcibly removed from their families and thus from their communities where they were born. They wanted to escape the appalling conditions of the Moore River Native Settlement near Perth where they were placed to be taught how to be “culturally white”. They suffered a lot there – they were forbidden to communicate


in their native language and were forced to abandon their cultural heritage. The journey back to Jigalong took more than seven weeks before they were reunited with their families. They managed to walk almost two thousand kilometers – a major part of the journey barefooted. These three girls also had to cope with the pursuit by a professional tracker and other people who tried to recapture them. By using various kinds of false footprints and strategies they managed to deceive them all. The only help and the only thing they could rely on was the rabbit-proof fence which seems to be “a symbolical umbilical cord” (Stephens). According to Tony Stephens, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is “one of the most remarkable feats of endurance, cleverness and courage in Australian history, dramatising a dark side of the Australian story” (Stephens). This book is based on Pilkington’s mother’s own experience. Pilkington clarifies her motives for writing the book: “I was inspired to write a book that would preserve my family’s history for future generations” (Pilkington qtd. in Maher). As soon as she found out about the fate of her mother she started to be really interested in this topic. She wanted her mother to reveal her experience but Pilkington’s mother was quite reluctant to do so as it is very delicate issue. Her aunt, Daisy, who was one of the girls involved in this case, was more open. She wanted to pass on her experience to make people understand her burdensome life. Pilkington remembers listening to the story for the first time: “I first heard the incredible story of how my mother, Molly, and her sister Daisy and cousin Gracie, escaped from the white settlement in 1986. It was Aunt Daisy who told me her memories and as soon as she finished talking, I wrote it down and vowed to fill in the missing pieces later on” (Pilkington qtd. in Maher). The case of these three young Aboriginal girls is well-documented. It forms a backbone of the book. Anne Brewster draws attention to use of the archive in the book: “[…] the narrative of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence includes many excerpts from


archival material including letters, telegrams, newspaper reports, the Aborigines Protection Act” (“Aboriginal Life Writing”). It looks like the official facts are completed with Pilkington’s shared experience. It is a real-life story, yet some parts are fictionalized and stylized so it “creates a counter-archive of (formerly largely oral) Aboriginal knowledges and practices” (Brewster, “Aboriginal Life Writing”) as well. Personal experience contrasts with the evidence of authorities and two historical perspectives of the same events are juxtaposed here. Not everyone appreciated Pilkington’s need to share her personal experience. It was shocking enlightenment of the assimilationist policy in Australia for a lot of readers who do not know anything about it. They just could not accept such a reality: “In Australia it was met with much consternation from conservative forces who tried to politicise and deny the history it told to everyday people, though it is a story that continues to enthrall because of its powerful and simple truths” (Heiss 144). Except for these opponents, however, the book has had a lot of supporters and it serves as the educational work for many people. Anne Brewster stresses the didactic significance of Pilkington’s work: “Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is thus pedagogic and informative for both indigenous and non-indigenous readers” (“Aboriginal Life Writing”). Doris Pilkington is very positive about future of Aboriginal culture. She believes that it will survive and retain its uniqueness: “My father’s land is not desolate land now. There are the sounds of children’s laughter, of arguments, of everyday living. The life is there. The spirits of my grandparents are there and will always be” (Pilkington qtd. in Marks). Pilkington is now relearning her native language to be able to write in it. The autobiographical account of the life of Pilkington’s mother inscribed in Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence re-creates the Aboriginal history of Western Australia. By combining Aboriginal and European historical sources, Pilkington manages to portray


Aboriginal resistance against the inhuman treatment of Aboriginal people by the government.

2.2 Kim Scott – True Country Australian writer of Aboriginal ancestry Kim Scott is the descendant of the Nyoongar2 people of Western Australia. He grew up in Perth as a son of white mother and Aboriginal father in a community of white Australians where Aboriginal people were rather the objects of derision. Although he has always respected his Aboriginal heritage, it was difficult for him to cope with the social prejudices against Aboriginal people. He was a child perplexed by the idea of being told to be proud of his Aboriginal ancestry in a community where Nyoongar people were mostly objects of scorn. Since the time he was told about his Aboriginal ancestry, he started hesitating about his identity. As a child he must have been confused about his ancestry mainly because of the colour of his skin. Being light-skinned part-Aboriginal child made him ponder over the mixture of Indigenous and colonial heritage in him. His perception of the Aboriginality has been, thanks to his experience from childhood, ambiguous: “My own sense of Aboriginality was a strange mix of pride, shame and isolation. A private thing. A thing at the heart of me, albeit a thing I could not put into words” (Scott, “Disputed Territory” 164). Searching for his Aboriginal identity and learning about his Aboriginal kin are very personal issues for him. Scott, a teacher by profession, has decided to express his mixed feelings about his identity via literature. He needed to gain some experience and also find the way back to 2

The spelling of this word differs in various sources. The term ‘nyoongar’ is used in most of the sources I have studied for my thesis. It is sometimes used in its simplified version ‘noongar’. The terms ‘nyungar’, ‘nyoongah’, ‘nyungah’ or ‘nyugah’ are used quite rarely. According to Rosemary van den Berg ‘nyoongar’ means a ‘man’. Before they were given the name ‘nyoongar’ these people belonged to Bibbulmun group. The word ‘nyoongar’ came into existence due to the misunderstanding. When white settlers asked an Aboriginal man about the name of his tribe, this man was saying pointing at himself: “Nyoongar”. Thus the white settlers assumed it is the name of his tribe (van den Berg, Nyoongar People of Australia xiv).


his roots. Scott became a teacher in an Aboriginal community and thus deepened his knowledge about his ancestors by means of a direct encounter with Aboriginal people. This stay contributed significantly to his understanding of his own personality. His first attempts to write a novel were preceded by long hesitation. Scott’s books were supposed to deal with his own problems but would it be interesting for readers and would it be accepted by Aboriginal people? Even after publishing his first novel he still doubted: Was my writing revealing my Aboriginality, or revealing the absence of it? Who was I writing for? What purposes could my writing serve? This is a recurring problem – particularly now that I have been published – and partly arises from my own insecurity, but also – I believe – from restrictive and limiting definitions of what it is to be Aboriginal, and what is allowed of an Aboriginal writer. (Scott, “Disputed Territory” 168) Scott was not sure if there was a place for him in Aboriginal literature and whether his work would be accepted by Aboriginal readers or not. Except for these doubts he was aware of the fact that he had the responsibility to speak for not only his relatives but also for Aboriginal people as such. Although he hesitated about the purpose of his writing it is quite obvious that being a speaker of Aboriginal community is a praiseworthy thing. By speaking and writing, Scott represents the experiences of many Aboriginal people. Scott’s first novel True Country was published in 1993. It is a semi-autobiographical story, nevertheless with fictional elements. Scott identifies with the main protagonist of the novel – Billy. Similarly to Scott, Billy is searching for the imaginary bridge between the two cultures which constitute his identity. In True Country the author thinks alike as the main protagonist in most of the story. John Fielder asserts in his essay: “One of the Scott’s strengths is his brutal self-reflection. He recognizes and owns his own ‘issues’, but frames his personal struggle within larger political and historical forces” (Fielder).


