Kunapipi 17 (3) 1995 Full Version
0 University of Aarhus , Denmark
I d l d V N f l ) l
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VOLUME XVII NUMBER 3, 1995
ANNE A. COLLETT
Kunapipi is published with assistance from the Literature Board of the
Australian Council. the Federal Government's art funding and advisory
body and the European branch of the AssoCiation for Commonwealth
Literature and Language Studies.
Cover: Portra1t of Ned Kelly by S1dney Nolan. Poster u::.ed for Austrahan
Festival at the Aarhus Festival week, 1988.
Kunapipi refers to the Australian Aboriginal Myth of the Rainbow
Serpent which is the symbol both of creativity and regeneration . The
journal's emblem is to be found on an Aboriginal shield from the Roper
River area of the Northern Territory in Australia.
FICTION Ronnith Morris, ' The Table of Memory'
Aleda McKenzie, 'Terminus'
Alima Srivastava, ' Dragons in E.8'
Robert Raymer, 'Sister's Room'
Karen King-Aribisala, 'Wine in a Teacup'
Beverley Farmer,' A Ring of Gold'
Gary Catalano, 'Five Prose Poems'
Syd Harrex, 'At This Time (for Clare)'
'To Emily Kate on her Birth'
Graham Mort, 'Storm Larks'
' Time, Love and Tenderness'
Robert Drewe, 'Mything Out?' 1
Anne Collett, 'Body-Landguage: Linguistic inhabitation of land in
the poetry of Judith Wright and Oodgeroo of the tribe Noonuccal' 5
Glen Thomas, '"The One with the Beastly Lives": Gender and
Textuality in Jean Rhys's Voyage in the Dark' 27
Alison Donnell, 'Contradictory (W)omens?- Gender Consciousness
in the Poetry of Una Marson' 43
David E. Hoegberg, '"Your pen, your ink": Coetzee's Foe, Robinson
Crusoe and the Politics of Parody' 86
Kirsten Holst Petersen, 'Cautious Optimism and a Danish Third
World Literature Prize: Abdulrazak Gurnah and the ALOA Prize' 113
INTERVIEW Atima Srivastava. Interviewed by Mary Conde
BIOGRAPHY Rosemary van den Berg, 'Citizens in Our Own Country'
Hena Maes-jelinek, 'Janice Shinebourne, Time-Piece and The Last
KEN SARO-WIWA: A PERSONAL OBITUARY
Dear Anna ... You must of course have heard of the death of Ken. It
was too terrible. While praying for him and for Nigeria I became
physically sick, nauseous with a fever until release came. It was
comforting to know that his last words were, 'Lord take my soul' .
Apparently they tried to hang him three times before succeeding. In
some countries this is taken as a sign from God a higher authority, to
discontinue. Enough said. But it is hard to deal with- someone you' ve
known, laughed with, who has visited your house. May his soul and all
the others who died with him rest in perfect peace.
I too knew Ken Saro-Wiwa as a personal friend and we had arranged to
co-publish books so that more of what was written about Africans
should reach the Africans it was meant to meet. So my sentiments are
the same as Karen's: 'May his soul and all the others who died with
him rest in perfect peace'.
I would like to comment on the confident assertion by the professor
from New Delhi at this conference yesterday that Australian literary
culture was moribund because we lacked myths.
That news will come as a surprise to most Australian writers. In our
heads - and maybe some other anatomical parts as well - there are
always two Australian myths fighting for precedence: the Myth of
Landscape and the Myth of Character. For me the Myth of Landscape
also divides into two opposing myths: the Bush and the Beach (or, as 1
think of it, the Shark versus the Dingo). The Myth of Character also
separates into Fact and Gossip, but then as Stanislaw Lee says, myth is
only gossip grown old anyway.
For some reason Australians seem to need the past, preferably the
19th century, to confirm for us who we are, and why. It's ironic that
the professor from New Delhi should stress our myth deprivation at a
time when many of us are getting a little wary of the good old past
being trotted out for one more waltz.
That line of thought aside, and keeping to the post-colonial context of
this conference, may I point out to the profesor from New Delhi the
short existence and long cultural influence of a notorious social rebel
named Ned Kelly, perhaps the one person who straddles the
Australian myths of Landscape and Character.
This is a man whose name, even 115 years after his death, is still used
to sell everything from bread to car mufflers to men's fashionwear; a
former highwayman (and I love the irony of this) whose name proudly
flogs used cars along Sydney's Parramatta Road.
May I mention my own interest in the Kelly myth? Several years ago,
after reading some Jung, I began wondering about the collective
unconscious of my country.
As Jungian psychology tells us, the collective unconscious is that part
of the unconscious mind incorporating patterns of common memories,
instincts and experiences. These patterns are inherited, may be
arranged into archetypes, and are observable through their effects on
our dreams and behaviour.
I wondered who, if anyone, symbolised Australia's collective
unconscious, and immediately thought of Kelly, our national hero and
devil incarnate. Not only did Kelly spring instantly to mind, I cou ld
think of no other possibility. And, interestingly, like all proper myths
and alone of all Australians, he had an obverse - Aaron Sherritt, his
former frie nd who would become his nemesis and Judas figure, h1s
Other, th e moon to his sun .
I then wondered whe ther I could take the country's most
mythologised character and create an imaginary life for him . The Kelly
story had intrigued me as a boy. I'd seen his h elmet, or one of the
several helmets alleged to be his, among th e fascinating, grisly relics
the severed arm from the Shark Arm Case, th e Pyjama Girl's silk
pyjamas, old murder weapons- in the police tent at the Royal Show.
The Ned Kelly as presented by the police, and accepted by the public,
was three grim icons: an iron helmet, a bush y beard , a death mask. The
only photograph of him unmasked or alive showed a glowering middle
aged man. It surprised me to learn later that he was only 23 and 24
when he was at large as an outlaw, and that he was dead by 25. His
brother Dan and Steve Hart were teenagers; Joe Byrne was barely 21.
That was not the impression put out by the authorities.
But write about him? Wasn't the myth overworked already? Hadn't
Kelly, in more ways than one, been done to d eath.
Back in 1986 I had written a novel of ideas and politics called Fortune
about a modern explorer who finds a sunken treasure ship off the West
Australian coast and becomes, briefly, th e darling of the media and a
folk hero, but who th en falls from grace and , after official persecution
and harassment, eventually becomes a victim and is hanged .
I think that what I wrote th e n, just as I had crea ted variations of o ther
Australian myths in several other books and stories, was really glancing
off our central myth, the Ke lly story. So, ea rly in 1991, I decided to
have a look at it.
The Kelly file in the Mitchell Library is thick, of course. Probably the
biggest file of any Australian. What surprised me was not the quantity
of material but th e lack o f the quality . The myth had attracted film
makers since 1907, and Sidney Nolan, and Arthur Boyd in his sculptor
mode. There had been writers by the score, but very few good ones.
The only works by serious writers to hint at an inner man were a play,
N ed Kelly, by Douglas Stewart, and a lively biography, Australian Son,
by the journalist Max Brown, both written in the 1940s.
The field had been left almost entirely to historians and gung-ho,
hobby biographers. None of the accounts of his life had managed to
extricate him from the melodramatic 19th century illustrations of
Stringybark Creek and Glenrowan. Perhaps it was a measure of the
myth 's strength that it had survived with so few imaginative
mterpre ters. Even so, I was n' t convinced .
While I was waiting for th e librarians to bring up yet more Kellya na
from the bowe ls of the NSW Library, I idly plucked from the tens of
thousands of books in th e general she lves one particular book e ntitled
f. W. Lindt, Master Photographer. It was an absolutely rand om ch oice,
I'd never heard of Lindt and had n o reason , other than bored om, to
select it. I opened it, and it actually did that thing which books d o in
bad novels - it fell open at a particular page. Suddenly in front of me
was this powerful and moving photograph entitled joe Byrne's Body on
Display at Benalla.
The caption read: 'John William Lindt, the outstanding photographer
of the late 19th century, m 1880 travelled on the police train to
Glenrowan with a group of reporters, artists and photographers to
witness the anticipated capture of Ned Kelly and his gang. By the time
the train arrived the outlaw had already escaped from Jones's Hotel,
which had been set on fire to force him and his accomplices out. Joe
Bryne had been killed in the seige and Steve Hart and Dan Kelly were
burned beyond recognition in the fire.'
' The photograph is one of Lindt's most important images and one of
the first real Press photographs. He was able to stand back from the
macabre spectacle and watch the other photographers' laborious
preparations. At the critical moment Lindt recorded the entire scene.'
What the other Press photographers had done was to persuade the
police to hoist Joe Bryne's body up and down on a pulley in a crude
imitation of life.
In the left foreground of Lindt's photograph is a portly, city-looking
gent with a sketch pad under his arm. He is turning away from Bryne's
body, grinning and chatting to another onlooker. The portly gent was
the artist Julian Ashton, and Lindt's print is reproduced from his
autobiography Now Came Still Evening On.
The strong impression I got is that Ashton, the middle-class painter,
was saying: There is no art in this place, among dead criminals
simulating life, and country coppers and vulgar pressmen mocking up a
picture. I am of course above such things. And that the photo-grapher,
Lindt, had captured these bourgeois artistic pretensions too.
It seemed to me there were more layers to this subject than first
apparent. I left the remaining Kelly files unread, and went home and
began to write the novel.
The form it took owed something to a ne w interest, writing drama. I
came to the novel literally the day after completing a play, and I saw
the book in terms of a rounded drama. I decided to set the novel in the
last 36 hours of the gang's freedom. The Glenrowan Inn would be the
setting, and the anticipated arrival of the special police train after the
killing of Aaron Sherritt would provide the suspense. Everything
hinged on the outcome of this confrontation.
Meanwhile, Freud, as well as Jung, would have been happy with the
dramaHs personae. A brave, pragmatic male figure at the core, and one
with something of an Oedipal fixation and a thwarted love of his father.
A friend who neatly becomes the hero's Shadow, and turns Judas to
boot. All overlaid with a racial and political grudge going back
centuries, which is brought to a head by the removal, by Centralised
Power, of the hero's mother. Ritualised murder follows. This was the
stuff of Greek tragedy. Mythology, you could say ...
