Literature as political activism: literary representations of Indigenous Australia by Anglo and Indigenous writers & Big River

2017-10-10T00:31:58Z (GMT) by Convery, Stephanie Honor
ABSTRACT: This thesis is submitted as total fulfilment of the requirements of the PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University. It consists of two components: a creative project (a novel, approximately 61 263 words) and an exegesis (approximately 35 087 words). LITERATURE AS POLITICAL ACTIVISM: This exegesis examines the political and cultural context of representations of Indigenous Australia in fiction by both Anglo and Indigenous writers. Primarily a response to the problematics raised in the process of writing the accompanying novel, Big River, this exegesis traces the power relationship between Indigenous and Anglo Australians and the state, focusing particularly on how this power relationship manifests in Australian literature and literary culture. It simultaneously follows the emergence of a highly politicised Indigenous identity, and focuses on how articulations of this identity function in contemporary Indigenous fiction, politics, and Australian society more broadly. Touching on issues of speaking rights, knowledge ownership, identity construction and the concept of racial and cultural authenticity, this exegesis offers an interpretation of the current Australian political climate and corresponding literary culture that suggests an imperative for progressive Anglo-Australian writers to engage with Indigenous Australia in their fiction. By examining existing protocol recommendations for creative professionals working in the field, particularly those offered by the Australian Society of Authors and the Australia Council for the Arts, this exegesis will mount an argument that, contrary to popular opinion, fiction about Indigenous Australia written by Anglo writers may have a productive — and indeed crucial — place within the discourse as a whole. BIG RIVER The Old Fella had always been a highly esteemed, community-minded man — so important to so many people that when he is swept out to sea during a tremendous cyclone, the town of Big River struggles to keep from falling apart. Embracing themes of family, politics, independence, the limits of responsibility and the effects of colonialism on modern life in the Top End, the plot of Big River follows the Old Fella’s daughter Bess, her brother Marty, and their cousin Little Richard, as they confront the challenges that are presented to them in the wake of the storm: mysterious strangers, dodgy politicians, a money-hungry mining company, a local policeman with a temper (and a static electricity problem) and a community on the brink of implosion.