Scott spent four years writing this novel while drawing the inspiration from his own experience. Pascal describes this work as a “novel of social concern that calls attention to problems besetting outback Aboriginal Australia: entrenched poverty, racism, deracination, drug use, and domestic violence, among others” (4). The story offers a picture of a disintegrating culture which faces serious social problems. True Country traces a young teacher’s journey to the Aboriginal community in Karnama to find his roots. Billy Storey, the main protagonist of the novel, stands between two worlds – the Aboriginal and the white. He does not know where he belongs. He sets off the journey to a faraway mission which should help him to find his true identity. Billy, “[…] a young schoolteacher from Perth who, although genetically part Aboriginal, is sufficiently lightskinned to have passed as white throughout his life, and whose upbringing and cultural orientation have in most respects been Euroaustralian” (Pascal 3), is eager to learn something about Aboriginal people and also about the place where he partly belongs. Billy learns about history in Karnama from two sources. One of them is a written account in the mission journals which is quite reliable but it is not as interesting as a lively narrative of Fatima, an old Aboriginal woman, the first person born in the mission. These two modes of narrative – Western and Aboriginal – seem to “complement and enrich one another” (Pascal 5). The archival material and communal memory fade into one another. Billy is fascinated by Fatima’s storytelling which seems to fill the gaps in the written record. Both oral narrative and print text are valid and significant for creating the picture of Aboriginal history. Traditional storytelling is rather a social event. It is cooperation between the narrator and the audience. The people listening to the stories of Aboriginal people are involved in the narration. One aspect of Scott’s writing has not been mentioned yet - supernatural elements which are incorporated in the novel. These elements are closely connected to the oral


narrative of Aboriginal people. The magic of old Aboriginal people, quite often mentioned in the novel, shows the importance of Aboriginal culture and its belief. Paranormality seems to intrude the story and it occurs spontaneously within the narration. The open-ending of the novel shows the rebirth of Billy with the supernatural undertone. It is an “out-of-body ‘fantasy’ based on traditional Aboriginal mythic thinking” (Pascal 9). Billy’s rebirth can be perceived differently – it is either his death or the peak of his self-recognition. Although Billy’s task in Karnama is very difficult – Aboriginal children he teaches can not speak proper English and are mischievous – he tries to influence the course of events in this community. The children play an important role not only in helping Billy to learn about his identity but they can even bridge different cultures. They mediate between white and Aboriginal adults. The children are a great inspiration for him and vice versa. He is an educated man with a lot of experience so the children look up to him. Billy is rather upset when he finds out that even small, “uneducated” Aboriginal children know who they are and where they belong, but he does not know that. True Country was succeeded by the novel Benang: From the Heart which was published six years later, in 1999. This novel portrays Harley, the first white man born in the Aboriginal family, exploring his Nyoongar identity. Benang traces the family history and also the history of oppressed Aboriginal people. ‘Benang’ is the Nyoongar word for ‘tomorrow’ (Fielder). It suggests the optimistic expectations of survival and resistance of Aboriginal culture. Another novel, Kayang3 and Me, published quite recently – in 2005, is significant because of Scott’s collaboration with his aunt Hazel Brown, the Nyoongar elder. This novel is parallel to Doris Pilkington’s Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence as it


‘Kayang’ is the Nyoongar term for ‘old woman’ (Scott, Interview).


uses the authentic experience of Aboriginal people who were interviewed by their relatives. Novels are not Scott’s only domain – he is the author of the poetry which has been unconventionally presented in trains. He is also well-known for his public reading of his own writing and for publishing children’s books. His emotional performance can influence the perception of his work. It seems that he wants to continue with the oral tradition of Aboriginal people. His writing helped develop his sense of Aboriginality. While searching for archival materials and interviewing his aunt, he managed to learn more about his own identity. It is the honour for Scott that he has been included in the list of Aboriginal writers: “[…] I never thought of it as Aboriginal writing. I was just writing, so I was very pleased when it was accepted like that” (Scott qtd. in Fielder). Generally, Scott’s writing is for readers interested in the Aboriginal tradition of storytelling and the texts that show the absolute absorption of the author.

2.3 Kate Genville – The Secret River Australian novelist Kate Grenville, the winner of numerous prizes for her literary work, was born in Sydney. She is a white mainstream writer which might not fit into the work devoted to the Aboriginal writing. Marcia Langton represents the perspective that non-Aboriginal writers distort the real thinking of Aboriginal people: Representational and aesthetic statements of Aboriginal people by nonAboriginal people transform the Aboriginal reality. They are accounts. It is in these representations that Aboriginal as subject becomes, under the white gaze imagining the Aboriginal, the object. The audience, however, might be entirely unaware that they are observing an account, usually by the authorial We of the Other. (40)


On the other hand, as it was mentioned in the introductory part of this thesis, there are no strict rules about who is considered an Aboriginal writer and who is not. Besides writing about various topics such as male – female relationships, Grenville has decided to devote some novels to the important part of Australian history – the first encounters between Indigenous inhabitants of Australia and white settlers. Before she started writing, Grenville worked in the film industry. Her first book was published in 1984 as a collection of short stories called Bearded Ladies. As the title suggests, these thirteen stories show women in different roles living in the ‘men’s world’. Since then she published several novels sharing the common factor – gender relations. Well-known novels by Grenville include The Idea of Perfection (1999) – the winner of the Orange Prize. It is rather a ‘love story’ that traces and explores the role of the sexes and the relationships between them. The novel called Joan Makes History published in 1988 is a parodic history of Australia written from the woman’s point of view. The main female protagonist Joan Radulesco appears in different roles in Australian history within the novel. Joan also performs a role of an Aboriginal woman, which is the first mention of Aboriginality in Grenville’s work. Another novel which deals with the first encounters between white settlers and Indigenous inhabitants is the most recent novel called The Lieutenant (2008). It traces the story of a soldier from the First Fleet sent to Australia in 1788 and his interaction with the Indigenous inhabitants. He meets a young Aboriginal girl Patyegarang who teaches him her language. Their friendship represents the bridge between the two different cultures and the novel is thus perceived to be more positive than The Secret River. In her novel The Secret River (2005), Grenville takes the readers back in time. It is a historical fiction based on the story of one of the Grenville’s ancestors Solomon Wiseman. Although Grenville drew on the historical records and the events depicted in


the novel really happened, the genre of fiction remains untrustworthy for understanding the past and in the fiction authors are those who decide about the outcome of a novel. The historical events in The Secret River are real but the characters are fictional. That is why this novel is criticized by historians who reprehend Grenville’s idealization of the characters4. Grenville devoted couple of years to the research into her ancestry and also into the early colonial Australia. Besides reading theoretical books and studying, among others, the old ships and boats, she realized that she needed to explore the places she was going to write about by visiting each part of the land she wanted to portray. She has admitted in the interview that she is a “great believer in the experiential theory of writing” (Grenville, Interview). Grenville experienced the turns of the weather, the harshness of the river and various difficulties while traveling along the Hawkesbury River. Australian history is full of secrets and the first encounters between Aboriginal people and European settlers are one of them: “Grenville’s symbolism is a striking reminder of the history that lies beneath our modern Australian state and of the ways in which that history has sometimes been deliberately suppressed to give the impression of more noble beginnings” (Behrendt 4). Australians do not seem to be proud of this part of their history neither of the era of so called ‘Stolen children’ which is described in Pilkington’s novel. The Secret River is a chronicle of a British man William Thornhill who is sentenced in 1806 to be transported to New South Wales in Australia. He is forced to leave his beloved England and start living in a completely unknown and alien land. Although his life in England is difficult – he had to face adversity when his parents and his wife’s parents died and they had no money left – he loves it because he was born there. On the


