- Transformative Fictions:Postcolonial Encounters in Australian Texts
Within postcolonial theory over the last decade, a discursive shift has been evident in which terms such as "transculturation," "hybridity," and "transformativity" have attained pre-eminence over discourses of struggle, oppression, victimisation, and dispossession. Mary Louise Pratt's Imperial Eyes (1992) was an influential text in this shift and argued that rather than seeing colonization in terms of adversarial confrontation, the history of colonized countries evidences a two-way relationship involving a mutual transformation of colonized and colonizers. In this view of a postnationalist world culture, hybridity is seen as a textual phenomenon by which peoples formerly colonized deploy narrative and discursive strategies identified with western culture; the other side of the coin involves the deployment, by colonizing groups, of some of the features and forms of non-western textuality. What is at stake here is the transformative effect of language, the idea that to move outside the forms and conventions of one's culture by engaging with words, symbols, or genres deriving from another culture is at the same time to engage in a shift of consciousness enabling one to imagine the world differently.
Many contemporary Australian books for children and adolescents recycle colonial and Aboriginalist ideologies in their representations of indigenous culture (see Bradford passim).1 Nonetheless, there are some texts which race ahead of the slow and uncertain progress of Australia's formation as a decolonized nation—that is, a nation in which its original inhabitants have attained recognition, compensation, and autonomy—and which imagine a culture where engagement between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples is based on the recognition and valuing of difference and on relations of mutuality and reciprocity. The three texts I propose to discuss, Phillip Gwynne's Nukkin Ya (2000), Melissa Lucashenko's Killing Darcy (1998), and Meme McDonald and Boori Pryor's Njunjul the Sun (2002), trace many of the tensions that I have outlined. All three are Young Adult novels in which race relations are represented through interactions between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal characters. Nukkin Ya, the sequel to the well-received novel Deadly Unna? (1998), was written by a non-Aboriginal Australian;2Killing Darcy by a Murri author (that is, from the Queensland region), of European and Aboriginal descent; and Njunjul the Sun, the third in a sequence of novels, following My Girragundji (1998) and The Binna Binna Man (1999), was produced collaboratively by an Aboriginal (Pryor) and non-Aboriginal author (McDonald). My discussion focuses on two interlinked questions: the extent to which these novels advocate transformative politics advocating new modes of engagement between indigenous and non-indigenous cultures and whether they can be regarded as hybrid texts, incorporating an interplay of Aboriginal and western concepts, forms, and narrative strategies.
The assumption frequently made in postcolonial theory (for example, by Ashcroft, et al., in The Post-Colonial Studies Reader) is that hybridity constitutes the most enlightened and progressive response to racial and colonial oppression, and that on the other hand, oppositional textuality practiced by indigenous peoples merely perpetuates the old binaries of black/white, margin/center, and encodes what Ashcroft, et al., describe as "the political trap of essentialism" (214). I am not so sure that western scholars are in a position to fulminate against what they label as essentialism when the processes of recovery and reconstruction of indigenous traditions are often slow and painful, complicated by the multiple dislocations of colonialism—in Australia, for instance, when Aboriginal people were summarily removed from their country and resettled in alien places, and when children were taken from their families to be de-Aboriginalized. Aboriginal responses to such experiences of displacement frequently lament the loss of traditions and articulate anger at the colonial régime that caused such loss. As Leela Gandhi notes, "if the language of hybridity is to retain any seriously political meaning, it must first concede that for some oppressed peoples, in some circumstances, the fight is simply not over. Hybridity is not the only enlightened response to oppression" (136). Nevertheless, there is a powerful utopian attraction about hybridity because of the appeal of a genuinely transcultural and interracial engagement between peoples and because at the beginning of...