'Michael Dodson has commented that the 'repossession of our past is the repossession of ourselves' - yet since the 1980s, the translation of such imperatives within literary and historical colonial archival research has been tightly circumscribed by controversial, often agonistic identity debates. Reflection on the broad emotional imprimateurs guiding intellectual and creative research activity have been muted, variously repressed or backgrounded, voided by (white) shame or tact, and often deferred to Indigenous commentators for framing commentaries. Vehement stoushes between the disciplinary cousins of history and literature have also erupted as part of recent local history and culture wars debates. With hindsight, these seemingly 'emotional' yet supra-rational debates, focusing righteously on entitlement and access to colonial archives, seem to have lacked so-called emotional intelligence and (inter)disciplinary imagination. The arguments of the protagonists have now have been 'tidied away', leaving a subsidence of unscholarly embarrassment in their wake.
I aim to show that despite the problematic inheritance of these public debates, many historians, novelists and cultural critics (Elspeth Probyn, the late Greg Dening, Kate Grenville, Kim Scott and others) have managed to rigorously contest and (re)present colonial archival material without repudiating their own emotional involvement with 'the Australian past' in order to maintain scholarly distance. They have understood, in Marcia Langton's phrase, that 'some of us have lived through it, are living through it. This is not an exercise in historiography alone, and therefore presents problems beyond that of traditional historiography.' My analysis of these writer's commentaries will be contextualised against Langton's idea of intercultural subjectivity, which emphasises a discursive intextuality that can be engaged with equally by black and white artists, critics and writers across the genres. Langton, Dening, Grenville, Scott and others will be shown as thinkers who lead the way in suggesting and/or demonstrating how postcolonial novels can be taught and made.' (Author's abstract)