Sea-change or Atrophy? The Australian Convict Inheritance

Cynthia vanden Driesen

Abstract


This paper is an offshoot of a larger project which explored the possibility for the erstwhile settler-colonizer undergoing the sea-change into settler-indigene emergent through a study of selected novels of Patrick White. It became apparent to me that the convict figure, who played an ancillary role in these works, could lay claim to the status of white indigene well ahead of the main protagonist. Robert Hughes (in The Fatal Shore) discredits the idea of any bonding between the convict and the Aborigine but acknowledges examples of “white blackfellas”—white men who had successfully been adopted into Aboriginal societies. Martin Tucker’s nineteenth century work, Ralph Rashleigh, offers surprising testimony of a creative work which bears this out in a context where Australian literature generally reflected the national amnesia with regard to the Aborigine and barely accorded them human status. Grenville’s The Secret River (2005), based broadly on the history of her own ancestor, appears to support Hughes’ original contention but is also replete with ambivalences that work against a simple resolution. This paper will explore some of the ambivalences, the ‘food for thought’ on aspects of the Australian experience highlighted by these literary texts, and glances briefly also at variations on the theme in Carey’s Jack Maggs and the The True Story of the Kelly Gang.

Keywords


convict; Aborigine; settler culture

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1344/co20115236-250

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