If a maJor influence was the Lindt photograph, I had a different sort
of reaction to the Nolan images. Robert Melville, in his book on Nolan's
Kelly paintings, mentions a quotation from Maxim Gorky which he says
helps us to see the significance of Kelly to Nolan.
'Side by side with the unhappy figure of Faust,' Gorky wrote, 'stands
another character. also known to every nation. In Italy he is Pulcinello,
in England Punch, in Russia Petrushka. He is the invincible hero of the
puppet show. He defeats everyone- the police, clergy, even death and
the devil - while he himself remains immortal. In this crude and naive
image the working people incarnated their own selves and their firm
belief that in the long run it will be they who defeat and overcome
everything and everybody.'
This is a fair interpretation of Nolan's interpretation, at least in his
first Kelly series, painted in 1946-47, where Kelly is the clown, the
knockabout hero of the puppet show- Australia's Petrushka.
Vital to this interpretation was the icon of the helmet, both funny and
sinister, which Nolan so successfully embedded in our consciousness
that artists shied away from any other Kelly image, and from the myth
For some reason it was important for me to remove the helmet and
bring Kelly out into the sunlight. To do this I had to try and reinvent
the myth. At no stage, however, was I in any doubt that the myth
existed, or that it was the strongest one we possessed.
Body-Landguage: Lmgwstic inhabitation ofland
inhabitation o f land in the poetry o f
Judith Wright a n d O o d g e r o o o f the
tribe N o o n u c c a l
This paper was performed at a European Australian Studies Conference
in Copenhagen (Ocotober 1995) and included the reading of a number
of poems (in entirety) that cannot be given word-space here, and quite
obviously cannot in print, carry the qualities of that performance, but
the ' word of warning' issued at the conference stands as a political
statement as much now as then. That warning went/goes like this:
I have always considered poetry to be a performing art - that so much more is
realiZed when pnnted word IS voiced with living intent and significance. So,
whenever g1ven the opportumty lo speak to a 'real' audience. I always lake that
opportunity to perform the poems I discuss
It might be added that the reception given the performance was warm,
and that the performance of work discussed invariably brings the
audience on-side- tuning their collective 'ear of mind ' not only to what
you have to say about the work, but also to the voice and the sentiment
of the author you would speak about/with/to. Authors are people. This
may seem a rather obtuse thing to say, but it is something all too often
forgotten by cri tics and audience alike. Relative to this commen t and
additional to my warning was/is a prefacial note that is particular to the
written tradition of academic criticism, and it is this:
I have chosen to usc the poets' first names as opposed to surnames as a double
name. after the first instance of naming, is cumbersome and seems to stilt the flow
of prose, and it has always struck me as very 'English public school' and therefore
both anti-woman and anti-democratic to use a surname only, as is the usual
practice in academic writing. Names do matter, they sign a relationship and a
stance towards that which is named (a point with which I am sure Oodgeroo
fom1erly Kath Walker - would be m agreement). After specific 1dentity has been
established in the m1hal usc of a full name, why not refer to thai person thereon/in
by first name personal name? II is all too easy to forget when reading prmled
word that people made this Word, m some cases people even d1ed for th1s Word
Word IS people power.
So to the paper:
Judith Wright was the poet of my childhood, whom I read for the
affirmative joy of a poetry that spoke my land - the 'lean, clean hungry
country' that was my 'blood's country' too. 1 What I found striking on
returning to her writing after some twenty-five years, was the degree to
which land was word-sculpted into body; and it is this particular aspect
of her word-art that I would like to examine in this paper, in contrast to
the almost total absence of what I have termed 'body- landguage' in the
poetry of her 'other' half, her 'shadow-sister', Oodgeroo Noonuccal. In
the poem 'Two Dreamtimes' (Alive, 1971)2 Judith writes to Oodgeroo:
My shadow-s1ster, I sing to you from my place with my nghteous kin, to where you stand with the Koori dead, 'Trust none not even poets'.
The knife' s between us. I turn 1t round, the handle to your s1de, the weapon made from your country' s bones. I have no right to take it.
But both of us dies as our dreamtime dies.
Looking back over her work in interview with Jim Davidson in 1982,
judith Wright remarked upon a growing consciousness that even in her
first book, she had been writing, and was still writing on 'the theme of
white occupation'. 3 'Nigger's Leap, New England' (Moving Image,
1946) is exemplar of this recurrent theme in her oeuvre that now spans
some 50 years: ' The eastward spurs tip backward from the sun/.../Night
Aoods us suddenly as history/that has sunk many islands in its good
time.'(pp . 15-16)(The poem was here read in full).
In light of relatively recent post-colonial theory and the articulation of
the colonizer's discourse of 'other', one line from 'Nigger's Leap' leaps
from the page, in a way it would never have done twenty years ago,
'And there they lie that were ourselves writ strange.' They that were
'ourselves writ strange' are the 'other' Australians, our (I speak here as
a white Australian of settler stock) 'other' selves that Judith would give
form to. These are the 'shadow' people of her poetry. Shadow is the
black of white, the negative of positive, the distortion of proportion, the
ephemeral of substance . In terms of Judith's view of Australian history,
this shadow of existence, this 'dreamtime' is all that we have left of an
indigenous culture that a few generations of men, her generations of
men, have all but obliterated. In Platonic terms, the shadow on the cave
wall is the only evidence we have of our reality- our belonging.
In 'Nigger's Leap, New England', the cliff over which the aboriginal
peoples were hunted to their death is a 'spine of range' whose end
point is a 'lipped' 'granite head'. It is as though the land itself
screamed with their screams, and moulded itself to their body anguish.
Now cooled by time, the warm living flesh is become sculpted granite,
whose silent lip recalls the horror of those silenced voices. The shadow
Body-Landguage: Linguistic inhabitation ofland
people are given substance, flesh become earth, bone become rock, in
the word sculpture of Judith's poetry.
With some hesitation because I am still a little lost in a complexity
that is difficult to de-code, I would suggest that Judith's poetry
attempts to give substance to shadow, to quicken bone with the blood
of word, not only that the submerged voices and stopped mouths of the
indigenous peoples might tell the 'other' side of the story of terra
nullius, but also that she herself might acquire an indigeneity - a
word/land bondage - that would enable her to speak her belonging
without guilt, without a sense of alienation.
On returning to New l::ngland in the late 1930s after an absence of
some years, Judith observed, 'I knew then how closely connected I was
to that landscape. I began to write again and the poems came closer to
what I'd hoped for.'4 These were the poems for which she is still best
known, poems like 'South of My Days', 'Bullocky' and 'Nigger's Leap,
New England'; but they we re poems that did not write meaning or sing
belonging to the extent that she had hoped, and in the 1960s Judith was
It w1ll take four or five hundred years for us to become indigenes, and to write
poetry, unless you are an md1gene, is very difficult. I don't know how anybody
The landscape lost its character. The aborigines lived with the landscape and
every bit of it had meaning for them. We couldn't accept any of their meanings.
This is what the Jindyworobaks were trying to get at but they were doing it the
wrong way. They were trying to deny their own meaning and to get back to
the aborigines' meaning, but you can't do this. You've got to live your own
meaning into it. You have to be yourself and at the same time come to terms
with something that you have robbed of its original meanmg. This is an
extremely difficult thmg to do."
Language, indigene, land and meaning are here linked in what
amounts to a definition of poetry as linguistic inhabitation.
When Elleke Boehmer writes of Judith's work as a representation of
the land as 'humanly viable, its geography made complex by historical
and spiritual associations', of ' the work of convicts, the dancing of
Aborigines, the solitary dreams of bullock drivers,' as 'enriching
Wright's Australian earth', her reading of Judith's poetic landscape is
too skating. In a poem like 'Nigger's Leap, New England', Judith does
much more than 'read into dust and rocks the silenced history of
Aborigines pursued to death by whites'." She writes the anguish of
colonizer narrative into the land -she wordsculpts body into land. She
is not merely highlighting a writing that has been erased by the
colonists' narrative, but is creating a new medium - a new mode of
expression - a new art of telling, not necessarily to make reparation for
the past, but to create a belonging built on the acknowledgement of
aboriginal inheritance and a land/body indivisibility that might also be
ours - given time, maybe even given a poetry that creates links
between land/body and word. It is an art that is painful in its making .
In the poem 'At Cooloola' (The Two Fires, 1955) she writes:
The blue crane fishing in Cooloola's twilight
has fished there longer than our centunes.
f le is certain heir of lake and evening,
and he will wear thetr colour till he dies,
but J'm a stranger, come of a conquering people.
I cannot share his calm, who watch his lake,
being unloved by all my eyes delight in,
and made uneasy, for an old murder's sake. (p. 140)
Most commentary on Judith's poetry misses much of the poignancy,
the hurt, the anguish of her historicizing, humanizing, the land - she is
so acutely aware that although she was born of this land, she is not of
this land because she has no claim to indigeneity. Although Les Murray
writes, 'If... you sing the country, celebrate the country, then it's your
country. These are the titles of ownership.' (1992), and Judith herself
declared that 'Poetry ought not to be thought of as a discipline, but as a
kmd of praise' 7, this singing, this celebration, is not enough. Her poetry
sculpts the land into human form - word shapes land, shapes our
perceptions of land, ascribes human meaning to rock and hill and tree
and river. This is a poetry not of landscape but of landsculpt.
These hills my father's father stripped,
and beggars to the winter wind
they crouch like shoulders naked and whipped
humble, abandoned, out of mind.
Of their scant creeks I drank once and ate sour cherries from old trees found in their gullies fruiting by chance. Neither fruit nor water gave my mind ease.
I dream of hills bandaged in snow,
their eyelids clenched to keep out fear.
When the last leaf and bird go
let my thoughts stand like trees here.