According to Melbourne historian Dr Inga Clendinnen, The Secret River is a “dramatic imagination unleashed on some willfully selected historical material, used as grist to the novelist’s mill” (Clendinnen qtd. in Sullivan), so it should not be considered a historical novel but rather a work of fiction. For further details on this controversy, see Sullivan’s “Making a Fiction of History…”


other hand, he knows that without stealing he and his family can not survive. Australia, which is a convict colony, seems to be a harsh land at first. But at the same time it is a significant opportunity for a new, better start. William can start a new life here and provide ‘security’ to his family only after several years when he is granted a pardon. William is happy here and he starts to feel tempted by owning a piece of land. It is so easy for him to annex a hundred acres of the land and assert that it is his own. Will does not realize that it is a kind of theft as the land is inhabited for more than forty thousand years by Darug people. The main theme of this novel is the clash between two cultures – the Aboriginal and the European. British Privy Council declared the entire continent of Australia ‘terra nullius’ which means ‘nobody’s land’. Great Britain used Australia as a convict colony so the first settlers were mostly former convicts. Suddenly, two groups of different people needed the same land as a source of food and water. The clash between them was inevitable. The exiled British criminals had to coexist with the Indigenous people of Australia. They were unable to communicate together and this initial lack of understanding turned into fear. In the novel, Will is drawn into this clash. Although he is aware of the fact that Aboriginal people are usurped on their own land, his hunger for land prevails. When Will and his family settle down in Sydney, they encounter the first Aboriginal man whom they call Scabby Bill. The hunter-gatherer way of living, practiced by many Aboriginal people, is in contrast to the farming attempts of the white settlers. It is quite incomprehensible for the white settlers that the local Aboriginal people do not build houses to live in and the fences to guard their possessions. Will admires the ability of the Aboriginal population to organize their work and he envies them the spare time spent with their families. At the same time, Will is frightened of the inscrutable behaviour of the Indigenous inhabitants.


In fact, there are two groups of the white settlers on the Hawkesbury River. One of them, the minority, tries to coexist with the Aboriginal people and tolerate their way of living. The second group is completely hostile towards the Indigenous inhabitants. Will can not decide which group he will join but finally he becomes involved in a cruel massacre of the Aboriginal people. Will realizes that if he wants to own the land, he must fight against the Aboriginal people. The climax of the story, the final murderous violence, estranges Will from his wife and also from the son who used to play with the Aboriginal children as a child without any hints of hatred. Hathcock describes Will’s decision to participate in the massacre: “In fact, Thornhill basically becomes a passive bad guy by the end, an enabler for the extermination” (Hathcock). However, the decision to join the hostile settlers in the massacre haunts Will long after it was committed. I would like to mention the background of the origin of the title of the book. As it was mentioned above, the word ‘secret’ is related to the Australian past which is closely connected to myths. The phrase ‘the secret river’ is taken from the W. E. H. Stanner’s Boyer Lecture of 1968: “There is a secret river of blood in Australian history […]” (Stanner qtd. in Grenville, Interview). Stanner is talking about the times of the first encounters between Aboriginal people and white settlers. Despite of the appalling consequences of this period, it seems to be a suppressed part of Australian history. Grenville found the expression ‘the secret river’ fully appropriate for her title. Naming it ‘The River of Blood’ would be too far-fetched and it would give the book different connotations (Grenville, Interview). The word “river” is quite significant as it represents the substance of William’s life. He had been apprentice for seven years on the river Thames before he became a skilled waterman. In Australia he uses his knowledge from the apprentice years and makes his living on the Hawkesbury River. The Thames means the hard work for Will as he has to face a great competition but it also represents the


place where he was born and where his home is. On the other hand, the Hawkesbury River is the unknown, dangerous place but quite prosperous. He is one of the few watermen there so he can earn enough money to build his own house, which would not be possible in London. According to Sean O’Brien, The Secret River is a “tale of two rivers – one lost, the other ambiguously claimed” (O’Brien). Both of them form an irretrievable part of Thornhill’s life. It is important to point out that Grenville avoids giving voice to the Indigenous people in her novel. She is fully aware of the fragile issue of the appropriation of Aboriginal voices in many literary works so she tries to be even-headed. Grenville does not try to pretend that she knows what the Aboriginal people are thinking about. She admits the difficulty of the task to write about the Aboriginal people: “That was tricky because what I didn’t want to do was to step into the heads of any of the Aboriginal characters” (Grenville, Interview). Grenville seems to be writing ‘from the distance’ without judging the characters and their actions. In my opinion, The Secret River is a balanced portrayal of the first encounters between white settlers and Aboriginal people. The author leaves the reader judge who is complicit and who is innocent. She tries to be unbiased and fair when describing the skirmishes between the white settlers and the Indigenous inhabitants. By refusing to “get in” the minds of the Aboriginal characters, Grenville runs the risk of making her Aboriginal characters rather blank and unconvincing. Hathcock criticizes the flatness of the characters and thus the flatness of the whole book: The novel – without any real mediating, fictive consciousness between the story and the reader – presents itself as a straight transcript of its time, but surely people in 1806 had thoughts, had serpentine self-justification. Whether aesthetically brave or foolish, the reader is left sealed off, barred


from the tumbling water of fictional consciousness she can hear but cannot access. (Hathcock) Written ‘from outside’, The Secret River may be limited concerning the minds of the characters. In this novel the events and acts are more important than the characters themselves. The process of writing The Secret River is explored in the Grenville’s work called Searching for the Secret River (2006), which lets readers peep into the background of the origin of the novel. Readers can thus learn about everything concerning the novel itself, such as its unsuccessful beginnings, and it is also a great opportunity to compare the first drafts with the final versions of some parts of the novel. Grenville has a great experience with the writing process and she passes on her own experience and knowledge to her students while teaching creative writing at a university.


3. Portrayal of the Aboriginal Protagonists Doris Pilkington’s Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, Kim Scott’s True Country and Kate Grenville’s The Secret River take place in Australia. In the case of The Secret River the life in Australia forms just the later part of William’s lifetime but I daresay the crucial one. If the writers decide to write about this country they have to be aware of the fact that the Aboriginal population is the inseparable part of it. Nadia Wheatley stresses the danger of the omission of Indigenous inhabitants while writing about Australia: “[…] those who don’t include Aboriginal characters and themes in their work run the risk of painting a white Australian monoculture and inadvertently fostering racism” (22). Depicting Indigenous people is the common feature of all three novels. Although the authors have decided to use different styles and structures, they all portray Aboriginal people in different roles. By applying different strategies and ways of picturing Indigenous people, the three authors want to bring the life of Aboriginal people closer to non-Aboriginal readers. In Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence the white characters play only a minor role but still a significant one. The Indigenous inhabitants of Australia from this story are depicted as strong people facing the atrocities of the invasion of European settlers. They fight against the European laws which do not allow the Aboriginal people to be themselves. They seem to be the victims of a political situation but at the same time the fighters for their rights. Predominantly female characters stand for the people who were deprived of their own land and oppressed by complete strangers. Three Aboriginal girls are taken from their families and thus become members of the ‘Stolen Generation’. Although they can not avoid their fate, they try hard to overcome all the obstacles which inhibit their happiness. The hardships of the ‘stolen children’ make up the core of the story. Molly, the main female protagonist is despite of her early age, to all intents and purposes, a


