Review of Literature and the Aborigine in Australia, by J. J. Healy

'They won't have heard of much Australian writing, apart from Patrick While, but what they'll be interested in is the Aborigines.' Words of advice from a widely travelled friend which proved prophetic, especially in France and the United Slates, where the emergence of post-colonial writing in Africa and the expression of black consciousness in America were responsible for this interest. Would that I could then have referred enquirers to J. J. Healy's study: for although I was aware of the Aborigines as a constant if peripheral presence in Australian literature, the theory of the subject has been preoccupied with the imaginative attempts of Europeans to express the new experience of Australia, and then to define the character of the society that emerged in the new environment. One can but speculate how much Dr Healy's fresh perspective on Australian writing and culture is the result of his not being Australian, and therefore of not being ensnared in the terms of literary debate in this country which he sums up well as either being trapped within an Australian Legend, 'which diverted attention from distinctively Australian realities', or being trapped outside the realities which such a legend spoke for. in 'an agoraphobic universalism' (p. 181).

Literatureand the Aborigine in Australia is an original contribution to literary and. more broadly, cultural scholarship which admirably manages to explore a new field and to map it thoroughly. In doing so it develops an interest that has been emerging in recent years. Xavier Herbert's Poor Fellow My Country. Patrick White's A Fringe of Leaves. Thomas Kcneally's The Chant o f Jimmie Blacksmith and Robert Drewe's The Savage Crows are amongst the most discussed novels of this decade, and all arc concerned with the historical relationships between whites and the Aborigines. The special issue of Meanjin revealed not only a new consciousness of Aborigines in Australian writing but also the emergence of black writers. Some reappraisal of the literature of the past in terms of this new consciousness could have been expected; but not. so soon, such a comprehensive study as Healy provides in three hundred pages of closely documented argument. He has. in fact, produced a standard reference which will be consulted, quoted, and quarrelled with over details, for many years to come.

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Published 1 October 1979 in Volume 9 No. 2. Subjects: Aboriginal Australians - Literary portrayal.

Cite as: Kiernan, Brian. ‘Review of Literature and the Aborigine in Australia, by J. J. Healy.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 9, no. 2, 1979, doi: 10.20314/als.5585899629.