Assimilation or Appropriation: Uses of European Literary Forms in Black Australian Writing


In his introduction to the anthology of Aboriginal poetry, Inside Black Australia, Kevin Gilbert writes: 'Aboriginal poetry rattles, flings and bends the chains and rules of verse, sometimes in a remarkable manner. But within each bending one can see the cyclical incantation, the emotional mnemonics, the substance from which Aboriginal poetry is made' (xvi). In this formulation Aboriginal poetry is seen as revolutionary and traditional at the same time, using and subverting European verse forms while simultaneously asserting its continuity with the ancient forms of the Aboriginal oral tradition. The position seems to be contradictory in that it locates the power of Aboriginal writing both in its appropriation of the available literary models—those which belong to the colonisers—and in its continuing access to deeper spiritual sources of Aboriginal creativity. But the contradiction is apparent rather than real—as the heirs to generations of displacement and dispossession, many contemporary Aboriginal writers have had to create their own links to the traditional culture. For most of these writers traditional elements appear in their work only as the result of a conscious act of appropriation, for all that the object of the appropriation is a tradition which they may rightfully claim as their own.

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Published 1 October 1992 in Volume 15 No. 4. Subjects: Aboriginal literature, Aboriginal literature - Portrayal of White culture, Aboriginal poetry, Australian fiction, Australian literature - International influences, English literature & writers, Parody, Poetic techniques.

Cite as: Indyk, Ivor. ‘Assimilation or Appropriation: Uses of European Literary Forms in Black Australian Writing.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 15, no. 4, 1992, doi: 10.20314/als.d847df7424.