heroine. She manages to defeat her fate planned by white authorities by escaping from the settlement where she was placed. True Country offers a wide range of characters including both the white protagonists and the Aboriginal people. The main character Billy, a part-Aboriginal man, has the Aboriginal ancestors but he is fully assimilated by European culture. In the Aboriginal community in Karnama Billy learns more about Aboriginal history. The Indigenous people are represented by two groups here: the elders and the youth. The differences between them seem to be obvious as the young people of Karnama accept the white teachers but the older people remain resistant to the white influences. Nevertheless, even the old Indigenous inhabitants seem to cooperate with the white people in many respects. However, the negative aspects of the Aboriginal characters are revealed in the novel, above all vices such as alcoholism. The Indigenous inhabitants are presented as people who are not willing to work. The Aboriginal children are often left on their own while the Aboriginal adults play cards and drink. As far as The Secret River is concerned, the Aboriginal people represent the long history of Australia. They seem to be mysterious figures suddenly appearing and disappearing: “They had arrived so quietly they might have risen up out of the ground” (The Secret River 195). In fact, there are two groups of Aboriginal people depicted in the story. The first one is represented by Scabby Bill, the Aboriginal man coming to the main character’s hut in Sydney to ask for food quite fearlessly. Scabby Bill does not seem to be able to hurt the people who feed him. On the other hand, there is the second group of the Indigenous people living on the very edge of civilization. They hold back from the white settlers whom they consider the thieves of their land. By various acts the Aboriginal people want to show that they will fight the intruders at all costs.


3.1 Molly Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence portrays the strong character of Molly Craig, a fourteen-year-old Aboriginal girl, who in fact represents Pilkington’s mother. Molly is the first ‘half-caste’ child born in Jigalong. Molly’s parents are proud of her but she feels the handicap of being ‘light skinned’ in the group of dark people. It is difficult for her to face the insults by the other children: “Some told her that because she was neither Mardu or wudgebulla5 she was like a mongrel dog” (Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence 39). However, teasing is not the only problem of being a part-Aboriginal child. At that time white people of Australia believed that part-Aboriginal children were more intelligent than their Aboriginal contemporaries. As well as innumerous part-Aboriginal children, Molly, her sister Daisy and their cousin Gracie are removed from their home. Molly’s mother and other family are powerless to resist white laws. Molly’s grandfather even uses black charcoal and blacken the girls’ bodies to “[…] protect them and prevent them from being taken away from their families” (Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence 42). Nothing helps and so the girls are deported to the Moore River Native Settlement. They leave behind their mourning families and the place where they were born and where they belong. After a long journey to an unknown place the girls seem to be terrified but at the same time at least Molly is not willing to accept her fate. She decided that “[…] she wanted to have a part in planning her own destiny” (Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence 129). She is ready to fight it by all means. The settlement, full of part-Aboriginal children, resembles a prison. The girls are not allowed to use their native language and the punishments are humiliating. Having been torn from their mothers, they all feel homesick. Molly decides to put an end to their torment and persuades Daisy and Gracie to escape from these


Wudgebulla means a white man (Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence 135).


disconsolate conditions. Daisy and Gracie do not hesitate because they look up to Molly: “The two youngsters trusted their big sister because she was not only the eldest but she had always been the bossy one who made all the decisions at home” (Follow the RabbitProof Fence 78). Quite surprisingly Molly does not feel scared any more but rather fearless. She knows that it is her duty to bring them all back home. During the long, exhausting journey Molly shows her courage and determination which never falter throughout the whole trek. She is the leader of the group so she tries to take advantage of the skills needed for survival in the outback which she learnt at the early age. She manages to fight against the unpredictable weather “[…] as she was equipped with range of essential survival skills, those learned from her white father, an inspector of the fence” (Brewster, “Aboriginal Life Writing”). Despite of the lack of experience, Molly instinctively leads her ‘sisters’ back home, following the rabbit-proof fence. It was build to protect the migration of rabbits but it proved to be a failure as rabbits were able to cross it. Thus, predominantly different purpose of the fence turns into the help for these girls and serving as a “symbolical umbilical chord” (Stephens) guides them back to Jigalong. Molly’s behaviour shows the signs of self-confidence while trying to overcome the huge distance between the Moore River Native Settlement and Jigalong. She can not deny the Aboriginal blood in her when she searches for the place to survive the night and when she provides nourishment: “Molly, this fourteen-year-old girl, had no fear because the wilderness was her kin. It always provided shelter, food and sustenance” (Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence 82). She knows that they are safe in the outback and the only danger is the group of people chasing them. Molly is confident about their success and this feeling pushes her forward without thinking about the pain they all undergo. The journey back home means more than just the ability to survive in the bush: “For


Molly, the eldest and the self-appointed leader, she chose to become a stronger person on her way to womanhood and for her, the journey itself became a rite of passage into adulthood” (Pilkington, Regional Regeneration). By overcoming all the obstacles, she proves to be able to look after herself. The triumphant arrival after fooling the informants is celebrated with the whole family. The reunion with the family and reestablished connection to their land closes one distressful period of the life of the two Aboriginal girls as the third one unfortunately refused to follow her cousins and was recaptured later on. However, Molly, Daisy and Gracie seem to be the only people involved who believe in the happy-ending of their journey: “Because no one but themselves thought they were going to make it, their achievement gave their people, still imprisoned, a kind of legendary hope” (Ravell). These young girls demonstrate that it is possible to resist the regulations of the authorities. And if there are no better means than just escape then there is no avoidance. In this case the Aboriginal girls “[…] had overcome their fears and proved that they could survive. It took a strong will and a purpose – they had both” (Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence 119-20). Molly, a key figure of the story, is just one of many Aboriginal protagonists in the novel. Still she is the most important one as she is closest to the author’s heart. As Pilkington is an Aboriginal writer, she can project her own abilities to survive in the bush into Molly. Having been placed into the very same settlement as her mother was, Pilkington is able to describe this place authentically. Pilkington and her mother have the same experience with being removed from their family, so it is easy for Pilkington to identify with the character of Molly.

3.2 Billy Billy, the main protagonists of True Country, is a young man of Aboriginal ancestry. Although he lacks most of the characteristic physiognomic features of Aboriginal people,


he is part of the Aboriginal world. He is eager to learn about Aboriginal people and also about the place where he partly belongs. His curiosity and “[…] desire to explore the Aboriginal side of his ancestry” (Pascal 4) brings him to Karnama. Full of anticipation, Billy Storey left his hometown to discover a new, unknown world. He seems to be satisfied with his actual life but he feels Aboriginal blood running in his veins. Since he was told that he has Aboriginal ancestors, he has been excited by this fact. When he was a young boy he was proud of his exoticism: “[…] it was like being an American Indian on the movies” (True Country 167). Therefore, he longs for discovering this unknown part of his personality. Billy is fully aware of the fact that Aboriginal people do not like intruders into their culture therefore he is afraid that the Aboriginal people in Karnama will not accept him. While Billy lives in Karnama he becomes a member of the Aboriginal community, but he still feels that he does not belong there: But I don’t feel Aboriginal, I can’t say that. I don’t understand. Does it mean you feel lost, displaced? But doesn’t everyone? And I just wanted to come to a place like this, where some things that happened a long time ago, where I come from, that I have only heard or read of, are still happening here, maybe. (True Country 82) As he has expected, he feels uneasy in this Aboriginal community not only because he is a ‘pale’ person but also due to numerous differences between white and Aboriginal people. Billy has a unique chance to compare two different societies. There are a lot of similarities between white people and Indigenous inhabitants but also many differences, not just “[…] the difference in smell and touch” (True Country 94). They have different worldviews, but in difficult life situations they are able to unite and think alike and even the children know that all people are equal. Gabriela, a young Aboriginal girl who is sent


