The Time of Biopolitics in the Settler Colony


Kim Scott's description of the Moore River Native Settlement, also known as Mogumber, in his 1999 novel Benang, suggests implicit analogies with the mid-century concentration camps of the Holocaust. The Indigenous detainees are transported there in stock cars, they are welcomed by uniformed overseers armed with whips, they are housed in barracks with barred windows, and a punishment regime of solitary confinement and ritual humiliation operates as a means of coercion (89-94; 99-102). Elsewhere in the novel, Scott leaves us in no doubt about the force of these associations: "'They had some good ideas, those Nazis," Ern said, "but they went a bit far"' (Benang 154). The analogy between twentieth-century government control of the lives of Australian Indigenous people and the biopolitics of Nazism has not gone unnoticed in other quarters. Elizabeth Povinelli describes the equation, made by the Royal Commission's Bringing Them Home report in 1994, of a century of child removal practices with cultural genocide, as 'an analogy made more compelling by the age ofthe Aboriginal applicants, many ofwhom had been taken in the early 1940s'. The impact of that equation was that 'Australians looked at themselves in a ghastly historical mirror and imagined their own Nuremberg. Would fascism be the final metaphor of Australian settler modernity?' (38).

The full text of this essay is available to ALS subscribers

Please sign in to access this article and the rest of our archive.

Published 1 June 2011 in Volume 26 No. 2. Subjects: Aboriginal literature, Biopolitics, Settler colonialism, Kim Scott, Sovereignty.

Cite as: West-Pavlov, Russell. ‘The Time of Biopolitics in the Settler Colony.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 26, no. 2, 2011, doi: 10.20314/als.dc228e84fc.