'Eroded llills'(TlleGateway, 1953), (p. 83)
Although I remarked in a previous paper on Judith Wright that 'The
land/word scape that informs her work is woman,'~ I would now ask
what woman? 1 do not think it is the pioneer white woman, as perhaps
represented by her grandmother, May, but it would seem more and
more that it is black woman - that shadow woman of herself - that
other half, the indigene with whom she desires union. The land that is
owned, bartered, stripped, whipped and blinded, is woman - her bony
slopes wincing under the winter ('South of My Days', p. 20), her eyes
clenched to keep out fear, her delicate dry breasts now drooping over
ribs of bone ('Eroded Hills', p. 83). She is the ancient earth that roots
the tree, that bears and buries the fruit, that bears and buries the
Bodv-Landguage: Linguistic inhabitation of land
the overarching night sky that has known a million years: 'On her dark
breasts we spring like points of light/and set her language on the map
of night.' ('Naming the Stars'(Five Senses, 1963), p. 206)
When asked for an explanation of her spoken desire to 'speak some
quite new dialect' (in the poem 'For MR') Judith said,
I feel very deeply this gulf between us and the Aborigines: the Aborigines are
the land, we merely think we own il. The kind of dialect that I was trying to
indicate there, would be one which at least came closer to Aboriginal ways of
thmkmg and feeling and looking, because that does seem to me to be a very
important thing we've got to do, somehow. That's what I mean when I say
they are closer to their reality than we can imagme, because we've actually got
Remember my opening remarks about Plato and the shadows on the
wall? It would appear that colonizer-belonging can only be built on the
word union of us and other - ourselves 'writ strange' in body
landguage. As I said before, what is often missing from many readings
of Judith Wright's work is a sense of the intensity, the anguish of the
poetry that arises from the colonist's sense of unbelonging, and
unrightful habitation. This is not only a question of tone or voice, but
something apparent in the very structure of the poetry in which
imagistic word-sculpture attempts to create bridges - body-bridges.
However, the language link that Judith builds between us and them is
not in fact dialogic but imagistic, and therefore static.
Although Oodgeroo's work bridges indigenous and colonist claims to
habitation, there is no sense in which land/body/ word 'possession', or
belonging, is in any doubt, because, as Judith says, the land j]_ hers
(that is, Oodgeroo' s). Therefore what is particularly striking in a
comparison of the two poetic oeuvres is the almost total absence of
land/body imagistic merging in Oodgeroo's word form. She declares in
'We Are Goingrl0:
We are the wonder tales of Dream Time, the tribal legends told. We are the past, the hunts and the laughing games, the wandering camp fires.
We are the lightning-bolt over Gaphembah Hill
Qutck and terrible,
1\nd the rhunder after him, that loud fellow.
We are the quiet daybreak palmg the dark lagoon.
We are the shadow-ghosts creeping back as the camp fires burn low.
We are nature and the past, all the old ways
Gone now and scattered.
The scrubs are gone, the hunting and the laughter.
The eagle is gone, the emu and the kangaroo are gone from this place.
The bora ring is gone.
The corroboree is gone.
And we are going. (p. 74, emphasis mine)
'We are going' is a happening- a form of present continuous verb, that
does not only indicate the state of imminent danger of extinction of the
aboriginal peoples, but also carries a challenge (when we go, you go to,
for we are the land that you would possess and without the land you
are nothing) and a sense of forward momentum - we are going
somewhere ... One of the things that came to my attention when
reading the work of the two poets is the degree to which Judith's
grammar resolved itself in a past tense and Oodgeroo's in a present
tense. After six generations of aboriginal 'sit-down' that amounts to a
heavy loss of productivity and creativity11, Oodgeroo, as word
bearer/bringer for her people cannot afford a loss of momentum. It is
publish or perish - sing or die. Judith's poetry, on the other hand, is
'silted', still frozen in a complexity of imagery that also bears a heavy
load - but it is a burden of the past, not of the future. In the poem 'At
Cooloola' (p. 141) she writes of:
Those dark-skinned people who once named Cooloola knew that no land is lost or won by wars, for earth is spirit: the invader's feet will tangle in nets there and his blood be thmned by fears.
And walking on clean sand among the prints of bird and animal, I am challenged by a driftwood spear thrust from the water; and, like my grandfather, must quiet a heart accused by its own fear.
The word/image 'silted' occurs often throughout her work12, and for
me it signifies a combination of richness and yet of backing-up, a loss of
forward momentum, an involution, perhaps even a collapsing into self.
In 'Old House' (The Gateway, 1953) Judith images her great-great-great
grandfather moving through 'that mindless country' - a country in
which he is lost without signs of belonging- 'the nameless trees'; but
the aboriginal people sing him into the country:
In the camp by the river they made up songs about him, songs about the waggons, songs about the cattle, songs about the horses and the children and the woman. These were a dream, something strayed out of a dream. (p. 83)
They sing him into their dreamtime - their belonging, but for Judith
and for her great-great-great grandfather, the doing and the singing is
an unreality - a dream that is incomprehensible and impossible to
possess: for Judith it represents 'the past' whose distance she would
bridge with her poetry but the fragments will not make song, they
But the sad river, the silted river,
under its dark banks the river flows on,
the wind still blows and the nver still flows.
And the great broken tree, the dying pepperina,
clutches in its hands the fragments of song
Body-Landguage: Linguistic inhabitation of land
The poem ends without a stop 13 - there is hope- but is it enough? The
clutching hands of the dying tree image a degree of desperation .
Oodgeroo cannot afford this collapse into self, this silting of past. She
is a poet on display, poet of her vanquished people who refuse to go
silently. This role of poet in the public arena is something Judith
experiments with but does not stay w1th, perhaps because this
oratorical form cannot carry the complexity of her inheritance. Where
Oodgeroo can be forthright and outward looking, Judith is always
forced back into herself - questioning her responsibility, her liability,
her complicity in a night that ' floods us suddenly as history'.
Their differing poetic structures are not then just a matter of given
word traditions, that of the written and the oral, or Western European
and Australian aboriginal, in fact, both Judith Wright and Oodgeroo
draw to some degree on an oral inheritance of ballad derived from the
Scots. In a sense they both sing the land into history, but where Judith
must create, must wordsculpt that belonging, Oodgeroo can rely on a
word talisman that represents the narrative memories of people in place
and time- the 'songlines' of a mythical, ancestral, hereditary land/body
unity of thousands of years that she ably contemporizes, as in 'Ballad of
the Totems', (p. 24). (This ballad was read in entirety) A ballad of totem
does not sing of past totemic relationships, but of on-going
relationships, undiminished by a Western European sense of time:
My father was Noonuccal man and kept old tribal way,
His totem was the Carpet Snake, whom none must ever slay;
But mother was of Peewee clan, and loudly she expressed
The daring view that carpet snakes were nothing but a pest.
' Mother' does not express this daring view of carpet snakes because she
is a modern woman who rejects 'old tribal way' but because she is of
the Peewee clan and holds the timeless position held by those of the
Peewee clan that carpet snakes are nothing but a pest. The story is
timelessly regenerative; and thus, the 'old tribal way' is not actually the
'old' way, but rather, it is 'the way'.
Oodgeroo' s people are not bone, are not rock, are not history in a
past tense - they are living present green-growing, lightning-making,
thunder-breaking, shadow-creeping, daybreak-paling, tribal legends not
just 'told' but telling ... for Oodgeroo is telling - she is paperbark - she
is the song. In interview in 1988 Oodgeroo relates how Paster Don
Brady " renamed" her:
And he said, Kathy, if we had our own way of life, if we could decide our own
destiny, the tribal elders would have called you Oodgeroo, because you
couldn't do it without your sister, the paperback tree. You need the paperbark.
Which was quite logical. And so when I went home I wrote the story of
Oodgeroo who had lost her tribes and was trying to get back to them, and it's
only lately that the ~eople who've read the story have realized that l was
writing about myself. 4
A Ring o f Gold
Always at new moon and full moon extremes of tide scarred this
southern shore, back beach and front beach alike, and this year the last
king tide of the winter was dose on the equinox. A storm and days of
heavy swell had sent high waves to lick away at the dunes, undermining
them and making sand-slides, flattening, withering, scouring the ropy
roots of the marram grass. In the calm that followed, a low tide at midday
left the rock shelf of the headland wide open to the sun. Its thickly knit
brown hide of bladderwrack glistened, with a summer steam coming up,
early as it was, only mid-September, its gloss drying in the late winter
sun. More bladderwrack lay rotting in mounds along the dunes, and bull
kelp with clawed black holdfasts on tough legs, some shod with stone.
As on every other day, the woman was walking along the water's edge
under the lighthouse, where the rock shelf ran under the sand except for
limestone formations here and there that stood out high, grey fretworks
of rock hoary with salt in the early afternoon between tides. lt was a
Sunday, and fine at last, and among the regulars walking their dogs,
some on a lead and some loose, there were little groups of city people
just down for the weekend. Up ahead on the waterline where a spur of
rock split into pools of deep water she saw black figures gathering against
the light, some stooping to clip a dog's lead on, and voices yelping. Eel,
she made out, See the eel.' And a couple hurrying past said loudly, A
seal's been washed up. Alive? Seems so.
A seal. Alive? Oil-dark, water-dark and glossy as the bull kelp, there it
was, a blot on the wet sand, rearing and blinking in the sun and taking
no notice of the gathering onlookers. They kept pace alongside it while it
went back in, floundering in and out of the low pools and channels, the
water breaking over it so that it looked like any smooth rock. The
woman's heart beat hard . In all her years she had never seen a live seal
on the beach and she strained her eyes now to see the last of its rolling
back as it made its way out to sea.
But it changed its mind . It turned and was heaving up the beach agam
on its bent wrists, tucking its back flippers in like a dog its tail, to sit with
closed eyes, its narrow nose lifted and the long whiskers coppery in the
sun. It shook itself suddenly and sent spray over the onlookers, who fell
back exchanging shamefaced grins and remarks at their own jumpiness.
A beading of water shone on the cape of fur over the shoulders and the
tips of the ears that poked down like dark little teats. Could it hear the
voices? Her own ears were too full of harsh breath . The crowd edged
closer, they could not get enough of the wonderful apparition. What does
it want? a child asked, and was answered in hisses and mutters. Is it
hurt? Not as far as I can see. Is it a him or a her? Male, by the size. Yeah,
it's a bulL Huge! See the mane? An old fella too by the look. Is he sick,
Ma? Ma, is the seal sick? Well, if he's on his own I suppose.