abroad to study, observes that “there’s Aboriginal people everywhere you know. Even like you, paler. We are all different, but the same” (True Country 166). The beliefs and aims in life of the Aboriginal people are different as well as the relationship to their relatives. One of the Aboriginal characters from True Country whose name is Raphael lives with two women – Stella, his wife and Gloria, his mistress. Surprisingly these two women are not rivals in love, but together they try to defend against their abusive partner. Considering them his possession Raphael does not hesitate to beat them in front of the whole family to show his power and control over his ‘possession’. It is really difficult for Billy to understand the behaviour of the Aboriginal people and the principles within the community. Billy stands between the two worlds – the Aboriginal and the white – and he does not belong to either of them. He does not know which part of his identity is closer to his heart. Without a shadow of a doubt, he is influenced by both these worlds. It is really important for him to find his own identity in Karnama because he can not stand the fact that even the small, uneducated children know who they are and where they belong, but he does not know that. Billy’s uncertainty about his identity is expressed in the novel many times. In some situations, such as dancing a traditional Aboriginal dance corroboree, he believes he is an Aboriginal person: “I’m Aboriginal, of Aboriginal descent. A bit of tarbrush in me” (True Country 103). At first Billy feels as a stranger in this community but later on he admits that he is at home there. He wants to learn more about himself through learning about Aboriginal people. There are two things which can help him with this – the history of the Aboriginal people and the Aboriginal children. Billy learns about the history of Karnama and the people living there from two sources. One of them is a written account in the mission journal which is quite reliable but Fatima’s, an elderly Aboriginal woman, narration is much more lively. The stories


she tells him help him to imagine the lives of his ancestors. But Billy does not fit in this history, he does not feel to be a part of it: “[…] Billy was the man to write the stories, stories in which he didn’t belong” (True Country 171). When his grandmother dies, he regrets that he did not interview her but a completely strange woman instead. He did not manage to ask his grandmother about so many things concerning his origin and the heritage that was passed on him from her. It is not easy for Billy to share his internal feelings with strangers. Now he regrets that he did not manage to ask his grandmother about his ancestry. Some Aboriginal people in Karnama are curious about Billy’s search for identity: “That short teacher bloke, he bit like us, but – Nyungar or what? Look at him, he could be. Why’s he wanna know things?” (True Country 71). They do not understand the fact that although Billy is an adult, educated man, he does not know where his place in the world is. How is it possible that he does not know where he belongs when he is such an educated person and knows a lot of things about the world but does not know the simple thing – who he is? It is beyond comprehension for the Aboriginal people who are fully aware of their ancestry. When Billy dances corroboree, a traditional Aboriginal dance, most Aboriginal people from Karnama must admit that there is something ‘Aboriginal’ in him: “Some people said that they thought you might be, like when you danced the other day. True. Fatima and Sebastian said. But because you’re a teacher we didn’t think” (True Country 82). Throughout the whole story the doubts about his personality haunt Billy. It is important for him to be accepted as an Aboriginal person by the Aboriginal people themselves. At the end of the story Billy finally identifies with the Aboriginal side of himself: “Caught in this shell, and yet within the roaring wind and rain, he felt a part of it all” (True Country 252). The land is not strange any more but it is a place where he


belongs. Suddenly he knows who he is and where his place in society and in the whole world is.

3.3 Fatima Billy is not the only narrator in True Country. Some passages are narrated in the “[…] first person plural by a group of unnamed Aboriginal elders who inhabit the small settlement that is the story’s locale” (Pascal 4). The reader can combine the inner feelings of the main character with the opinions of the Aboriginal people. The multiplicity of narrative voices is highlighted in Fielder’s essay: “True Country breaks with autobiographical convention and permits other voices to enter the narrative in a hybrid and dialogic articulation of Aboriginality” (Hogan qtd. in Fielder). Billy’s narration and the Aboriginal voices change in the story and all of them express their opinions of various situations. The elderly Aboriginal woman, Fatima, first born in the mission, is considered to be at the same time the last person to understand the Aboriginal culture. She represents the old generation of the Aboriginal people in Karnama and thus becomes one of the narrative voices. She seems to be the connection with the past. Fatima’s storytelling helps Billy to discover his Aboriginal roots. He learns about the events which happened to his ancestors. By describing the course of the past events to Billy, Fatima lives through them again and her memory brings back the days when she was a little girl. Like many other Aboriginal children, she was taken away from her family and returned several years later. The appalling impact of the estrangement resulted in the loss of Fatima’s native language: “We didn’t know how to speak the language. We forgot about our language. We talk in English. I couldn’t understand my mummy. I forgot all about our language.


We forget about it” (True Country 35). This distressing experience could not be forgotten as she had to learn her native language again step by step as a little child. As the representative of the old generation, Fatima also represents the old tradition of storytelling. The stories form the Aboriginal past and are shared by the Indigenous people of different generations. They are the core of the Aboriginal culture and every storytelling event “[…] invokes a shared memory of the multiplicity of voices that have previously generated and revised the narrative […]” (Pascal 7). Storytelling, which is a social event for Aboriginal people, shows the importance of means of communication. As it was mentioned in the section about the Aboriginal writing, storytelling is for Aboriginal people the way of passing on various information. The young generation of the Aboriginal people in Karnama is educated by white teachers to be able to read and write. On the other hand, the old generation did not have the same opportunity so for them storytelling means more than for the young generation: “The old people, they couldn’t read or write, but they had their stories in their mouths and they had them in their hands. They danced and they sang all their stories…” (True Country 247). Fatima is excited by Billy’s reading from the mission journal as she can not read herself. “A sense of the contagious mutual excitement of the two as they strive to produce a story text that incorporates both the book record and that of the communal memory” (Pascal 6) unites Billy and Fatima in the realm of storytelling. Fatima was the witness of the events described in the journal so she can comment on them and sometimes even disagree with them. Fatima’s re-creation of the story provides the details and the background of the events. She is aware of the fact that the book is subjective so it does not have to be true: “Yeah, see that’s why I want to talk to you, and the others maybe, because the book doesn’t… it just tells you what one eye saw, they don’t tell you the


background, like about the dog…” (True Country 42). It is like a puzzle put together forming the picture of the past. Being part-Aboriginal person enables Scott to portray the Aboriginal characters of True Country quite authentically, although he was not brought up in the Aboriginal community so he does not know all aspects of Aboriginal life. He presents his own experience with Aboriginal people by means of the main character.

