Conceptualising Irish-Aboriginal Writing


This article considers some of the reasons why Irish-Australian literature has not been a significant trajectory within Australian literary studies and what it might offer if it were. Since the colonial era, Irish difference has been both recalcitrant and assimilable but, in the wake of Federation in 1901, Australian literature was concerned with the production of a national tradition and Irishness served to differentiate Australianness from Britishness. This article is concerned, then, with retrieving Irish difference. It extends my longstanding interest in Indigenous Australian literatures by analysing the representation of Irish Australians in Indigenous Australian writing, particularly moments of solidarity between the Irish and Indigenous Australians. After looking briefly at representations of colonial relations between the Irish and Aboriginal Australians in Jack Davis’ 1979 play Kullark and Eric Willmot’s historical novel Pemulwuy (1989), this article offers a reading of a minor scene in Alexis Wright’s Miles Franklin Literary Award-winning novel Carpentaria, published in 2006, as a way of exploring such representations in the contemporary era. This article is not trying to generate a new category for the field of Australian literary studies. Rather, it follows a seam within the Australian literary tradition that imagines generative forms of allegiance that may complicate existing conceptions of the Australian literary field.

In late 2019, I was invited to a symposium titled, ‘What is Irish-Australian literature?’, organised by the Australian Centre and Professor Ronan McDonald, the Gerry Higgins Chair of Irish Studies at the University of Melbourne and hosted by the Celtic Club of Melbourne Initially I declined, having never really thought of Irish-Australian literature as a strand within Australian literary studies, in spite of my Irish ancestry; but then I became curious: why had I never considered Irish-Australian literature, given my interests in representations of race and ethnicity, including representations of whiteness, in Australian literary culture? This article charts the direction of these thoughts. It asks why Irish-Australian literature has not been a significant trajectory within Australian literary studies and what it might offer if it were. My interest in Indigenous Australian literatures led me to think about the intersection of Irish and Aboriginal writing in the Australian context. So I…

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Published 30 September 2021 in Special Issue: The Uses of Irish-Australian Literature . Subjects: Aboriginal Australians, Ethnic groups, Literary & intellectual movements, Migrant literature & writers, Whiteness, Alexis Wright, Irish-Australian Literature, Patrick O'Farrell.

Cite as: Nolan, Maggie. ‘Conceptualising Irish-Aboriginal Writing.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 36, no. 2, 2021, doi: 10.20314/als.776fd12cac.