Review of Polities and Poetics: Race Relations and Reconciliation in Australian Literature by Adelle Sefton-Rowston


Notwithstanding criticism of the project or process of reconciliation, literary scholars have continued to use it as a productive framework for analysing (mostly) non-Indigenous authored novels of the 1990s and 2000s. This monograph also embraces reconciliation as a framework, though it expands that frame in two ways. First, it looks beyond the novel to also incorporate an eclectic range of memoirs, poetry and fictional and non-fictional stories within a more broadly defined ‘reconciliatory literature’. Second, Indigenous-authored texts are also examined here as reconciliatory. The author sees an empowering role for literature in seeking to explore ‘how creative writing can “do” reconciliation’. Each of the five analytical chapters concentrates on a major ‘trope of reconciliation’ in Australian writing from the period 1990–2010.

Polities and Poetics: Race Relations and Reconciliation in Australian Literature, by Adelle Sefton-Rowston. Peter Lang, 2021.

In 1988, Prime Minister Bob Hawke famously promised to negotiate a treaty with Indigenous Australians, yet never fulfilled that promise Instead, in 1991 Hawke established the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, aiming to advance the cause of Aboriginal justice. This was dissolved in 2000 and replaced by a new body, Reconciliation Australia, which continues to promote a vision for ‘a just, equitable and reconciled Australia’ (‘What is Reconciliation?’). Although it has received prominent Indigenous and non-Indigenous support over the years the reconciliation project or process has been judged by many others as mere obfuscation for contemporary dispossession and cultural assimilation (Short 8) and as a state-based, top-down social program that offers ‘a poor symbolic substitute for actual and substantive reparations’ (Edmonds 8). Some leading Indigenous writers are not too taken with reconciliation either. At a public lecture in 2001, Noongar author Kim Scott asked ‘Why is the title only Aboriginal reconciliation?…

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Published 30 September 2022 in Volume 37 No. 2. Subjects: Aboriginal literature, Reconciliation, Reviews.

Cite as: Rodoreda, Geoff. ‘Review of Polities and Poetics: Race Relations and Reconciliation in Australian Literature by Adelle Sefton-Rowston.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 37, no. 2, 2022, doi: 10.20314/als.e48f652bad.