Grant Watson and the Aborigine: A Tragic Voice in an Age of Optimism
Dorothy Green is quite right when she notes that Grant Watson's psychological and metaphysical disturbance looks forward to the novels of Patrick White, although the intricate speculations of White are richer. Grant Watson was an Englishman who spent eighteen months with Radcliffe-Browne's anthropological expedition to the North-West, had little knowledge at all of settled Australia, and although he wrote a number of novels dealing with his Australian experiences, never returned. His name recurs periodically in accounts of Australian literature but his works are seen generally as the effusions of a visiting Englishman. He floats on that vague horizon of reference that includes figures like Dickens, Charles Reade, D. H. Lawrence. An Englishman abroad; an innocent abroad. It is clear that he is not part of the internal debate that the literature of a country makes up whether its participants like it or not. It is clear too that he produced no great work of literature that would justify an acquaintance with him on aesthetic grounds. But his experiences in the North-West and his attempt to probe his consciousness of the aborigines in fictional terms was important, since his was a serious European consciousness trying to grasp an archetypal Australian experience.
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Published 1 May 1975 in Volume 7 No. 1. Subjects: Aboriginal Australians - Literary portrayal, Aboriginal-White relations, Australian literature - Comparisons with overseas literature, Australian literature and writers.