“Philip McLaren and the Indigenous-Australian Crime Novel”


  • Cornelis Martin Renes




This paper locates the postcolonial crime novel as a space for disenfranchised groups to write back to the marginalisation inherent in the process of colonisation, and explores the example of Australia. From its inception in the mid-19th century, Australian crime fiction reflected upon the challenging harshness and otherness of the Australian experience for the free and convict settler, expelled from the metropole. It created a series of popular subgenres derived from the convict narrative proper, while more ‘standard’ modes of crime fiction, popularised in and through British and American crime fiction, were late to develop. Whereas Australian crime fiction has given expression to the white experience of the continent in manifold ways, up until recently it made no room for Indigenous voices – with the exception of the classic Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte series written by the prolific Arthur Upfield in the first half of the 20th century. For the longest time, this absence reflected the dispossession, dispersal and disenfranchisement of the colonised Indigenous peoples at large; there were neither Aboriginal voices nor Aboriginal authors, which made the textual space of the Australian crime novel a discursive terra nullius. This paper will look at the only Indigenous-Australian author to date with a substantial body of work in crime fiction, Philip McLaren, and elucidate how his four crime novels break new ground in Australian crime fiction by embedding themselves within a political framework of Aboriginal resilience and resistance to neo/colonialism. Written as of the 1990s, McLaren’s oeuvre is eclectic in that it does not respond to traditional formats of Australian crime fiction, shifts between generic subtypes and makes incursions into other genres. The paper concludes that McLaren’s oeuvre has not been conceived of as the work of a crime writer per se, but rather that its form and content are deeply informed by the racist violence and oppression that still affects Indigenous-Australian society today, the expression of which the crime novel is particularly well geared to.