The seal's rump and belly had a pale coat of sand. Absently he
scratched his back with a hind flipper while his pin head rolled. For a
moment his eyes opened, dark eyes, globular, and again he shook a
spray of sand and water off, a halo of light. Then he was off and
humping down the sand laboriously. His track was a double warping like
that of a turtle, a caterpillar tyre, perhaps, which the dogs on leads came
stiff-legged to sniff at, hackles rising. But they backed away fast when he
turned around. He was tough-haired like a cattle dog but they all knew it
was no dog that was oozing and moiling up the beach again.
Fluid, wire-whiskered, blind, monumental, the seal sat and shook his
water off. He bent himself to scratch and sent more spray flying out with
his flipper, which was a long-boned hand of bronze, she saw, a mailed
hand. This time two girls dared to step up close, giggling, and then a
young man. Some of the onlookers exchanged grins. Tame for his size,
eh, someone said, poor thing. There was a shift of mood as plain as a tide
and everyone felt it, how the awe was seeping away and threatening to
turn to contempt, impatience, hostility. The woman's heart sank Any
minute now, she thought, Someone is going to make the first move,
throw a stone or sand in its face, slip a dog's lead for the hell of it. It only
takes one. She moved forward. You know seals are protected, she got
ready to say.
The girl who was in front of the seal was moving her body now in time
with his swaymg, msistently, as if they were at a dance, looking up into
his face because he was so tall, taller than any of the men there, even the
surfer they were with, and her hair swung from shoulder to shoulder
catching in the hght, like a pendulum. The seal was taking no notice, the
eyes in his roving head fixed somewhere beyond, out of reach, so that
the other girl was emboldened to lean in and whisper in her friend's ear,
a dare perhaps, or a warning, a splutter of laughter.
The seal reared up. Suddenly he saw where he was. He saw the crowd
of faces that were close enough to kiss. Suddenly eye to eye he took them
in and his head split open, a throat stretched wide, a ring of yellow bone,
a silent roar as he swayed there like a cobra. Transfixed, they were all
bathed m a sour hot breath of fish. Then before anyone could move he
convulsed. With a cobra's speed he whipped away and m seconds the
dark bulk of him was gone from the sand, leaving them gaping, and gone
from the shallows, surgmg strongly from pool to pool out into the high
breakers of the Rip.
It had happened faster than the shocked girls could leap back into the
circle of onlookers, who in their turn gaped in fr1ght, and then laughed,
shaking their heads in amazement. There was an outbreak of relieved
chatter, the hilarity that comes after a dose escape - Shit look at him go!
He won't be back in a hurry! Nothing much wrong with him- as they
scattered with their dogs along the beach.
All but the woman, who was left standing rigid, open-mouthed with
shock. Before her eyes was the salmon-rose throat of the seal open 10 a
mute, a mutual scream of appalled recognition .
More and more now she lived for the warm weather, slow as it was to
arrive on this coast, and intermittent at the best of times, not to be
trusted. For half the year a heavy wind from the south flayed the
branches off trees and jolted roof iron, filling every space with the salt
and seethe, the noise of rough water. A still day was a rare blessing: the
sense of hiatus, the silent air, the sea barely moving. It would come to
seem a memory at the back of the mind, an urgent, impossible longing,
the way a silence could fall like that, out of nowhere, as if time itself had
stopped. Even 10 midsummer the heat could be swept away for ten days
or a fortnight at a time by a gale out of the south that tugged at roofs and
branches, whipping the waves high over the seawall, tearing the
bluestone blocks out to sea, felling fences. She battened down through
the cold months and waited for the sun to bring her to life much as the
skinks did that she came across from time to time on the path down the
dunes on the first warm calm days in spring, crouched with their hands
spread out on the top of a fence post, as still as the wood, grey whorls
and stripes and a red eye. They would wait until the last minute and
then spring off, whip into the scrub. There were larger lizards hidden 111
their thick hides, invisible snakes that flowed like hot glass over the sand.
All the wildlife of the dunes lay low through the long dream of the
winter. Numb of flesh, inert, congealed they lay in wait for the sun.
The back beach at the foot of the dunes was full of traps, sharp rocks
and undertows, tangles of weed. As a child she had hated swimming
here. Try as she m1ght to keep to where it was safe, she would always be
carried stumbling on to h1dden rocks sooner or later, or knocked down by
a wave and carried out of her depth. There were so many dark masses,
either rocks or seaweed, and a threat either way. Her own children had
been the same, but by then she had the remedy. The mask changed all
that. Once you saw the underwater as it really was, your fear was gone.
You found your way easily among the rocks that in the water light were
more richly coloured than dry rock on land, and through the weeds in
their lushness, intricate, ambered, layer on layer, weightless, in constant
motion as the water moved. Since the day she first put on a mask and
lost her fear, although she was still wary, she never saw any point in
going in for the sake of it, swimming blind.
When there was surf it was impenetrable. Even on calm days the water
c;een from outside, from above, was a mass of glazed blue opacities. Not
when she saw mto them and beyond as they were underneath , ma'>sJb
riven into canyons and arches furred with auburn plumes and straps of
succulent weed that rolled and swayed or slowly unravelled, depending
on the tide, and some were in skeins of old rose, shrill green. Fastened in
the dapple of the rock faces were blond fans, grapes and feathers and
tight scrolls, flukes, foxtails, banks of moss, hairy pods, mussel-black and
green, and soft ones the colour of pussy willow. Now and then a shower
of silver needles went by. A blunt fish there in a hollow was a parrot fish
lurking, wary at the size of her; here a small one in a yellow and grey
striped vest wa1ted almost until her hand closed over it before jerking
away as if on a string. Glass shrimps hung like hairs in a bunch of
bubbles. Sometimes other d1vers waved the1r blue limbs m the distance,
slow giants magnified in the water. You yourself were magn1fied. As you
approached the turbulent outer edge of the rock pools the water turned
1cy and was crossed w1th cloudy shafts of sun that dissolved all around
you into sand, bubbles and specks of weed glittering like mica. Even in
hot weather you could only stay in a short time before you froze. A cold
fall of water was pouring through the Rip from the swell out in the strait,
deep water overwhelming the pools, fillmg the bay with a rain of sand.
It was a ..ummer town built on the last spit of scrubland dividing the bay
from the open sea, and popular for holidays because of the cham of front
beaches scooped out of the cliff between headlands and held in by a
bluestone seawall. The town came to a high point at the last headland
with its lighthouse, beyond which the dunes began and the surf beach.
The headland was the border where two seas met, and two climates,
since often enough the bay was a brown bowl of wind on a day that was
all glassy stillness just around the corner at the backbeach, and yet calm,
barely nppling, when the surf ran wild and high.
All manner of cunosities washed up on this border, charred logs,
crates, spars, oiled seabird., and ships' garbage that she p1cked up and
put in a bin or passed by angrily, according to her mood. She poked at
the mounds of seaweed, idly fossicking. Once she stumbled on a whole
shark under the seawall. Night was fallmg and at first in the half light she
thought it was alive. A long leathery grey body, as long as her own, with
not a scratch, and heavy- she tugged at the dorsal fin, but it dragged her
arms down. Slit white eyes and a puffy maw caked with sand, toothless,
a gummy shark - why should 1t be dead?
It was unscathed as far as she could tell. She washed her hands in the
sea and then over and over w1th soap, but the stench of shark fin clung.
Around sunset on one of the early hot days m November as she groped
after a green chunk of bottle glass in a crevice in the rocks at the foot of
the cliff, a cave under the h1gh water line - the beach a long expanse at
low tide, with net on yellow net of water being quietly cast up and pulled
tight on the sand - something else glinted at the corner of her eye. She
reached out and there it suddenly was, wet on her finger and not, as she
thought at first, the ringpull from a can but a real ring. Gold, uninscribed
but for a scratch or two, it was most hkely a wedding rmg, a man's, by
the size of it, she thought, since she had thick fingers for a woman and it
was loose on her. A lot of husbands wore a ring these days Not her
husband, who would have scoffed at the idea, who had been dead and
buried for so long that she barely remembered his face. Loose though it
was, it rasped at the loose skin over her knuckle and, tugging uselessly,
she felt the welling up of an old anger, even panic. The ridges of skin and
the knuckle bone made a bar and the ring had drawn blood, or the sand
on it had, by the time she thought of soap. Then it slid off easily enough.
She drove around to the police station, where the officer on duty said
that if the ring went unclaimed for three months she could keep it if she
desired. It said so on the form: I ~desire I ~do NOT desire to daim the
above property. In the space for the description he wrote One gold
coloured ring. Now he crossed out "do NOT; she signed on the line and a
pink slip was handed over. She took the trouble to have a notice stuck m
the milk bar window, where 1t stayed put, fading to parchment week by
week in the summer heat and the bold ink gone grey.
It was never a constant heat down here, it came and went in waves, but
this summer was shaping up as one of the rare good ones, still and barely
stirred by wind, becalmed, a heat wave without movement like the eye of
a storm. More and more as she walked at low tide on the sand bed
among the rocks she felt the presence of a swimming self who had
hovered open-armed like a bird over this sand, these rocks, and would
again soon, a shadow in green shreds moving underneath. Well into the
night now and into the morning and on, the house held the day's heat.
After dark she mostly did without the electric lights, for the sake of the
small difference it might make, that one degree cooler. In the gloom the
gas under her saucepan shone like a ring of blue teeth. If there was a
moon, she left the blinds up at bedtime rather than swelter in the dark,
almost as if moonlight had the power to cool the rooms. Her sleep was
never deep then and she woke with a shiver at daybreak, as always, only
to see that the clock was on 2:28, and then 3:44, 5:00, and the bed a raft m
a sea of milk. A heat wave at full moon was the best of all. Like water the
moon found every chmk of the simmering house. In the cool of the
morning she went in for a swim and again in the late afternoon, although
only at the front beach. The surf beach was too far to walk in the
exhausting heat, and dnving was worse, the car baking, gritty with sand.