3.4 Scabby Bill and the Aboriginal People of the Hawkesbury River The Secret River offers a wide range of the Aboriginal characters but they seem to represent the whole community of people rather than just individuals. In fact, there are two groups of the Aboriginal people in this novel: The black natives of the place seemed to come in two sorts. The visible ones were those who lived in the settlement. […] The other sort of native was the kind that Thornhill had met on that first night, when they been on the very edge of civilisation. This sort of native was invisible to those like Sal who confined themselves to the township. They lived in the forest and in the bays where settlement had not yet reached, and melted away if any of the new arrivals tried to come close. (The Secret River 90-92) The character of Scabby Bill thus embodies the ‘visible’ group of the Aboriginal people. He comes to the Thornhills’ hut every day to beg for some food. He can even say a few English words. At first his naked body scandalizes the puritan white women because they are not accustomed to the sight of naked body of an adult man. Later on the nakedness of the Aboriginal people becomes ordinary for the white settlers. The different approach to nudity shows the gap between the two cultures. The things, such as clothes, are important for Europeans as they can represent people’s wealth. On the other hand, Aboriginal


people do not consider any form of wealth important so they do not need to present it by clothes. Scabby Bill’s nakedness reveals the scars on his body which will always remind him of the period of the Australian history when he and his contemporaries had to struggle for their land. Nevertheless, William’s wife Sal seems to get used to Scabby Bill’s presence. It is like an exchange: Sal gives him something to eat and Scabby Bill leaves. Every time Scabby Bill disappears, Sal feels relieved. Scabby Bill is not a source of fear for the white settlers: “She [Sally] did not seem to fear him: he was the same as the ants or the flies, a hazard of the place that had to be dealt with” (The Secret River 91). He represents the group of Aboriginal people that can be appeased with food and drink. Scabby Bill is willing to do almost everything for a sip of rum. On the other hand, the Aboriginal people inhabiting the surroundings of the Hawkesbury River can not be appeased with food donation. Will realizes that when his wife tries to offer food to them, but they seem to want more: “It was the way she had dealt with Scabby Bill. Something told him that these two men were different from Scabby Bill […]” (The Secret River 145). Even though the Aboriginal people accept the victuals, it is not the main reason why they visit the white settlers’ dwellings. The Aboriginal people want to show that their privacy was intruded and that it will not be left without consequences. Generally speaking, the white settlers consider the Indigenous inhabitants to be ‘savages’. The Aboriginal people lead completely different lives from the European newcomers: they do not live in houses and they do not wear clothes. They just wander around, sometimes kill some animals to provide food for their family and the rest of time is spent with their families: “It was true the blacks made no fields, and built no houses worth the name, roaming around with no thought for the morrow. It was true that they did not even know enough to cover their nakedness, but sat with their bare arses on the dirt


like dogs. In all these ways they were nothing but savages” (The Secret River 229). The Aboriginal people devote a lot of time to their families and to the rituals such as dancing and singing. It is quite the opposite what the white settlers do. They work hard to be able to secure their families from starving. Will compares the life of the Aboriginal people to the life of aristocracy in England: “Gradually, Thornhill starts faintly to appreciate that the Aborigines most remind him of the gentry back home. They don’t appear to work for their food: they spend their days creating art, telling stories, making their babies laugh” (Bedell). The white settlers have to leave their families, if they have any, very often to search for sources of living and as far as arts and any other forms of free time are concerned there is no spare time for them. As the Aboriginal people are everywhere, the white settlers must put up with the fact that the land is not theirs only. The presence of the Aboriginal people is perceived differently by the newcomers. The white settlers do not know anything about the Indigenous inhabitants so the first encounters are very cautious. William learns about the Aboriginal people from the Europeans, most of them convicts, who settled down in Australia earlier. Their experience with the Aboriginal people is mostly negative so a lot of rumours about them come into being: There are also, much nearer home, stealthy and inscrutable, the blacks who suddenly appear and disappear in the midst of the bush like Cheshire cats. They shake the odd spear, they accept the odd gift; it would be wrong to say they were friendly or to deny the suggestion of threat but the latent threat for quite some distance is more in the nature of a rumour or a surmise. (Craven) When Smasher Sullivan, one of the white settlers, talks about the gruesome murders committed by Aboriginal people, Will’s children are scared to death. All these rumours contribute to prejudices against the Aboriginal people.


As it was mentioned above, Grenville tries to avoid giving voice to her Aboriginal characters, as she is aware of the fact that she can not speak for people who are not her kin. She combines her imagination with the years of research about Aboriginal people and thus portrays the Aboriginal people in her novel.


4. The Relationships between the White People and the Indigenous Inhabitants As it has been pointed out previously, all the three novels include both white and Aboriginal characters. This chapter is devoted to the topic of relations between the white characters and the Aboriginal ones. When Europeans started to explore and later on settle Australia, they had to cope with the fact that they were not the only people to claim the land. The Aboriginal people belong to Australia just as Europeans belong to Europe. The encounters of these two groups are thus inevitable. Michael Dodson discusses the role of the first white-Aboriginal encounters: “Since first contact with the colonisers of this country, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been the object(s) of a continual flow of commentary and classification” (25). The relationship between white people and Indigenous inhabitants seems to be the core of all the three stories. This relationship, be it direct or indirect, is largely accompanied by the conflicts. The contact between these two cultures is intensified by the spread of European settlement (Healy 11). The Secret River explores the first encounters of the Europeans and the Aboriginal people who have inhabited this land for a long time. White settlers try to establish themselves as the proprietors of Australian territory and the Aboriginal people represent the ‘obstacle’ to it. Of course, the Aboriginal people do not surrender and it results in mutual antagonism. The significance of the clashes is supposed to be more profound: “The confrontation isn’t a conventional battle between two rival groups eager to possess the same tract of land but, more complicatedly, a clash between one group driven by a hunger for territorial possessions and another for whom the very concept of individual land-ownership is alien and bewildering” (Poster). The Aboriginal people seem to be bound to the whole land not just to the piece of it. As it was mentioned previously, the white settlers do not have unanimous opinions of the Indigenous inhabitants of Australia. As far as the main protagonist of the novel and


his family are concerned, their feelings towards the Aboriginal people are ambivalent – it seems to be the mixture of “[…] tolerance, resentment, incomprehension, fear and sheer frustration at the language barrier […]” (O’Brien). Thornhill’s son Dick is too young to be prejudiced against the Aboriginal people and the colour of skin is not an important factor for him. He plays with Aboriginal children without the need of the common language. When Will sees them, he realizes that the colour of skin makes no difference to people’s character: With no one but blacks around him, other than his own son, Thornhill saw that their skin were not black, no more than his own was white. They were simply skins, with the same pores and hairs, the same shadings of colour as his own. If black skin was all there was to see, it was amazing how quickly it became the colour that skin was. (The Secret River 214) Two white characters from the novel, Smasher Sullivan and Blackwood, represent completely contradictory attitudes towards the Indigenous inhabitants. Smasher is a cruel person considering the Aboriginal people good only for “[…] manuring the ground” (The Secret River 259). His xenophobic hatred for the Aboriginal people makes him a totally repulsive character. On the other hand, the more tolerant Blackwood finds the Aboriginal people “[…] quiet and peaceful folk […]” (The Secret River 210). He even lives with an Aboriginal woman and raises a child with her. This is absolutely unimaginable for Smasher. His abusive treatment of the Aboriginal women is portrayed in the act of keeping an Aboriginal woman in his shed chained as an animal. Considering her his possession, he rapes her, beats her and moreover, he offers her to the other white settlers. The first contacts between the Indigenous inhabitants and the white settlers in The Secret River are characterized by the lack of understanding. Two different cultures are forced to coexist together at the same place and tolerate each other. Different culture,


