White Australia's black history: writing Australian cultural sensitivities

Document Type

Conference publication

Publication details

Conway-Herron, JP 2011, 'White Australia's black history: writing Australian cultural sensitivities', The ethical imaginations: writing worlds papers: the refereed proceedings of the 16th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs , Byron Bay, NS, AAWP. ISBN: 9780980757347

Papers available on Conference Website: http://aawp.org.au/ethical-imaginations-writing-worlds-papers-refereed-proceedings-16th-conference-australasian-associa

Peer Reviewed



In recent years there have been a number of Australian novels attempting to rewrite history from a more culturally sensitive point of view. In this type of writing the author becomes a mediator between an already written historical past that has become the basis of a nation’s psyche and a cultural present where history is constantly being rewritten as awareness of historical silences brings about a more complex set of ethical engagements. In this context, the author who attempts to mediate these realities becomes a witness for change. But this role can raise complex issues for the non-Indigenous author sensitive to the silences around Indigenous representations. Recent novels such as Kate Grenville's The Secret River (2005) and Richard Flanagan's Wanting (2008) focus on Australian history and point to a way in which non-Indigenous Australians have attempted to write back to the colonising forces that have constructed the nation we call Australia. For non-Indigenous authors this type of writing can involve a vexed journey that touches at the core of what it means to be Australian in the 21st century. By comparing the writing strategies in the novels The Secret River and Wanting plus Eleanor Dark’s novel The Timeless Land (1941) alongside discussions of my own process in writing Beneath the Grace of Clouds (2010) I will discuss the difficult ethical questions that face non-Indigenous Australians when they try to represent the fact that white Australia does have a black history.