Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Wounded Spaces/Geographies of Connectivity

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Wounded Spaces/Geographies of Connectivity

Article excerpt

Stephen Muecke's No Road (bitumen all the way), Margaret Somerville's Body/Landscape Journals, and Katrina Schlunke's Bluff Rock: Autobiography of a Massacre

Landscape has always been a defining feature of Australian identity; the imagined aspect of the English white settler colony and later nation that seemed to best characterize its uniqueness to the world. In 1876, twenty-five years before Federation, Marcus Clarke penned his memorable and enduring comments on the landscape of Australia as opposed to other climes. In his preface to an early collection of Australian poetry, he opined that, far from the knightly songs of England, the weighty recollections of Asian's past magnificence, or the glittering, insatiable rush of American nature writing, "in Australia alone is to be found the Grotesque, the Weird, tiie strange scribblings of Nature learning how to write":

the dweller in the wilderness acknowledges the subtle charm of this fantastic land of monstrosities [...] where all is fear-inspiring and gloomy [... as] he learns the language of the barren and the uncouth.1

Clarke's only mention of Indigenous peoples comes at the end of a paragraph describing the ghostly sights and sounds of animal life, thus metonymically aligning 'the natives' with nature at a time when they were facing near-extinction and were thought to be a dying race. There he adds that in the comer of the silent forests "natives painted like skeletons" dance around their fires, to tiie rising sounds of a "dismal chant."2

These dismal colonial and colonizing imaginings form the backdrop for contemporary writing about "uncanny Australia," the title of a landmark book (1998) by Jane Jacobs and Ken Gelder, in which the authors reflect upon Indigenous peoples' sacred and indivisible relation to the land as opposed to the colonial frameworks of land ownership and possession that resulted in Indigenous dispossession. Colonial conflict, often resulting in violence and massacre, bloodied the landscape and contributed to the near-annihilation of native populations in the nineteenth century, not so very long before Clarke penned his gloomy assessments. The enduring imaginings that Clarke's preface inspired, coupled with the haunting memory of white settler violence and the nation's resistance to addressing its wounded spaces and the psychic legacies of frontier violence, suggest that perhaps Clarke revealed something more than he could have known concerning the fears, anxieties, and insecurities that underwrote the colonial enterprise and continue to haunt the present.

In recent years, a number of texts written by non-Indigenous authors have emerged that attempt to come to terms with Australia's colonial and colonizing history. These decolonizing texts of reconciliation, sometimes written in collaboration with Indigenous people, sometimes intent on addressing and rewriting the neo-colonial mind-set of white settler selfhood, start from a different set of premisses. They address white settler guilt and acknowledge the legacies of colonization. At the same time, they acknowledge that Indigenous people have very different understandings of white colonial history and different epistemological, ontological, and cosmological understandings that inform their relationships together and their ways of being in the land.

In this essay, I explore three texts written by white Australians that either attempt to explore Indigenous relationships to land or address the legacies of white settler violence. All of them might be considered as texts of reconciliation growing out of concerns generated by the Bringing Them Home Report (1996) on the separation of mixed-race children from their families and the 1990s Decade of Reconciliation.3 All three texts seek new ways of belonging to country and new connections with peoples and landscapes. The narratives include Steven Muecke's No Road (Bitumen All the Way) (1997), Margaret Somerville's Body/Landscape Journals (1999), and Katrina Schlunke's Bluff Rock (2004). …

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