language, traditions and beliefs cause the troubles in this coexistence: “The impotence of contact without communication, destruction without comprehension, was an oppressive reality across the whole length of Aboriginal-white relations” (Healy 14). Actually, the white-Aboriginal relations in The Secret River result in the appalling massacre of the Indigenous inhabitants which, in the eyes of the white settlers, seems to be the only solution to their peaceful life. William, as well as probably most of the people involved in this massacre, can not forget it for the rest of his life. In Doris Pilkington’s Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, the white people’s aim is to assimilate Aboriginal people to the European standards. However, the first part of the novel deals with the beginnings of white settling and thus the bloody conflicts between the white colonizers and the Indigenous inhabitants: “There were unending conflicts between the traditional owners and the white invaders, with reports of merciless killings on both sides” (Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence 15). Aboriginal people think that when they share the land with the white people then the white settlers will share their food with them. A lot of misunderstandings like that one cause the tension between these two groups of people. In spite of the fact that the Aboriginal people know that they “[…] must now conform to these changes in their lifestyle, obey their new bosses and try not to offend them” (Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence 27), at the same time they do not want to put up with the invasion of their privacy. They are ready to retaliate any wrongs committed by the white Australians. According to the assimilationist policy the white Australian authorities having wide-ranging powers try to remove the Aboriginal children from their families. Therefore they become the enemies of the Indigenous inhabitants. The picture of these two groups of people is thus clear-cut in this novel: In the mutual misunderstandings that characterise early ‘deals’ between whites and Aborigines, the settlers are irrational, brutal, duplicitous,


promiscuous and thieving. The Aboriginal people are lawful, honourable and generous compared with the sealers and colonists, who treat them as part of New Holland’s vegetation: either as a resource for overexploitation or as in-eradicable pests. (Ravell) The white authorities are represented by the Chief Protector A. O. Neville and other officers whose job is to separate part-Aboriginal children from their families. The children are deprived of their childhood spent with their families and are forced to reject their culture. Molly, the main female protagonist of the novel, represents the struggle against the white authorities. She is able to do everything to have control over her fate. True Country seems to be the only work from the analyzed ones that portrays the attempts of the Aboriginal people and the white settlers to get along with each other. The white teachers and the workers in the Karnama mission are there to help the Aboriginal people primarily with education. The Aboriginal children accept the white people and they even look up to them. The Indigenous children play an important role in this novel. They can bridge two different cultures. They are not prejudiced against people with different colour of skin and they are not aware of stereotypes about various groups of people. The Aboriginal children are the first who accept Billy, the part-Aboriginal teacher, in their closed community. They mediate between the white and Aboriginal adults. They are open and they do and say the things they really want to do and say without restraint. These children are young enough to become open-minded people without racial or any other prejudices. The life in Karnama is disturbed by the act of murder. Franny, a young Aboriginal boy, is brutally killed by two white men. All the people in Karnama are shocked but the verdict of the jury is even more shocking: both killers are set free. This injustice is well condemned by the Aboriginal people: “After what happened you expect someone, the


crown or someone, to do something. If we gotta follow the white law then we expect them to do the right thing by all Australians, by everybody” (True Country 206). The Aboriginal people want to be treated the same way as the white people are. They are willing to follow the white rules and laws but they need to be accepted as the equal inhabitants. The relationships between the white people and the Indigenous inhabitants described in this chapter forms the core of the stories. The encounters between the European and Aboriginal culture belong to Australian past and that is why they are incorporated into the novels.


5. The Relationship to the Land This special kind of bond to the land needs to be analyzed separately as it is substantial in lives of Aboriginal people. The “[…] uniquely personal and spiritual” (Haynes 3) understanding of the land is characteristic of the Indigenous inhabitants. They fully respect the nature which gives them everything they need. They worship their land as it is their breadwinner. Unfortunately, the strong bond is damaged by the European settlement. Haynes describes the Australian territory as a “[…] Sleeping Beauty land passively awaiting the arrival of its princely (and pre-ordained) colonists” (5). The European colonization tries to sever this tie by occupying the territory where Aboriginal people have been used to living for many years. Indigenous inhabitants’ privacy is intruded and they perceive it as the attempt to alienate them from the land. The unity of the Aboriginal culture and the natural environment can not be renewed unless white settlers respect the natural patterns of Australian landscape. The Aboriginal people of the Hawkesbury River in The Secret River seem to be the part of the Australian land. They live in consonance with the nature. The peaceful life of the Indigenous inhabitants is destroyed by the white settlers who are obsessed with the possession of the land. The Aboriginal people are deprived of their land and are forced to live in the reserves. They are denied the free access to their home counties. Jack, an Aboriginal man whom William had met several times before, was lucky enough to survive the bloody massacre but at the same time he now suffers in the restricted area of the reserve. Ruined by the fateful encounter between the white settlers and the Aboriginal people, Jack comes to Thornhill’s new house to beg for victuals but only when Will is not at home as he remembers well that Will was involved in the massacre. Thornhill tries to appease his remorseful mind by giving food, clothes and even the piece of land to Jack. None of it is accepted by Jack. Looking at Jack, Will realizes what he has done and how


the land is important to all Aboriginal people. Thornhill seems to be envious of the fact that Jack is the legal inhabitant of the Australian territory: But there was an emptiness as he watched Jack’s hand caressing the dirt. This was something he did not have: a place that was part of his flesh and spirit. There was no part of the world he would keep coming back to, the way Jack did, just to feel it under him. It was as if the very dirt was a consolation. (The Secret River 329) Although Jack lost most of his friends and relatives he is still the part of the land. He belongs to this place despite the fact that the white settlers build the houses on the land which does not belong to them. The bond to the land in Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is so strong that it helps the main protagonists to return back to their families. Through the unfavourable weather they determinedly head for home. Although they have to go through the parts of the land they have never been to, they manage to cope with the differences: Molly, Daisy and Gracie passed through parts of the country that changed every fifteen or twenty kilometres, a strange scary wilderness to the three girls who came from the remote desert regions of Western Australia, although each change of scenery brought new challenges such as searching and finding bush foods to eat. (Pilkington, Regional Regeneration) During the journey they look forward not only to their parents but also to the place where they were born. Only two of the girls finally reunite with their family and their land: “Both girls took in the familiar landscape of the red earth, the dry spinifex grass and grey-green mulga trees. There was nothing to compare with the beauty of these plains that stretched out in all directions” (Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence 123). Being able to


play again in the place where they have grown up means everything for Molly and her sister Daisy. True Country portrays the relation to the land in a slightly different way. Billy tries to identify with his Aboriginal roots and re-conect himself to the place where his ancestors lived. He is aware of the fact that he needs to get familiar with the land his kinsmen occupy. Although the Aboriginal people do not live scattered in the bush any more but rather in bigger communities, they still retain their traditional relationship to the land: “The cultural continuity and future aspirations of Aboriginal people remain closely linked to land. Most Aboriginal people – despite colonial dislocation, and even if they live in urban areas – maintain a connection with their country and the tradition […]” (Fielder). Understanding the country is one of the signs showing the affinity for the nature. Even the Aboriginal children can rely on the profound knowledge of the area close to their homes. While walking along the coast, Billy wants to use his watch and sun to work out compass directions but Deslie, an Aboriginal boy, finds it useless: “I don’t need to do that, eh? Do I, Sir? I don’t need make those reckonings. I know this country, I’m here, I’m Deslie” (True Country 135). He is so confident about where he belongs that it is really bewildering for Billy who would like to be certain about his origin as well. At the end of the story Billy manages to realize who he is and where he belongs as he “[…] recognized [s] the land below him” (True Country 254). The land is now his home and it is not a stranger any more.