But at night she would often walk there and stay until midnight or
longer. The stars for light, and the red tip of the lighthouse as it burned
on and off, on and off, like a cigarette someone was drawing on.
Afterwards she slept light. She swam through a milky trail of bubbles and
from time to time the seal rose up from the sea , rose and sank, and she
heard his harsh breathmg, or her own, or the sea. I stitch the sea with a
white thread, in and out, she dreamed, and my hot head fills with water.
At the foot of the lighthouse she came across some cast-up plastic one
day, a white shampoo flask with a green lid, perfectly smooth, silken, the
wording on it almost erased, and anyway the salt north wind whipping
at her eyelids and lashes was making her eyes run. The underside had a
thick pelt of something, seaweed, she thought, turning it over, but it was
barnacles, dozens, of a sort that she had only ever seen in books, goose
barnacles, big and small, clamped on a bed of grit. They were grey with
streaks, marbled, rimmed and striped once across in black, little mitres all
shut tight. A shank held each one so fast she could not have prised even
the smallest one off without crushing it. A shank of tough jelly, it was
colourless except where it emerged thick and black from the shell. Dead
or alive, they were worth a closer look. She took the flask home where,
her attention distracted, she put it down on the draining board and forgot
about it. Nevertheless it tugged at her thought, the way a drop of water
as it trickles from wrist to elbow will pull the line of skin after itself. The
flask pulled tenaciously at her attention, until she went back and saw to
her horror that the sun had been on it, and the afterglow still was, and
ants were massing. The pelt on the flask was alive, it was all one ripple, a
wave of movement, each mitre shtfting, restless, and opening to let a
small black tongue wtth whiskers come poking into the air, and wave,
straining, a blind probe. They shrank in at a touch. From this mass there
came a ceaseless whtspering and clacking, a susurrus, a cry of air. On the
beach there had been no sign of life, no sound and in the salt wind no
smell: now they emitted a strong salt smell, musty, rich, incipiently
rotten, that filled the room, and their urgency so inhabited her that she
ran with the bottle back along the sandy path and down the steps to the
beach in the half-light - it was after eight now and the sun had set
where she flung it and watched it float, jostling in the wash, a life raft,
she thought, out to a rock pool until a wave wedged it under an over
hang dripping with brown seagrapes. The raft of the Medusa, and she
turned away. She knew goose-barnacles could only live in the deep sea.
The school holidays brought the campers and the daytrippers. As usual
these days her own children and grandchildren had better things to do
than come down here. Which suited her well enough. Living alone might
have its drawbacks, but at least now she had no one to please but herself.
Her seven years of widowhood had slipped by so easily and fast that she
was surprised, looking back. ff what she had read was true and the body
renewed ttself cell by cell every seven years, each one as it died being
replaced by a new cell in a slow invisible wave of change, then nothing
was left of her as she was then, a husband' s wife. Not one cell of this
body had ever known a man. It was as if she was restored to a virginity
of sorts, a second virginity of age, and endurance, solitude. A freedom
since to have worked her way so loose must amount to freedom, she
supposed, though it was a dour freedom, if so. And, if so, it only
matched what she had become. She was her own being, for better or for
worse, flesh and blood. Lust was long gone, outgrown with the old life.
The moon had no more mfluence now, waxing and waning, and there
were no more tides of blood.
Pleasing herself then, she swam. For most of the summer the morning
sea was still too cold from the night, and in the heat of the day the
beaches were a furnace. But by four in the afternoon she was ready. The
water was golden by then like a pane of lamplit glass, thick and dimpled
like a pub window. She gave herself up to the lovely lapse of the flesh as
it dissolved and floated, barely visible, almost asleep. When she came
dripping into the house an orange afterlight lay spnnkled all over the
floor. Sometimes the sky was dim and the sun scarlet, and she thought a
storm was brewing. The wind would change, but then the sky cleared a
little - the sun still not fully clear for the rest of the evening, but creamy,
opaque. And in the morning it would be hot and still again with no sign
of a change, as if the heat wave were a spell it was under, a blessed
She was never a beach-lover as such. She never sunbaked before or
after. It was only the undersea, and even so she took care not to stay in
long. There was an old wetsuit in the house, if she could be bothered
wrestling it on: she preferred bathers with a T-shirt, less for the slight
warmth than for the sake of her fair skin in the sun. Even between swims
she would change straight out of these wet clothes that dung too coldly
and get dry. She feared the sea cold, the way it penetrated to her very
bones and lasted long after !>he came out and was sweaty and red,
gasping. It was a different cold from that of weather, and she knew it to
the qUick of her, knew it in her bones, as the saying went. She could feel
the stiffness of cold in them as she walked. In her mind 's eye the bones
were green, knobbly and barbed, stirring inside a filmy flange like egg
white, like a jellyfish mantle, which was her own flesh. It went back to
her childhood, of course, the memory of the X-ray machine that used to
be in shoeshops. You stood against it with your feet in the slot and there
was a porthole on top like a diving mask that let you watch them
moving. Bony, dismembered, cold and green, underwater feet.
This summer was another matter. This summer she could spend hours
of every afternoon in the deep gold of the water, clear pale gold and dark
gold, the colour of beer, in a tight webbing. It was murky underwater
with the tide well past the tum. Little fat fish fled to crouch in the weeds
as they swung sharply back and forward in a shower of sand. Murky
underwater, although seen from above the water had gone that
transparent deep gold. But then it was deceptive, notoriously not to bt::
trusted. Always there was turbulence on the shores of the Rip, currents
so suddenly icy from out in the strait that a swimmer would stiffen,
transfixed, fighting for breath. Every once in a while a diver was swept
out and fished up, long since drowned, by helicopter, and s1ghtseers
lined the cliffs and the jetty. Storms struck and overturned boats. But you
always knew where you were on the front beach. Two arms of rock
sheltered it and the sand accumulated there, so that the shallows went
out a long way and they were bath-warm. In spite of the many rocks
blanketed in flat seaweed and green out of the water, but once
underwater, deep dark blue - this was where everyone came. She picked
her slow way out through the paddlers and the rocks into the deep water
and back. Day after day the world she came up into would be stiff to her
eyes, dry and sparse, glaring with a yellow heat that was wearisomely
A Rmg ofGold
heavy to move m. People sat gaspmg, shining red under a film of sweat.
No one could remember a summer like It, the March flies like wasps and
the gardens s1mmenng w1th mosquitoes. The afternoon sea breezes failed
and what shade there was as it lengthened, even the dense shade of the
pmes along the seawall, was no match for the heat. Night brought little
diminishment If anything it was harder to breathe after dark in the
blinded houses. In cupboards and wardrobes the heat brewed. l:.ven after
a cool change had sent the wind hissing all through the house you only
had to open a cupboard door for the stored heat to come spilling out all
Summer meant a stuffy nose day and night, a rustling of fullness in
your ears when you moved your head, loud and furtive like paper being
uncrumpled, the sea water shifting its weight. Whatever you heard
through water was magnified, as well as whatever you looked at. It ran
out warm on the pillow at last, one side and then the other, a molten
discharge. ln the morning the pillow had snail-crusts of salt and this was
the way of the childhood summers she remembered, heat-struck, the
amplified thunderous sea m her ears, the sea smell, a scrape of rough
sand m the sheets. In her sleep she was any age and all the ages shL had
been. A heat wave gave you mto another life, floatmg swollen w1th
lightness, diaphanous, a water being.
Once at the end of a sultry day when she came down for a swim, bait
fish were strewn about as bright and sharp as knife blades. Nets, rods,
and buckets were everywhere and men scrabbling for worms. There was
a heavy pulse, and a hissing, rustling noise. It came from many b1g
barrel-bodied grey fish that were flapping on the wet sand in a heap
behind each man kneedeep in the water with a rod, pulling them in. No
time to waste in killing what wou ld die of its own accord sooner or later.
Among the gear were plastic bags, slimed and bloodied and crammed
with more fish, mullet, yellow-eye mullet, still arching, flailing, eyes and
mouths wild. A gleeful little boy ran from heap to heap poking a finger at
them. Sick, she turned back. Along its fu ll length the beach was alive
with the flutter and glint of their dying.
A knock at the front door one February morning: a policeman, taking her
aback. He handed over the ring in an envelope, and the book for signing.
One gold coloured ring. She slit the envelope: yes, it was the right ring.
She had no doubt that 1t was real gold not that she cared, when she
had a wedding nng of her own that she hadn't worn for years, findmg 11
a burden, and no reason to des1re another one whosever 1t was. What
had made her say she would? Well, she could always sell it. With th1s
ring, she thought, until death us do part and so it had and the marriage
was over and done with. This ring that lay cold in the hollow of her
hand, her property now: she had forgotten all about it. She stared,
puzzled why anyone would take their ring off at the beach. It was surely
asking for trouble. Unless you were having a quarrel, then you might.
Whoever it was had never bothered to make enquiries. Although it might
have come off in the water, if it came to that, or been thrown in from
somewhere else, an)'where, the clifftop, or a ship, even, and washed up
here. Maybe someone's ashes had been scattered at sea and the nng w1th
them. What was ~worth? She put it in her purse with a vague 1dea of
having it val~ct when she was in town, but as the days passed so did
any though-t'"of selling it.
Since it might slip through her fingers among the loose change in her
purse, she put it on a shelf of the dresser with other things from the sea
on a nap of sand: shells and crab casts, a rose cuttlebone with a hood of
white, a sea urchin with its red stubble, a bird skull like a shell on a white
chain, a crab nipper inkwashed blue and the chunk of bottle glass, jade
The gold caught the light. Wherever she moved it to among the sandy
relics sooner or later it caught the light, the living gold. When it began to
weigh on her she shut it with her old ring and the necklaces, amber,
Venetian glass and bloodstone, in the camphorwood box. Still it felt
wrong to have it there, it was not at home among the jewellery of her
younger days or anywhere else in the house either. Whose property was
it really? At a loss she held it in the palm of her hand, a circle of light and
shadow on the crumpled skin. Where would it be at home, if it came to
Meanwhile she dropped it among the clothes in a drawer. She was
never going to wear it and yet selling it had over time become
unthinkable, she would as soon have sold her real, her own wedding
ring. I" desire. In her dreams she saw it dilate as she bent closer, auburn
frills of seaweed and then a glint, a pale hoop half in half out of the sand,
the water. Nevertheless, one day close on sunset, which came a lot earlier
now, she thrust it in her pocket and walked to the lookout on the cliff
halfway between the front and back beach. The crevice where she had
found the ring was directly underneath, but it was h•gh tide and there
was no beach there. Sand and rock, it was hidden under a swill of waves
and froth, swinging and crashing head-on along the invisible rifts of the
rock shelf. Again it was deep in shadow.
