“… ‘Indigenous writing’ may not even be a sub-category of Australian literature, and I don’t say that because many of its practitioners are working with narratives and forms which predate Australian literature. No, I say it because I have looked in bookshops for my own books and, failing to find them in the Australian Literature section, finally located them under ‘Australiana’.”
Thankfully, the divide between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australian writing has been giving way to an appreciation of good Australian writing, without labels. This has happened in no small part due to writers like Scott whose novel That Deadman Dance has won the Miles Franklin Award 2011. This is the second time Scott has won the award after tying with Thea Astley for the coveted prize in 2000 with Benang: From the Heart.
That Deadman Dance explores first contact between the English settlers, American whalers and Noongar people in south Western Australia, mostly through the eyes of the charismatic boy Bobby Wabalanginy. Bobby’s experiences with the ‘friendly frontier’ are one of many that show the brutality and deception, but also the loyalty, respect and love that existed in the varied relationships between and within communities of that time.
Scott challenges our perceived notions of Australian identity and history, especially drawing attention to how language and story can shape our understanding of one another. As Scott says, ‘I’d hope that [the novel] helps us recast relationships and rethink the way we relate to one another’. In this sense, That Deadman Dance is not only a story about the past, but how to see our way forward for the future.
That Deadman Dance has a distinctive voice and perspective that perhaps a lot of Australian readers have not come across before. As Scott’s memoir says, many Aboriginal writers work with forms that predate Australian literature, and in this novel the oral tradition of story and the fluidity of time play out wonderfully under the skill of Scott’s written words.
There were only three books shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award this year, however the calibre of writing was not any less. That Deadman Dance has confirmed Scott as one of the most important voices of our time and there is no doubt his latest novel will become an Australian classic.
Written by Natalie
That Deadman Dance is available from Shearer's Bookshop