6. Parallels and Similarities in the Novels When comparing the three analyzed novels there is a close interrelatedness between them. As it was mentioned above, they all portray the Aboriginal characters from different points of view. Despite the differences in style and structure, they seem to embody a few similarities. They all become the instrument of bringing the Aboriginal people closer to non-Indigenous readers. The most important thing they have in common is that they describe the dark sides of the history of Aboriginal people in Australia. The Secret River portrays the first encounters between white settlers and Indigenous inhabitants which are marked by misunderstandings. Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence introduces the topic of the ‘Stolen Generation’ and assimilationist policy to the readers. True Country portrays the shortcomings of modern Aboriginal people such as alcoholism and unwillingness to work. In my view some of the Aboriginal protagonists of these novels share their fates. Molly and Fatima are both taken from their families to be educated by white people and are forced to reject their culture. Both of them feel the estrangement from their families and at the same time from their cultures. Forbidden to use her native language Fatima has to relearn it again when she returns home. Molly is lucky enough to spend only a few days in the Moore River Native Settlement where she is not allowed to use her native language so she has no difficulty in remembering it. The traditional life style of Indigenous inhabitants is portrayed in all the three novels. Hunting, in any form, represents the source of living for the Aboriginal people. Rabbits, kangaroos, turtles and many other animals form the basis of their diet. Even Aboriginal children, such as Deslie from True Country or Molly from Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, know how to hunt down an animal. The traditional cultural heritage of Aboriginal people is represented by dancing. It is a very old ritual being performed occasionally as


the means of expression of Aboriginal people. The Secret River depicts corroboree, the traditional Aboriginal dance, as an important event for all the Aboriginal people involved: “There was a drama alive on their faces. There was a tale that they all knew being told in the language of this dance. […] This old fellow is a book […] and they are reading him. […] They could reveal their secrets, but only to a person who know how to read them” (The Secret River 244). The white settlers, kept out of the sights of the Aboriginal people, seem to be astonished by this performance but they do not understand the real meaning of it. In Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence the things that Aboriginal people are not allowed to do are dealt with. Traditional dancing is one of them. These bans contribute to the suppression of the Aboriginal culture. Dancing looses its character in True Country as the Aboriginal people are forced to perform their traditional dance in front of the white tourists. It has nothing to do with the Aboriginal culture, it is just a performance of an Aboriginal dance. In addition to hunting and dancing, the act of mourning is depicted in Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence and True Country. There is a special ritual expressing the sorrows of the Aboriginal people who lost a relative. Not only literally as in the case of Fatima whose husband Walanguh died and thus she is in mourning, but also when Molly, Daisy and Gracie are taken from their family. Molly’s mother together with her family were “[…] sitting on the ground in their camp letting their tears mix with the red blood that flowed from the cuts on their heads” (Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence 45). By hurting themselves the mourners express the loss of their beloved ones. The tradition of changing names is described in Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence and True Country. This tradition is described in detail in the introduction of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence:


This is the custom in traditional Aboriginal communities where the name of a person is never mentioned after their death. Anyone with the same name is referred to as gurnmanu which means ‘what’s his name’, or have Nguberu substituted for their given names. For example, Adam Thomas would be addressed as Nguberu Thomas following the death of another man named Adam. (xi) Similarly, Deslie’s original name was Derek but he “[…] had to change his name when someone in the community, who had the same name, died” (True Country 176). It seems to be the expression of honour to the dead people. The common features in the novels show that despite the differences of the authors’ backgrounds and experience with Aboriginal people, they present Aboriginal culture by re-telling Aboriginal history from their own perspectives. Influenced by their own perception of Aboriginality they portray Indigenous inhabitants in many different roles to bring their life closer to non-Aboriginal readers.


7. Conclusion The works I was concerned with in my thesis portray Aboriginal people from different perspectives as they all represent the authors’ own opinions and experience with Aboriginal people. They reflect the authors’ perception of Aboriginality and try to bring the lives of Aboriginal people closer to white readers. In Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, Doris Pilkington conveys the story of her mother affected by the assimilationist policy in Australia and thus presents suffering of all the Aboriginal people involved in this policy. Pilkington seems to depict the fate of all the ‘Stolen Generation’ people by means of one particular example. She reveals the secret of her family which was afflicted by white authorities’ regulations. Molly, undergoing the painful but worthy journey, personalizes the desire of all Aboriginal people for full-fledged life without any restrictions. Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is therefore perceived as a textual embodiment of the struggle of Aboriginal people against white authorities. On the other hand, Kim Scott’s True Country shows rather passive role of Aboriginal people. They seem to be put up with the white people occupying their land and do not try to prevent them from settling down. It proves that it is possible for two different groups of people to share one land. Scott’s life is projected in the character of Billy Storey. His search for identity by means of learning about his ancestors leads him to the recognition that being a part-Aboriginal person does not mean only having different colour of skin but also different culture and history. Billy finally realizes that if he understands the history of Aboriginal people, he will understand himself. Kate Grenville uncovers in The Secret River the problematic relationship between the white settlers and the Aboriginal people which stems from the lack of understanding. The Secret River reveals the Australian past which is not possible to forget. The cultural clash


causes various misunderstandings which lead to the tragic end. The Aboriginal people killed in the massacre demonstrate the outcome of a rather pointless struggle for the land. As far as the background of these three authors is concerned, it influences the writing process in a significant way. Pilkington is an Aboriginal woman so she can identify with the characters depicted in her novel. Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is in fact her own family’s story and the characters are more or less authentic. Kim Scott deals with the personal issue as well and his novel True Country, where he reveals his own doubts about his identity, is based on his real life story. On the other hand, Grenville, being a nonIndigenous author, can portray Aboriginal people in The Secret River only on the basis of her personal encounters with them. Therefore, she avoids speaking for Aboriginal characters. Grenville was not sure whether Aboriginal people would accept her notion of the first encounters between white settlers and Indigenous inhabitants. After receiving the thanks from the Aboriginal community, she expressed her relief: “They recognise that the book is my act of acknowledgement, my way of saying: this is how I’m sorry” (Grenville qtd. in Maral). It seems that the purpose of the novel was accomplished. Even though Grenville is a non-Indigenous author, she has managed to portray the Aboriginal people only on the basis of historical materials and years of research. This thesis deals with the selected Aboriginal characters from the analyzed novels and depicts them on the background of different periods of Australian history. The Aboriginal people described in the three works are perceived as representatives of the Aboriginal folk. Despite the great diversity of portrayed characters, they all seem to share the close relationship to the land which plays an important role in all three novels. The Aboriginal protagonists afflicted by the white settlement still retain their cultural tradition despite many attempts of white settlers to inhibit it.


As far as the modern Australian state is concerned, it is “based on a very bloody foundation” (Dunedin) and Aboriginal people are the witnesses of it. By uncovering the periods of Australian history such as white settlement and subsequent attempts to assimilate Indigenous inhabitants to European standards, Grenville, Scott and Pilkington want readers to realize that they really happened. Most white Australians are not proud of it. While talking about Australian history, they try to avoid these periods: “Where there is remembering there is also forgetting and when Aboriginal people remember it is often what the dominant culture chooses to forget” (Brewster, Those Who Remain 13). The history of Indigenous inhabitants can not be left out when dealing with Australian past. The novels function as an important reminder of Aboriginal history and the Aboriginal protagonists help non-Indigenous readers to understand the concept of Aboriginality.


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