Only a flock of gulls drifting, balancing on the wind long-legged, were
still alight with sun. She threw the ring out as far as she could, so high
that it shone like a star in among them before diving down and taking a
shred of the flock down with it out of sight.
Still the hot weather held and the house, like the sea, had its continuous
tides of heat and cold that lagged behind those of the mght and day. The
moon waxed and waned, and rose and set. Of all this she was aware,
fully attentive to the rhythms without knowing that she was, and having
no need of a dock any more, or the calendar, tide tables, knowing
anyway, as she had never done since her childhood. it was the immortal
first summer of memory and dream and the essence of summer.
Well into March the spell of heat endured, barely broken by a week of
wind and rough seas that swamped the beaches. White waves broke
against the dunes and the box-shaped grey standing rocks and swilled up
over the flat rock that was like an old man's sleeping head at the foot of
the lighthouse and splashed the bottom stairs. Even the planks of the pier
were awash. When the weather cleared and the sun came out it was
warm and yet unmistakably now, for the first time that year, the hazy salt
still warmth of autumn.
All along the front beach the mounds of seaweed lay rotting, infested
with fleas. More weed swilled in the shallows. The pitted rock face of the
cliffs around the headland were suddenly thick with little midges that
you triggered off if you walked past, mass after mass, black outbursts that
pattered and clung, a blind whirring. The sun was low and the sand
more than half in shadow. For once she had it all to herself, as she
wavered at the thick edge of the water. The forecast was rain and a
strong wind warning and she knew this was the last hot spell, if she
wanted another swim, the tail end of the summer, on the hinge between
seasons. But not here, not in this stagnation. This once, for the sake of its
vast bare wash of sky and sand, she would go on under the lighthouse in
the distilled heat of the day and around to the surf beach.
Here too, if you looked, there were the traces of the battering of the
past week, loops and shreds and grass skirts of bladderwrack strung up
drying at the high tide line and along the torn fence of the dune, strings
of beads, amber, oiled wood, white shells in the marram grass that shone
at the rim of the dunes. But it faced west and was still flooded with light,
washed clean, as she had known it would be: the sand and sea one white
glaze and, apart from the usual encampment of surfers and dogs a long
way off, black dots against the sun, she had it to herself. As always she
stripped and went straight in, by instinct finding a channel of sand in the
rock shelf at the place, she remembered as the cold clutched at her,
where the seal had bolted and dived away all those months ago. It was
low water now as it had been then. Green, gold and bronze the
weedbeds of the pools lay still and warm with long pulsing hairy arms
swaying, and her slow flippers, and the yellow webs of the light that
pulled in tighter as they were disturbed, and then laid open all their
weave again. This was the place of the apparition of the seal, where he
reared on the sand and gaped and fled convulsing in all his length, a seal
taller than anyone thrusting his furious way out to sea. His eyes were
bronze-black and so were his long-boned hands. The rocks all around her
bristled and shone with strings of drops and bubbles. His head had split
like a wound, like a husk, a pod to lay open a great flower, two petals
dyed crimson, hot with breath, silenced, a raw mouth. And the
disparition of the wonderful seal.
The turbulence took her by surprise, a tall wave heaving itself sheer
over the edge of the rock shelf, flooding the pool. She rose and was flung
hard against rock, a jagged overhang, bladderwrack, and her shoulder
stung, and her nose, her scalp, a sharp gash, a burning, as the wave
swept back through and over a channel and she was through, she was
over the edge in the open water and choking on mouthfuls, the ~norkel
swinging as she filled to her depths with cold water, her head, her belly,
her cunt. She groped for the mask and fingers jabbed her in the eye as
she smashed on the rock wall again in the violence of the water. Her
other hand was jammed she wrenched, groping for a foothold in a
clamp of rock and she let go of the mask, cracked across with a wire of
light, to toss and twist free. But she was wedged fast, her mouth wide in
a scream of water, swatches of hair and seaweed streaming red.
A moanmg in her ears woke her. She was flat on her back on the beach,
th e hard sand, with a numbness m her and an ache, her head on fire,
and a great shuddering that was making her teeth knock. She was sour to
the belly, salt or vomit searing her throat, and her eyes stung when they
opened on to the sky, on to a ring of heads all staring down, shadowy,
not anyone she knew. Dazzled, she squinted up, fighting to lift her head,
but it was heavy and flopped weakly back. She shut her eyes. Somethmg
sharp and hot rasped at her mouth. Her scalp was shrunk tight on the
bone. She ratsed a hand to feel for the mask but no, and her bathers and
shirt were torn. In spite of the cold all her skin burned as if stu ng. There
was no response in the other hand - she craned bundled up in strips of
cloth. Now the heads above were bandying words and she snatched at
them, though they were too fast, her sick h ead shaking them away. Just
about scalped. Ambulance. Alive. Yeah, I reckon . Just as well. Swallered
a heap. Like a skun rabbit. Hands a mess. Yeah, mangled. Shit yeah, well
what do you. Top of the steps and this wave come up all black. What I
sa id, pitch black. Full of kelp and it come right up over the reef. Could
have been a shark or anythmg. Fuck. And m we charge and the next
thing whoosh. up she. jesus. One lucky lady. Steps? she thought. Wave?
-but he r mind kept closing over, squeezing shut, like an eye in the fire of
the sun. She was cold on a towel clumpy with sand and a dry one was
spread over the half-naked masses of her. A harsh breath somewhere
near was a dog, panting - jingling, and a cold spray tickled her skin as he
shook himself. Go on, she heard loudly, out the way now, good dog.
Then a crackling like thunder m her ea rs dimmed out the votces
overhead. Just ou tside and beyond all this and so near was the edge of
th e deep sea, the s tillness. Why did th ey have to come along and
interfere? What did they think was the point of going in after her and
hauling her back high and dry on the beach and wringing her out like a
trough of washing? It meant a loss that nothing on earth could make
good , so vast no one would ever know the full extent. She had had her
chance and missed it. Anyone know where she lives?- a voice cut loudly
in - on the phone, love? No good, she heard, no . Lives on her own. She
flung her arms open, fighting for more air in the crush of legs and
shadows. Someone knelt quickly down at her side, a rough head blocking
her field of vision and at that she got her head up at last and her mouth
open to scream, only all that would come was silence, was breath in a
noiseless thread of dribble, half blood, half sea water.
Cautious Optimism and a Danish Third World Literature Prize
KIRSTEN HOLST PETERSEN
Cautious O p t i m i s m a n d a D a n i s h
Third World Literature Prize:
Abdulrazak Gurnah a n d the A L O A
Today literary prizes are the arbiters of excellence. This is both good
and bad; often, in fact more bad than good, but in the case of the
Danish literary prize for Third World literature, the ALOA prize it
would seem to be good. It is, of course always possible to question the
separation of 'Third World', 'Commonwealth' or 'post-colonial
literature' from other varieties of literature, ghettorizing it in this way,
but in this connection it must be important to look at the reasons for
doing this. The purpose of the ALOA prize is to attract attention to
literature from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania, which has
been translated into Danish. The committee finds that there IS a
number of excellent books in this category, but they do not get the
attention they deserve, due to the large number of books that are
translated mto Danish every year. As a second principle, the committee
also wishes to introduce new and lesser known writers to the reading
public, deliberately excluding best selling authors and Nobel Prize
Winners. By explicitly stating this, they discretely point to the fact that
those are also to be found within their chosen category. To British
readers, however, the names are familiar. Previous winners and
runners up of the ALOA prize include Amitav Ghosh, Ben Okri, Anita
Desai and Mario Vargas Llosa. The stress is on 'excellence', or more
simp ly put, 'good books'. This of course immediately raises the charge
of Eurocentricsm, parading as universalism, but 1 think this charge can
be answered with a measure of confidence: It must surely be
permissible for a Danish literary prize to r eflect Danish literary
preferences; furthermore, the approach of 'excellency' has the added
advantage of avoiding pandermg to exoticism, thus risking the charge
of being condescending. Th1s year's winner is Abdulrazak Gurnah with
the novel Paradise which mcidentally was also shortlisted for the 1994
'Abdulrazak Gurnah was born in 1948 in Zanzibar, and he now
teaches literature at the University of Kent'. This short bio in the
Penguin edition of Paradise predicts the movement of his up to now
four novels. Memories of Departure, 1987, describes the childhood,
early adolescence and both personal and political reasons for leaving
Zanzibar; Pilgrims Way, 1988, is a love story which deals with the
problems of racism and personal adjustment of a hospital orderly and
failed student of literature from Zanzibar, trying to adjust to life m
Canterbury. With Dottie, 1990, Gurnah departs from what appears to
be the autobiographical tradition of first novels of departure and arrival,
which he shares with other immigrant writers like Buchi Emecheta and
David Dabydeen. With this novel, like Dabydeen, he branches out into
a completely fictional work, in this case with a female protagonist,
creating an impelling main character on the background of a wide
screen of immigrant social conditions. With Paradise, 1994, he returns ,
fictionally , to East Africa, and setting his story at the beginning of the
20th century he creates a mosaic of cultures, incidents and characters,
bringing to life cast Africa's rich inheritance of African, Arab, Indian
and European traditions. On this background one could discuss
whether he is an African or an immigrant British writer, but this seems
to me futile. The contents of the novels is derived from both his African
and his immigrant experiences, and the style is very much that of the
Victorian novel, with traces of Dickens in the wide scope of characters
and abundance of incidents, but held together by the personal devel
opment of a central consciousness in the manner of a bildungsroman.
