Many of the texts in the CLDR full text collection represent Aboriginal Australians from a colonist or imperial point of view. These representations typically rely on a number of stereotypes including depicting Aboriginal characters as childlike, comic relief or the fool, uncivilised savages or sly, cunning manipulators. Other texts exclude any reference to Aboriginal peoples and thus create a silence around the original inhabitants of Australia thereby reinforcing the notion of terra nullius.
This Trail endeavours to raise awareness of these representations and promote resistance to them. It is centred on a number of journal articles which interrogate these representations (Bradford) and/or provide alternative readings of the texts (Collins-Gearing). It also includes a number of the works of fiction discussed by Collins-Gearing and Bradford.
Trail created by Cherie Allan.
Australian children's literature has a history of excluding Indigenous child readers and positioning non-Indigenous readers as the subject. Rather than portray such literature, particularly that published before the 1950s, as simply racist or stereotypical, Collins-Gearing argues that it is important for teachers, of all students, to help readers understand how nationalist or white Australian myths were constructed on Indigenous land and knowledges. Two articles by Brooke Collins-Gearing are of particular importance to the CLDR archive, and are available in full text:
Brooke Collins-Gearing is a Murri woman who teaches at the University of Newcastle. Visit her record to learn more about her and her research.
Clare Bradford has also written extensively on representations of Aboriginal peoples in Australian children's literature. In Fading to Black : Aboriginal Children in Colonial Texts, she examines how the use of language, as well as particular characterisitcs of the illustrations, position child readers to develop, mostly negative, constructions of Aboriginality. She discusses how, on the other hand, the white child characters are represented as heroic. These representations lead to the creation of an us-and-them mentality, thereby reasserting binaries such as white/ black, civilised/savage and so on. In Representing Indigeneity : Aborigines and Australian Children's Literature Then and Now, Bradford discusses the representations of Indigeneity in Australian children's literature then and now. She examines three texts: A Mother's Offering to Her Children by A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales (1841), The Australia Book by Eve Pownall (1951), and Tjarany Roughtail by Gracie Greene, Joe Tramacchi, and Lucille Gill which was published by an Aboriginal publishing house in 1992. By analysing each of these texts in turn Bradford examines a number of changes that have occurred over time in the representations of Aboriginal people in a selection of children's literary texts.
The ways in which the Aboriginal peoples and their cultures are represented serve to position the woman of the title (Mrs Saville) and her children as superior.
While it is evident that the Law brothers would never have located the gold without the guidance of Murri and Prince Tom the text positions readers to see the white boys as the heroes of the tale and the Aboriginal characters as comic relief, child-like, and/or dishonest.
In the course of this novel one of the girls comments: “Bush-fires and bush-rangers, and blacks. Squatters had lively times fifty years ago” (1900, p. 165).Collins-Gearing argues that this type of statement suggests that by the time spoken of, Aborigines had been subdued and were no longer dangerous or savage. This, in turn, stressed the nationalist image of Australia as cultivated and settled while implicitly revealing the fictitiousness of concepts and beliefs based on terra nullius. It promotes the belief that the indigenous presence had to be overcome before the white man could assert his own authority over the land.
Despite detailed accounts of Aboriginal instruments and weapons, stemming from the author's obvious admiration for their technology, the Aboriginal characters are still represented as savages.
The early chapters detail a violent encounter between the Dennisons and local Aboriginal people. The local people are portrayed as savages and this is used to justify the white settlers' massacre of them. These chapters should be viewed in relation to the points raised by both Collins-Gearings and Bradford.
What is remarkable about this text is that in all his travels throughout the bush of both inland New South Wales and northern Victoria George Caldecott does not encounter any Aboriginal people. This illustrates the silence which surrounded the presence of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia in novels from early Australian children’s literature and reinforces the notion of terra nullius.
Visit BlackWords, which records a diverse range information about the lives and works of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and storytellers and the literary cultures and traditions that formed and influenced them.
And Teaching with BlackWords for advice on best practice for Teaching with Indigenous stories.