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Unsettling Times: A Keynote Panel of SPACLALS with Tony Hughes D'Aeth and Jonathan Dunk

Updated: Jul 8, 2021

Thursday 8th of July 2021 from 1pm – 2:30pm online via zoom.

Please RSVP via eventbrite.

Indigenous Writing In the Anthropocene

In this paper, I consider the distinctiveness of Indigenous literary responses to the Anthropocene. While many need speculative fictions set in the future to figure the horrific dimensions of the end of the known world, Indigenous people need do nothing more than remember. As Tony Birch writes: ‘For Indigenous people, the impact of climate change is not a future event. It has occurred in the past, and is occurring now.’ What Birch and other Indigenous intellectuals (Wright 2019; Kwaymullina 2020) have noted is the close relationship between the Anthropocene and colonisation. For Indigenous people the colonisation of Australia was the end of the world. It was an end every bit as a terrifying and total as the ends imagined in dystopian fiction. They find themselves trying to articulate the situation of being between two endings, the one that has happened (colonisation) and the one that is to come (planetary ecological catastrophe), yet at the same time feeling that both are still (and already) happening.

Tony Hughes-d'Aeth is the Chair of Australian Literature at the University of Western Australia and the Director of the Westerly Centre. His research has a particular focus on literature and the environment. His book Like Nothing on this Earth: A Literary History of the Wheatbelt (UWA Publishing, 2018) won the Walter McRae Russell Prize for best work of Australian literary criticism in 2019. His first book Paper Nation: The Story of the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia, 1886-1888 (Melbourne UP, 2001), won the Ernest Scott and WK Hancock prizes for Australia history.

‘Country Time Everyday’: The Hermeneutics of Time in Settler and Indigenous Poetics’

In their discussion of Barron Field’s First Fruits of Australian Poetry (1819) – the first volume of poetry published in colonial Australia – Justin Clemens and Tom Ford identify a particular syntax of temporality synonymous with what they call the poetics of terra nullius. While the term is comparatively recent, this reiterative and retrospective mode of representing time has antecedents in older colonial discourses, drawing upon traditions of the translation of empire, and a Virgillian idiom associating agriculture with sovereignty. The literary dimension of this genealogy is significant; the experience of time being an acutely literary phenomenon according to Paul Ricœur. Moreover, as argued by Agamben among others, that experience is also cultured, and culturally divergent. Settlement is itself synecdochic of a discrete temporal culture engaged in hostile dialectic with the radically different and far older one which it fetishizes, the Dreaming. These cultures are practiced and invoked in creative and interpretive acts of literature which reify or unsettle them, inflecting the legitimacy or otherwise of Australian settlement. This discussion will examine the qualities and axioms of each of these temporalities as practiced in poetries of Les Murray and Lionel Fogarty in the spirit of Michael Griffiths’ argument that settler appropriation and Aboriginal refusal, thought together, can inform a contemporary ethics of reading.

Dr Jonathan Dunk is the Co-Editor of Overland, and a widely published poet and scholar. He has taught at the University of Sydney, Deakin University, and Trinity College, University of Melbourne. He lives on Woi Wurrung country.

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