There is a curious distinction between the novels set in East Africa
and England: Whilst the East African novels are concerned with social
mjustice and personal failures, a concern Gurnah shares with Ngugi wa
Thiong'o, the immigrant novels, whilst also depicting gross social
injustices, portray small, but carefully outlined personal victories. There
is an overall movement of imtial destruction of the individual in his
African environment and a gradual regaining of a personal foothold
and a new sense of integrity, even if this had to wait for several
generations. Gurnah's Africa, both past and present, is a harsh place,
full of cruelty and betrayals. Like the writer Yambo Ouologuem he
seems to claim Africa's right to a violent past.
The paradise of the novel of the same name is a violent place.
Paradise is originally a Farsi word which simply means a walled
garden', says Gurnah. Via Greek it came to mean what we associate
with it today: a cool and pleasant place where both righteous Christians
and Muslim men go after death. 'But', continues Gurnah, 'somebody
has to look after the place. And then there are the women: their place is
inside the house, rather like prisoners. Paradise isn't just paradise, in
fact, at times, it is more like hell' (Weekendavisen, 1 -7 December,
1995). The garden in question is situated in a small town on the
Tanzanian coast during the time of the Arab sultany of Zanzibar and
the expansion of Arab trade into the interior. It is owned by Aziz, a rich
Arab merchant, looked after by a gardener who is a slave and inhabited
by Aziz' wife who IS confined to the house according to the Musltm
rules of purdah and slowly going mad from a mixture of mental and
Cautious Optunism and a Danish Third World Literature Prize
physical v1olence. The garden, however, is exceptionally beautiful and
peaceful, secluded and lush in contrast to the world outside it. This
somewhat tainted paradise is set in the wider context of East Africa at
the point in history when the European powers were occupying the
territory. The novel paints a wide screen of Arab-Muslim, traditional
African, Sikh-Indian and German white life and interaction. The picture
is not just one of violence and betrayal, it seems to write directly into
existing stereotypes of the population groups in question: The Arabs
are exploiters, slave owners and sodomists; the inland Africans are
primitive, cruel and treacherous; the Germans are violent and cruel;
only the Sikh seems to get off lightly. In view of the fact that one of the
main concerns of African (admittedly mainly West African) writers
since the 1950s has been to endeavour to dispel negative images of
Africa this is surprising. Gurnah says that he has never believed the
history books' version that the European imperialists brought order to a
chaotic situation; therefore he wanted to look at it from the other side.
This sounds like the first part of Achebe's agenda to show the value,
dignity etc., of his African past, but it ends up as the diametrically
opposite view. If his book was just a description of a pre-European
paradise it would 'just be a new lie to substitute for the old one.'
(Po/itil<ken, 24 -12, 1995). Achebe's African past was not perfect, either,
but the point was to show that it was more perfect, or less imperfect
that generally believed. Gurnah has moved beyond this necessity and is
ready to shoulder an ambiguous cultural heritage. One reason for this
could be that he is less concerned with 'roots' than earlier African
writers have been. 'I believe that the importance of having roots has
been overemphasized', he says, and with an ironic twist which owes
something to Said he observes: 'It is as if having roots is considered to
be more important for people who come from outside Europe. If a Dane
went to Argentina nobody would suspect that she lost her
"Danishness". But if you come from East Africa and live for 15 years in
London everybody immediately thinks that you have lost something
essential. You haven't.' ( Weekendavisen). Cultural nationalism is not
the agenda for this writer. What then is?
Among other things Gurnah wishes to demonstrate the complexity of
East African society, dispelling any (British or European) ideas of a
uniform or monolithic or authentic 'Africa'. There is also a strong sense
of a writer tapping a virtually untapped source of fiction, creating
scenarios and characters who have not found themselves seriously
discussed in fiction. Walcott's sense of the 'adamic'! Finally there is a
search for the reason why people make the choices they do. The main
character, a young boy called Yusuf, is handed over as a slave to the
rich Arab trader Aziz as compensation for his father's debt. He travels
with the trader and ends up working in his shop on the coast, and here
he encounters the walled garden. He is immediately attracted to it and
obtains permission to work in it after shop hours. Here he is spied
upon by the virtually imprisoned wife of the trader, and as he is a
beautiful youth she falls in love with him. The ensuing story follows
the O ld testament story of joseph and Potiphar's wife. Unlike his
biblical name~ake, Yusuf is not jailed, nor is he made an overseer of the
jail, but metaphorically, he follows the same pattern.
Falling in lov~ with the trader's younger wife (a slave, like himself)
hts ch01ce of action is so severe ly circumscribed that he might as well
have been in prison. He dreams of escape, seems to accept his lowly
lot, but finds that he has no reason to stay where he is. At this point a
German column marches into the town, and he joins it on the spur of a
desperate moment, thus echoing Joseph's defection to the Egyptian jail
authorities. Yusuf's locked situa tion would seem to be a good reason to
escape through the Germans, but his confu sed state of mind does not
add up to a deliberate choice. 'If anyone asked Yusuf in the book why
he ran after the army he wou ld probably say that it was just something
that happened. It was not a deliberate choice'. This is how Gurnah
explains the action of his main character ( Weekendavisen). This
intuitive and inexplicable aspect of choice IS partly to explain why the
Africans did not resist colonisation more strongly than they did, and
partly to explain, or cast light on present day immigration, including
his own. ' It is an idea which interests me very much, because it also
concerns people who choose to leave one place and move to another.
Not until afterwards do you realise that you can't step back and say,
"''d rather stay". That moment has passed.' ( Weekendavisen).
Yusuf's situation, both his lack of options and his confused state of
mind is parallelled by the main character in Gurnah's first, seemingly
autobiographical novel Memory of Departure.
Set in Zanzibar in the period just before and after independence and
union with Tanganyika as from 1964 Tanza nia this novel describes yet
another violent period in African history. The erstwhile Arab ruling
class not only lost its privileged position, but found itself the subject of
discrimination and violence. The first person narrator of the novel,
Hassan, finds himself the victim of new quota systems which effectively
bar him from entrance to higher education, and after an unsuccessful
trip to visit a rich uncle m Nairobi he leaves Africa. This violent
environment is again parallelled by an incredibly violent and lovele~s
home situation of the main character. With an alcoholic father who has
been to jail for sexually assau lting a young boy, a suffering and
ineffectu a l mother, a sis ter who becomes a prostitute and a vicious live
in grandmother there is no space for affection, and the boy is sensitive,
introspective and guilt-ridden about the death by fire of an older
brother, for which he is blamed. He blames himself for what he calls 'a
failure of generosity' and finds that he spends his time ' in a state of
shocked amazement at the way I have spent my brief life, all that
endless malice, that incapacity to be warm'. (Memories of Departure,
p.159). The novel amply justifies this feeling, but again the decision to
leave is not a clear cu t, logical reaction , but rather an intuitive and
emotional one, and it is his inte ntion to return after a period of working
CaufJous Optimism and a Damsh fhird World Literature Pru.e 117
-----------------on a ship, but if the novel is autobiographical, this is not what happens,
and the autobiographical story is continued in Pilgrim 's Way.
Gurnah arrived in England in 1968 at the age of 18. He then worked
for three years which at that time earned him the right to a student's
grant in England. His main character Daud is a belated pilgrim to the
shrine of Canterbury where he works as a hospital orderly. Chaucer
would not have recognized him, and what was worse, British society in
the late 60s would not either. It was the time of Enoch Powell and the
National Front, and the racism and violence which the main character
experiences are both excessive and relentless. It permeates all human
relations, except possibly one, that of love. The novel is a love story,
and although it is open ended it is positive about the capacity of love to
both transform the main character's own destructive self-pity and help
his English girlfriend to withstand incipient racism. Towards the end of
the novel they are beaten up badly by a gang of white boys, but the
love survives, literally blooded. The novel is far from a rags-to-nches
story, but it does record small, personal victories on the background of
This view is given flesh and blood in the next novel Dottie.The main
character of this novel, the young girl Dottie, is born in Britain of
immigrant parents. Her grandfather was a Parthan who made it to
England after having served in the army during the First World War;
her grandmother was the daughter of a Lebanese shopkeeper. Her
mother continued her parent's physical journey to England by making
the cultural leap, refusmg an arranged marriage, running away and
changing her name from Bilkisu to Sharon. She lived as a prostitute and
died of some horrible unnamed disease in a tenement room, leaving
three children, our main character and her younger sister and brother,
all of unknown fathers. At the starting point of the novel the three
children thus find themselves in the emptiness of cast moorings and no
landing. They have no cultural roots to fall back upon, and there is no
place for them in British society. They are second generation black
British, left to prosper or perish without any of the props which are
normally taken for granted, such as home, family, tradition, religion,
moral guidance or love. Predictably, two of them perish; the brother
becomes a violent drug addict, a '16 year old wreck' and drowns in the
Hudson river, searchmg for his black G.l. father.
In th1s connection Gurnah takes a controversial part in the discussion
of the adoption of black children by white, middle class parents . The
boy is initially adopted by such a family and is happy, but Dottie,
acting on a strong feeling that the most important thing in her world is
to keep the three of them (the family) persuades the social worker to
effect his return; this violent shift from being accepted in a middle class
env1ronment to becoming an outcast at the bottom of society with
virtually nowhere to go is held mainly responsible for his violent anti
white rac1sm and eventual self-destruction. The sister IS retarded and
succumbs to prostitution, and she becomes one of the obstacles in
Dottie' s slow, painful climb into both self-respect and a decent living .
Other obstacles, apart from the racist and class-ridden environment
are the men she meets. Gurnah gives them short shrift; in particular,
his portrayal of a white, middle class, self-pitying, pseudo rebel who
takes his obligatory period of slumming out on Dottie and of course
exploits her is pitiless. More destructive, however, is the black drug
dealer who initially helps, but later brutalizes Dottie and her sister.
Dottie' s means of self preservation and advancement are traditional.
