Academic journal article Antipodes

"No Last Word": Postcolonial Witnessing in Jackson's Track and Jackson's Track Revisited

Academic journal article Antipodes

"No Last Word": Postcolonial Witnessing in Jackson's Track and Jackson's Track Revisited

Article excerpt

WRITING ABOUT THE FOLLOWING TWO MEMOIRS JACKSON'S Track (1999) and Jackson's Track Revisited (2005), I am reminded of a conversation that I had with a friend about my research project on the white fathers of Aboriginal children in the twentieth century. She remarked that it would probably be a short project given that they were probably all rapists or fly-by-nights. Taken aback by such a swift evaluation, though suspecting that there were probably lots of white Australians who felt the same way, I began to talk about Daryl Tonkin, the white father of nine Aboriginal children who stayed with his Aboriginal de facto wife and family, and is co-author, with Carolyn Landon, oí Jackson's Track. In short, I found myself presenting Tonkin as a kind of redemptive figure, whose narrative resists bituminizing along clear-cut racial and gender lines. The position of the white fathers can lead to further understanding on the part of white Australians about the atrocities suffered under the administration that built up around white paternity, and of brutalities suffered at the hands of those "fathers" directly. Some narratives about white fathers (like Tonkin) can even open up possibilities for thinking about cross-cultural mutual intimacy in surprising, contradictory, and even hopeful ways.

Tonkin's narrative (and the narratives around it) deserves further scrutiny because of its status in relation to his Aboriginal daughters (Pauline Mullett and, to a lesser extent, Linda Mullett), who, according to biographer Carolyn Landon, were instrumental in the telling and the retelling of not just his story, but the story of many others connected with Jackson's Track, the property in the Gippsland region of Victoria. The structure of these two memoirs, taken together, is fractal-like, each story spinning off another, assembling and disassembling. With this in mind, I want to consider how these two memoirs might be read as an example of a kind of postcolonial diplomacy, a negotiation without end, where there is "no last word" (Landon, Revisited 1.12).1 To contextualize this further in relation to cross-cultural dialogue and identity, I turn to the work of feminist philosopher Kelly Oliver, whose account of "witnessing" gestures at the inherent instability of narratives resting on singular perspectives.

THE BUSHMAN OF JACKSON'S TRACK

Daryl Tonkin and Carolyn Landon are co-writers of Jackson's Track, a memoir that is rather traditional in structure. Narrated in the first person, Tonkin recalls his life in a series of vignettes about living at the Track as a bushman, as father and husband, son and brother and, in his own words, as a "villain in the eyes of most" because he chose to live with his Aboriginal wife, their children and extended family. The first person narrative mode of the "other" author of Jackson's Track, Carolyn Landon, is, on the surface, confined to an Introduction where she recounts meeting Pauline Mullett at the local school (where they both worked), and agreeing to her suggestion that Landon help Daryl with the book that "she had got her dad to write" (xiii). Landon goes on to describe her surprise when she found out that Pauline"s father was white: "A white man among Aborigines. A million questions leapt into my brain" (xiii). On meeting Daryl Tonkin she thinks of him as a "hero" (xiv) and as "understanding way before his time" (xiv-xv) and wants to know "how Daryl had come to throw his lot in with the Aborigines" (xiv). Landon describes the process of writing: Tonkin would talk, prompted by questions, sometimes reassured by his daughter Pauline that now, these days, it was alright to talk about his life with Euphemia, and Landon would "go home to . . . write up his story each week" (xiv).

Jackson's Track manifests cross-purposes between the co-authors and Tonkin's Aboriginal daughters. While Landon writes "I knew the central story of Jackson's Track was this white man's story" (xv), the postscript reveals a different idea on what constitutes the "central story," or even the very possibility of there being a "central story. …

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