Academic journal article Criticism

The Colonial Baroque in Australia: On Drover Boab Texts, Wiradjuri Clubs, and Charlie Flannigan's Drawings

Academic journal article Criticism

The Colonial Baroque in Australia: On Drover Boab Texts, Wiradjuri Clubs, and Charlie Flannigan's Drawings

Article excerpt

In this essay, I consider the possibilities for reading some unique colonial Australian texts as a literature of unsettlement and, in conclusion, make a comparison with the counterconquest example of Latin American poetics. This involves a reading of the terms "New World,'' "neo," or perhaps, rather, "bush baroque," arguing for it as a productive term for Australian postcolonial poetics. ("Bush baroque" as a term has a precedent in a Peter Porter reference to Les Murray; I mean to give it an expanded, historical valence here.1) My aim is to unsettle the colonial poetic in order to make space for a greater range of poetic works-works that because of their grammar, context, or visual nature have so far been excluded from readings of Australian poetics.

In Latin American poetics, the neobaroque performs a resistance to closure and an overriding of boundaries. As I will argue, the adoption of this figure, or concept, of the neobaroque involves a literalization in the Australian colonial context. In order to make this argument, I must first read these Australian texts as literature; to do so with regard to writing that is outside of the conventional publication of book and magazine form is itself an unsettling or antisettlement act. The texts I review here are written by nomadic drovers, Indigenous hunters, and an Indigenous stockman: texts incised into the trunk of boab trees and painted on water tanks; typographic lettering of Wiradjuri clubs; and the drawings of jailed Aboriginal stockman Charlie Flannigan. The drover texts are recorded by Darrell Lewis, the clubs and drawings by Penny van Toorn.2 Many other texts are excluded from poetic/ critical consideration for a range of aesthetic-ideological reasons. These particular texts, however, show most pertinently the possibilities of this particular argument.

British settlement in Australia was based on two kinds of displacement: of the settlers themselves, who came to find a new home in Australia, and of the Indigenous people who were dispossessed by this process-that is, the advent of settlement produced new forms of homelessness. Although Aboriginal people are popularly seen as nomadic, this Western term applies more aptly to the new settlers: the word "nomad" derives from the Greek "nemo," meaning pasture, and refers to one seeking new pastures for herds.3 Nomadism derives from preagr icul turai farming culture, "agri" being "field" in Latin.4 There is a sense, then, of a beginning again for European settlers.

The "writers" I consider practice forms of literacy other than that of grammatically conventional English-a literacy we might term oral or visual literacy. Whereas Stephen Muecke suggests that it is more correct to refer to Aboriginal people by "the French term analphabete, meaning 'not having the alphabet,'"5 Charles Olson views this matter differently, arguing against literacy and in favor of illiteracy. Enik? Bollobas cites Olson's claim that the literate "don't hear." According to Bollobas,

His [Olson's] insistence that "illiteracy" and projectivism should be used to break down the walls of Hellenistic "literacy" (reason, logic, classification, generalization, mechanical systematization, allegory, symbology, etc.) proved to be one of the most recurrent and dominant ideas permeating Olson's work, perhaps the major philosophical ramification of his poetics-one that he supported not only with poetic, literary, and linguistic evidence, but also with philosophical, historical, and scientific evidence. Logic, classification, and symbology are, he insisted, all tools of a cultural tradition that man must "unlearn" so that he may reenter the world.6

This is Olson's attempt to unsettle American literature. In his terms, to begin to practice literacy would be to exit the world. Olson's "Hellenistic literacy" is comparable to what Walter Mignolo terms "Western literacy."7 Mignolo refers to literacy as a "regional writing practice," distinguishing it from (large L) "Literacy," which is the term for the "field of study. …

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