As many readers will know, although there is a debate today about whether or not it is presumptuous for non-Aboriginal authors to speak on behalf of aAs many readers will know, although there is a debate today about whether or not it is presumptuous for non-Aboriginal authors to speak on behalf of a culture they do not share, The Fringe Dwellers by non-indigenous author Nene Gare was a landmark novel when it was first published in 1961. Larissa Behrendt has just written a book called Finding Eliza in which she analyses the representation of Indigenous people in Australian literature, and I will be interested to see if she includes The Fringe Dwellers in her survey because, despite being first published in 1961, it’s still widely read today. (It was also adapted by Bruce Beresford into an internationally acclaimed film in 1986).
Distrusting fiction, Nene Gare (1919-1994) wrote The Fringe Dwellers based on her life experiences in rural Western Australia. Wikipedia tells me that from 1952-54, her husband Frank was a district officer with the Native Welfare Department in Carnarvon and later in the Murchison Region, and the family was based in Geraldton. Today, even the name of that department makes us cringe, but it was the friendships that Nene Gare made with Aboriginal families that inspired her to write her novel.
The God of Spring has been on my TBR for ages… I bought it because I was so impressed by Arabella Edge’s first novel The Company, which was shortlisteThe God of Spring has been on my TBR for ages… I bought it because I was so impressed by Arabella Edge’s first novel The Company, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and won the 2001 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book in the Southeast Asia/South Pacific region. The God of Spring has turned out to be even better than I expected and I am cross with myself for leaving it so long to get round to reading it.
The novel, set in Restoration Paris in 1818, is the story of a great painting, The Raft of the Medusa, but it is also a study in character. Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) was – in real life and in this novel – a young man taking advantage of his uncle in more ways than one. His father wanted him to go into the family business, but he fancied himself as an artist and charmed his uncle into becoming his benefactor so that he could live a congenial life in a mansion, buy the very best in artist’s equipment and supplies, mooch about in Rome despising the work of neoclassicist artists, and cuckold his uncle into the bargain. When the novel opens Théodore is obsessed by his torrid affair with his aunt Alexandrine and suffers only desultory pangs of guilt over it; he is also supercilious towards his frivolous neighbour Horace who is cheerfully painting exactly the sort of insipid paintings that the restored court desires. Théodore – having won at the age of only 21 a Gold Medal at the Salon for his painting The Charging Chasseur, – feels pressured to paint something equally impressive because he feels it is his destiny … but inspiration, alas, has deserted him.
For my last book of #IndigLitWeek I had been planning to read The Dream Swimmer, No #2 of the Mahana Family series, by Maori author Witi Ihimaera. I tFor my last book of #IndigLitWeek I had been planning to read The Dream Swimmer, No #2 of the Mahana Family series, by Maori author Witi Ihimaera. I thought I was resigned to not having No #1, The Matriarch, but then I discovered that Bayside Library has a copy, and so I shall pursue it there. But not this week: I already have five library books that have come in from reserve all at the same time, and The Matriarch is a long book. I want to do it justice, so I’ll chase it up some other time. In the meantime, however, there is just one lonely looking review of Maori writing for #IndigLitWeek 2016 – what to do?
Well, I found an intriguing short story by Witi Ihimaera instead. It’s called I've Been Thinking About You Sister and it offers a lot to think about…
It begins in an unusual way. Written in the tone of a memoir, it explains how the narrator is feeling fraught because he’s been approached to write a short story for an anthology but the publisher wants him to write the kind of story he used to write thirty years ago. The narrator is a bit indignant about this: apart from the fact that the world has become a different place he’s become an professor of English, into post-colonial discourse, Freire, Derrida, and The Empire Writes Back. When the publisher pursues him to write something suitable for the gentle reader and no politics, thank you, the narrator is cross. He’s worked hard to become an indigenous writer of some distinction… not afraid to engage the complexities of race, identity and representation and examine the polarities that existed between majority and minority cultures.
But he gives in. He writes the story. A seemingly simple story of the narrator’s mother, still grieving the loss of her brother Rangiora who died in WW2. And how, in her seventies, she decides to take off for Tunisia to visit his grave. How his father is dubious about the whole idea, and how she is dubious about him coming too because of his dodgy hip. And how the anxious children call on friends and family around the world to keep an eye on things to make sure that the elderly couple don’t miss their plane connections. Things go wrong, and a good Samaritan helps them out. The story concludes with this mother’s poignant wish to bring her brother’s body home, only to be told by the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Maori Affairs that the Maori Battalion had made a collective agreement that all the boys who died on the battlefield should stay together in the country where they had fallen.
It’s a lovely story, but *chuckle* it’s not a simple story at all.