Unit Suitable For
AC: Year 12 (English Unit 3)
Aboriginality, connection to place, family relationships, Indigenous, interracial, journey, past, reconciliation
Critical and creative thinking, Ethical understanding, Information and communication technology, Intercultural understanding, Literacy, Personal and social
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures
'From at least the early 1990s, when the Hawke Labor Government introduced reconciliation legislation into the Australian parliament, the concept of reconciliation has attracted criticism from both the political left and right. While some have complained of it as a predominantly white undertaking, others have seen it as a threat to the unity of the Australian nation-state. Following the election of John Howard in 1996, reconciliation met fierce resistance from the Federal Government itself, with Howard rejecting the recommendations of the 1997 Bringing Them Home report and refusing to apologise to Indigenous Australians for their ongoing sufferings at the hands of British colonialism. This is the political climate that provides the backdrop for the five novels, all written between 2002 and 2007, which Liliana Zavaglia examines in White Apology and Apologia: Australian Novels of Reconciliation (2016). In her book, Zavaglia deliberately chooses to focus exclusively on works by Anglo-Australian writers to examine how whiteness operates in contemporary Australia. Though she conceives of her primary texts as characteristic of a liberal whiteness that ‘worked to counter [the] political attempts [by the Liberal government] to silence the Indigenous rights and reconciliation movements’ (1), she argues that they, at the same time, articulate the ‘double movement of apology and apologia’ (3) typical of whiteness in Australia. Etymologically, ‘apology’ and ‘apologia’ are cognates of the Greek and Latin apologia, respectively. Despite their common roots, however, they differ significantly in terms of meaning, for while the first implies remorse, the latter, a later borrowing of the Latin form, indicates defence and justification. By identifying moments of both apology and apologia, Zavaglia suggests, the novels she discusses reveal the ‘discourse of liberal postcolonial whiteness [to be] a riven and conflicted site, driven in a hopeful quest to heal its relations with the other, even as its normative traces continue in the legacy bequeathed to it by its colonial foundations’ (21). What then follows is an elaborate investigation of this divided and disrupted nature of Australian whiteness, as it manifests itself in contemporary Anglo-Australian fiction.' (Publication abstract)
'This is the first in-depth, broad-based study of the impact of the Australian High Court’s landmark Mabo decision of 1992 on Australian fiction. More than any other event in Australia’s legal, political and cultural history, the Mabo judgement – which recognised indigenous Australians’ customary native title to land – challenged previous ways of thinking about land and space, settlement and belonging, race and relationships, and nation and history, both historically and contemporaneously. While Mabo’s impact on history, law, politics and film has been the focus of scholarly attention, the study of its influence on literature has been sporadic and largely limited to examinations of non-Aboriginal novels.
'Now, a quarter of a century after Mabo, this book takes a closer look at nineteen contemporary novels – including works by David Malouf, Alex Miller, Kate Grenville, Thea Astley, Tim Winton, Michelle de Kretser, Richard Flanagan, Alexis Wright and Kim Scott – in order to define and describe Australia’s literary imaginary as it reflects and articulates post-Mabo discourse today. Indeed, literature’s substantial engagement with Mabo’s cultural legacy – the acknowledgement of indigenous people’s presence in the land, in history, and in public affairs, as opposed to their absence – demands a re-writing of literary history to account for a “Mabo turn” in Australian fiction. ' (Publication summary)
'This book takes as its subject a body of recent fiction by white liberal writers produced in the wake of the profound cultural, political and legal transformations that have taken place in the field of Indigenous rights since the 1990s. Two milestones of this period are the High Court of Australia’s Mabo ruling on June 3, 1992, and the Rudd Labor Government’s national Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples on February 13, 2008. The novels explored in this study are Alex Miller’s Journey to the Stone Country (2002) and Landscape of Farewell (2007), Andrew McGahan’s The White Earth (2004), Kate Grenville’s The Secret River (2005) and Gail Jones’ Sorry (2007). Each of these novels was written in the period between 2002 and 2007. These were the years when the Indigenous rights and reconciliation movements had all but disappeared from the national political agenda through the interventions of the Howard Liberal Government. These works attempted to counter these silences as acts of literary activism, which strived to reignite the politically stalled processes of reconciliation. Through the medium of fiction, they kept Indigenous justice issues before the reading public, provoking discussion and stirring debate.
'White Apology and Apologia engages in close readings of the Mabo ruling, the national Apology and this body of fiction as a form of cultural history, which reflects important aspects of black/white relations in the past twenty-five years. Together, these legal, political and literary texts reveal a tension that arguably came to define this period. This tension fluctuates between a reconciliatory impulse of sorrow for Indigenous loss and the defensive desire to offer exits for white culture from the ongoing demands of a violent settlement history. Taking shape as twinned register of white longing, this conflicted cultural drive is the focus of this study.
'Each of these novels has had a significant reception and impact. All were shortlisted by the Miles Franklin Award with two taking out the coveted prize. While much critical attention has been given to their fictional explorations of reconciliation and the colonial past, this is the first study to focus on the novels as a collection of cultural artefacts from a brief but remarkable time in Australia’s recent history. In their attempts to explore Indigenous loss and dispossession, the novels can be seen as complex literary engagements with issues of the greatest moment in the contemporary public sphere. Together, they provide a significant snapshot of an ambivalent postcolonial culture in flux.
'Through an exploration of these important documents and texts of reconciliation, this study is able to offer symptomatic close readings of Australian liberal whiteness in the process of coming to terms with its troubling history. Providing new insights into how legal, historical, political, and literary discourses can influence each other in the quest for justice, White Apology and Apologia attempts to understand the relation between Australian literature and the culture that produced it. In the process it reveals the riven state of Australian postcolonial whiteness itself, which has been transformed by the legal, political and cultural shifts of the 1990s, yet which paradoxically resists its own deconstructions even as it longs for the dismantling of its own hegemony. The double movement of apology and apologia explored in this timely and important study is a startling reminder of the unresolved nature of the traumatized colonial legacy bequeathed to Australian settler culture by its history, and which continues to accompany white liberal discourse in its quest to heal its relations with the other.
'White Apology and Apologia is an important book for Australian literary and cultural studies collections.'
Source: Publisher's blurb.
In the brief massacre scene at the end of David Malouf’s 1993 novel Remembering Babylon an unusual weapon of frontier murder is introduced to Australian narrative prose: the swinging stirrup iron. In Alex Miller’s 2002 novel, Journey to the Stone Country, the stirrup iron returns to wreak even more murderous havoc. The stirrup iron functions here to provide a symbolic link to the particularities of violence in colonial Queensland, for it specifically connects the iconic national figure of the cattleman/drover with the killing of Aboriginal people on the frontier. This article examines these texts, and, more briefly, other representations of the Australian cattleman in contemporary Queensland fiction, against a backdrop of recent historical research that reconfigures cattle and their human managers as central to the story of frontier murder and the stealing of Aboriginal land that constituted the colonisation of large parts of Australia, especially of Queensland, in the latter half of the nineteenth century.