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The La Trobe Reading Room, State Library Victoria
La Trobe Reading Room, State Library Victoria
Contemporary Settler Literature: Resources for Students and Teachers

(Status : Public)
Coordinated by Travis Franks
  • Surveying Contemporary Settler Literature in Context

  • Scroll through this timeline to see the publication of important contemporary Australian settler texts in relation to momentous political and cultural events since the 1990s.

  • Glossary of Useful Terms

    Please note: except where directly quoting others' work, these definitions are my own interpretations of key concepts in the discipline
  • autochthony

    literally meaning 'born from the land itself' or 'children of the land itself,' autochthony is derived from the Classical Greek tradition of imagining a connection between people and land; furthermore, autochthony encompasses the formation of society that emerges out of the connection between people and land; in the settler colonial context, autochthony has been used to erase Aboriginal and Indigenous histories and legitimise settlers' sense of belonging in lands of conquest.


    like many other critical concepts, decolonisation is interpreted and applied in different ways depending on the person using it. Broadly, the term refers to undoing the colonial structures of an invading nation and removing them from power. More specific definitions deal with intellectual and social issues, however. In these instances, the term typically refers to a specific praxis for unlearning certain ways of thinking and implementing new ideas or values based on Indigenous worldviews.

    elimination of the native

    phrase coined by Wolfe to describe ways in which settlers gain dominion over lands of conquest and establishes societies based on settler supremacy; as he notes in "Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native", this refers not only to frontier violence, but also assimilation strategies such as mission systems, boarding schools, adoption programs, reservations, and literary romanticization of indigeneity.


    the act of becoming more native; in a settler colonial context, however, this typically refers to ways in which settlers attempt to displace and re-place Aboriginal or Indigenous peoples. Examples include the Australian concept of "the local" and, in the US, the myth of a distant relative who was a "Cherokee princess."

    native title

    recognition by federal and state governments of Australia that Aboriginal peoples have legal rights in relationship to country based on their own traditional laws and customs. The Native Title Act was passed in 1993 following the Mabo v. Queensland ruling. The Act has since been amended in 1998, 2007, and 2009.

    possessive logic

    a concept coined by and prevalent in the scholarship of Aileen Moreton-Robinson referring to ways in which societies of settler-nations are designed to reproduce and reaffirm patriarchal white sovereignty; specifically, possessive logics work to naturalise the ownership of properties such as the nation, whiteness, and masculinity that, because their importance (or value) is continuously reinforced, grant the power to control and/or dominate those who do not or cannot also invest in these meaning-rich concepts.


    generally held as the current official policy of the Australian government's relationship with Aboriginal communities, in which historical traumas such as removal policies that lead to the Stolen Generations are formally recognised and apologies are made. Significant events in the timeline of reconciliation in Australian diplomacy include the 1992 Mabo v. Queensland ruling, observance of the annual Sorry Day, and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's 2008 'Apology to Australia's Indigenous People's.' Reconciliation has critics across the political spectrum, including those who feel that the gestures of making amends for the past too often mask the trauma felt in Indigenous communities and families and excuse culpability among present-day white Australians.

    settler colonialism

    1. distinguished from other forms of colonialism in that, although colonisers emigrate from the metropole in order to harvest the monetised resources of another land, settlers do not return to the mother country; 2. as Patrick Wolfe has noted in "Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native", "settler colonialism is a structure not an event," (ie, there is no 'post-coloniality in settler states; 3. Wolfe also contends that settler colonial projects are primarily concerned with the accumulation and management of territory; 4. scholars like Aileen Moreton-Robinson have built upon Wolfe's ideas by suggesting that settler colonialism relies on a broader possessive logic, which promotes investment in various kinds of ownership, both legal (land, labourers, domestic dependents) and social (patriarchy, whiteness, heteronormativity).

    settler-colonial imaginary

    Tom Lynch uses this phrase in his scholarship to refer to a resistant and therefore heroic identity that settlers construct for themselves as a means of avoiding phenomena that may undermine their security within the settler-nation. Lynch points to climate, ecology, Indigenous peoples, and anti-colonial critiques as examples, but we might expand the term's horizons by adding open discussions of white supremacy, Immigrant and refugee rights, and equality for queer communities.

    terra nullius

    literally meaning 'land belonging to no one' or 'no one's land,' terra nullius has played a defining role in the Anglo-European colonisation of Australia and contemporary Aboriginal land rights activism.Essentially, the concept was used to graft British law and custom onto Australian lands on the premise that Aboriginal inhabitants did not constitute a civilised polity and therefore could not own property. Landmark High Court rulings in the 1990s, particularly Mabo v. Queensland recognised terra nullius as a legal fiction used to unjustly dispossess Indigenous peoples of their traditional lands.

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