Borrowing books from the library to read, evening classes and female
friendships. a move from the assembly line to the typing pool. She is
eventually rewarded by love, or the possibility of love, in the shape of a
man who both respects her and thinks along the lines she is battling to
carve out for herself. Her changing moods of traditional self sacrifice,
through bitterness and self doubt and occasional outbursts of violence
towards a realization of her own potentials and a desire to fulfil them
are chartered very carefully and movingly, and Dottie seems to me a
magnificent tribute to the survivors of the transition into black
Englishmen and women . There is no unrealistic gloss on the story, but
it does bear out Gurnah ' s own contention that he is a 'cautious
optimist. ' ( Weekendavisen). It will be interesting to see how this
' cautious optimism ' fares in his next novel which describes a p erson
who returns from England to Zanzibar.
janice Shinebourne's Time-Piece and The Last English Plantation
Janice S h i n e b o u r n e , l l m e - P i e c e a n d
The L a s t English Plantation
A major phenomenon in the recent development of Caribbean literature
has been the emergence of a fairly large number of women writers who
are taking over from a predominantly male tradition and filling the gap
caused by the failure of new significant male fiction writers to appear
after the first wave from the fifties to the seventies. Janice
Shinebourne's remarkable first novel partakes of this flowering of new
talents. It is, to use an expression of her countryman Wilson Harris, an
'act of memory', initiated by the protagonist-narrator's visit to her
native village in Guyana. Pheasant, a village in the canefields of the
Berbice area has been wiped out by the mechanization of estate work in
both canefields and factory. When Sandra Yansen returns, the one
family still living there do not remember the past, and there is only her
own family's 'dying house', a ruin symbolical of the vanished close-knit
community, to signal the 'unperturbed presence' of familiar ghosts.
The two major parts of the novel emphasize the contrast between
rural Guyana, where the solidarity of genuine community still prevailed
in Sandra's youth, and materialistic, competitive Georgetown which in
the mid-sixties, when Sandra took a job there as a reporter, forced
many talented young people to leave, not just to study abroad but to
stay away from a racially and politically divided society and from an
impending dictatorship. The rural world near the Canje river and on
the outskirts of the forest is evoked with great sensitiveness and a touch
of nostalgia but never with sentimentality. There was no racial discord
among the villagers who struggled to survive, unaware that their
precarious, exploited condttion foreboded their disappearance when no
longer needed. It was also a world dominated by strong women,
whatever their racial origin, where Sandra's father, a humanist and
spiritual man by inclination had taken refuge from the money struggle
in the capital and the temptations of ambition in himself.
In contrast with this matriarchial comm unity dose to the land (the
canefields, the forest, the river) Sandra discovers in Georgetown the
difficulties of asserting herself as a woman both in her profession and
in personal relationships, though hers is not a militant feminism. As in
her recreation of Pheasant, it is the very nature of Guyanese society, its
colonial past and threatening future that she explores in her portrayal
of individual lives. Her characters are the makers of Guyanese history
in a crucial and troubled period when the country was moving from
colonial status to independence against a background of race riots and
personal ambition, and failing to achieve true freedom and equal
opportunity. But again, this is indirectly suggested through the
At the end of this beautifully written novel the narrator asks: 'Was
there no d1rge that could mourn his [her father's! death, no song
celebrate the life he had invested in this stranded and exploited
village?' The answer to that question is her own narrative. Janice
Shinebourne received for it a deserved prize from the Guyanese
government, one of the literary awards attributed for the first time in
Guyana. Though she was the only woman in a group of male writers
(Wilson Harris, Fred d' Aguiar, Marc Matthews), one is tempted to say
with Gordon Rohlehr that 'the woman will be carrying the major
burden of writing Iin the Caribbean] in the near future'. (Kijk-Over-AI,
38, june 7988)
This is confirmed by her next novel, The Last English Plantation
(Peepal Tree Press, 1988), which also concentrates on local history in a
brief and difficult period of transition in the early 50s, when the
villagers in New Dam on the Canje River attempt to assume
responsibility for their own lives under a still paternalistic plantation
system and British troops are called in to prevent sedition. In this
context of crisis, the heroine june, slightly older than Lamming's 'G',
more passionately rebellious and highly conscious, prepares to go to
high school in New Amsterdam, while all her former schoolfriends
have already started working on farms, in the canefields or factory.
Here again the strength of the narrative lies in the felt immediacy of the
soc1al and historical circumstances the villagers are experiencing and
the heroine's intense sharing of their condition and troubles, her
understanding of impending political changes that may take little
account of the ordinary people's aspirations to political and economic
emancipation. The third-person narrative is told from her point of view,
and she may seem at times unusually perceptive for a twelve-year old.
But she is a sensitive recreation of mixed adolescence and childhood,
particularly in her contradictory impulses: her recognition of the need
for education (which she knows to be possible only because of her
parents' sacrifice) and her loyalty to the village and its people, her
longing also for the sense of security they offer. This is shattered in her
first days at school when she 1s confronted with the raCial and social
prejudices of other children (and some teachers'), more ferocious than
any adult's. As the Martin Carter epigraph confirms, this is a novel
about the difficulties of becoming and finding one's self for both a
young girl and th e disintegrating plantation society in which she was
born . Her future remains a question mark as does the direction her
creator's writing will now take.
ROSEMARY VAN DEN Bl RG tells in her own words
'I am an Abongmal woman who has recently completed and passed my Masters
degree in Australian Studies/Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University. My thesis was
the second part of my father's biography titled /he Changing Years: The Pinjarra
bperience. It tells of how the Abongmal people of a small town in the south-west
of Western Australia had to adjust to and change w1th the government's policy of
ass1mHallon and mtegrallon mto the wh1te Australian commu111ty
Although the book wvers the penod from 1944-1975, the chapters l am sendmg
you deal w1th the years from 1965·19""0, when the 196co Referendum voted over
whelmmgly for Abongmes to become ullzens of Australia
I hese chapters tell of how the Aborigmcs re-acted to th<c Referendum and are an
mtereshng study of th<.: south-west Aborigines, the Nyoongar people, with whom I
1dentify and am cons1dered an elder.
Besides being a post-graduate student, I am a published author. My first book No
Options No Choice!: The Moore R11·er Experu.mce (1994) tells of my father's story
from 1910-1944 '
GAI~Y CA I'AI ANO is an Australian poet and art cntit I le has published
numerous books of poetry, an art cntiCism book Years of /lope and one of the
finest books written on Australian cultural cnliCISm, An lntJmatt' Australia
ANNE COLLETT has her B.A. & M.A. from the Umvers1ty of Queensland. She has
lectured on post-colonial stud1es at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London
and is now teaching post-colonial, American and British literature at the Un1versity
of Aarhus, Denmark. She IS now poetry editor of Kunap1pi and currently wnhng
on the work of Mohawk poet, Pauline Tekah10nwake Johnson.
MARY CONDE is a lecturer at the University of London, Queen Mary and
AI.ISON DONNELL is a graduate of Warwick Univers1ty and a speCialist m West
ROBERl DREWE is the author of .,even works of fiction, includmg Our Sunshine,
an 1maginary life of Ned Kelly, publishcd by Picador in 1991 lie lives m Sydney
HI VERLEY I'ARM! R 1s one of Australia's maJor novelists and short story wntcrs
ller more recent worh include A Bodv of Watt'r, part fiction and part writer's
notebook, /he s·eal Woman wh1ch 1s bemg translated mto Damsh, and her latest
book The 1/ou.>e m Uu? L1ght. In Spring 1996, she will be Wnter 111 Residence at the
E-nglish Department, Aarhus Umvers1ty, Denmark.
SYD HARRI X teaches at flinders University and has had several volumes of poetry
pubhshed mcludmg Atlant1s by Dangaroo Press
DAVID 1::. liOfGBfR(, tea<.:hes at the Un1versity of Indianapolis.
KIRSTEN HOLST PETI'RSFN teaches at Roskilde University, Copenhagen
KARI::.N KING-ARIBISALA IS from Guyana and tt!achc~ at Lagos Umverslty In 1991
she won Commonwealth Reg1onal Prize m Afnca for Best First Work of hchon.
HENA MAES-JELINEK is one of the pioneers of Commonwealth Uterature and a
leading critic in the field . She is especially known for her work on Wilson Harris,
and is Professor at the Un1versity of Liege.
ALECIA McKENZIE was born in Jamaica and now shares her time between the
Caribbean and Belgium; she teaches at the Free University of Brussels (Vesahus
College). ller collection of short stories Satellite City won the 1993 reg1onal
Commonwealth Writers Pnze for best first book. Her second book, When the Ram
Stopped in Nat/and, is a novella for children.
RONNITII MORRIS is completing her doctorate at Melbourne University and has
won the Greta Hort scholarship to study for a term at Aarhus University.
GRAI lAM MORT lives in North Yorkshire where he works as a freelance writer,
editor and creative writing tutor; he is currently creative writing Course Leader for
the Open College of the Arts. He has published four collections of poetry the
latest, Snow From The North, appeared from Dangaroo Press in 1992.
ROBERl RAYMER lives in Malaysia and is a nove hst and short story wnter.
A liMA SRIVASTAVA born in Bombay, she lives and works in London, dividing
her hme between writing and film editing. She is currently working on her next
novel , her first novel Fransmission (London: Serpent's Tail, 1992), (see interv1ew).
GLEN THOMAS is a Ph.D. student at the University of Queensland.
FICTION Beverley Farmer, Karen King-Aribisala, Aleda McKenzie, Ronnith Morns Robert Raymer, Atima Srivastava
POETRY Gary Catalano, Syd Harrex, Graham Mort
Robert Drewe, 'Mything Out?'; Anne Collett, 'Body-Landguage: Linguistic
inhabitation of land in the poetry of Judith Wright and Oodgeroo of the tribe
Noonuccal'; Glen Thomas, '"The One with the Beastly Lives": Gender and
Textuality in Jean Rhys's Voyage in the Dark'; Alison Donnell, 'Contradictory
(W)omens?- Gender Consciousness in the Poetry of Una Marson'; David E.
Hoegberg, "'Your pen, your ink": Coetzee's Foe, Robinson Crusoe and the
Politics of Parody'; Kirsten Holst Petersen, 'Cautious Optimism and a Danish
Third World Literature Prize: Abdulrazak Gurnah and the ALOA Prize'