Writing the Empire: Scribblings from Below
An international & interdisciplinary conference
Phillipe de Vigors, ‘Convicts letter writing at Cockatoo Island, New South Wales, 1849’
Reproduced by kind permission of the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Event Dates: 25 June 2010
Jennifer Jones (University of Melbourne)
Oral narratives and the power of the pen in Australian post-colonising society
Foundational Aboriginal women writers began publishing their life stories in the 1970’s, spurred by the need to communicate the truth of Aboriginal experience to the Australian public. These narratives were often mediated by a white collaborator whose interventions did not always align with the Aboriginal authors original intentions. This paper considers Ella Simon’s Through My Eyes (1978), a foundational Aboriginal narrative which was transformed from an oral to a written text during the publication process. Examination of the recently re-transcribed oral narrative reveals how Ella’s preferred self-representations challenged stereotypes of Aboriginality, including the belief that people of mixed descent had lost their culture. Editorial choices, however, sought to protect white Australians from the perceived shame of miscegenation and the acknowledgment of the historical mistreatment of Aboriginal people by perpetuating this assimilationist belief. Reader expectations and reader comfort were also prioritised by the deletion of oral features, including repetition and shared recollection. This devaluation of Aboriginal oral culture illustrates both the role of writing as a tool of domination in post-colonising societies and the power of the collaborating scribe to determine what an Aboriginal women could ‘say’ to her audience.
Jennifer Jones, University of Melbourne, email
Jennifer Jones holds an ARC Post Doctoral Fellowship at the Australian Centre, School of Historical Studies, at the University of Melbourne. Her project examines rural women’s cross-racial collaboration in the Country Women’s Association of NSW during the assimilation era. Jennifer’s first book, Black Writers and White Editors: Episodes of collaboration and compromise in Australian publishing history, was published by Australian Scholarly Publishing in 2009.