Agrégation anglais 2022. Alexis Wright, "Carpentaria".
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Ouvrage de préparation au concours de l’Agrégation.

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Publié par
Date de parution 21 septembre 2021
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9782340060579
Langue Français
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,1100€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

Sommaire
Souffle enfanté du rêve
Chantal T. Spitz
Introduction. Carpentaria . Polyphonie cardiogéognosique
Estelle Castro-Koshy et Philippe Guerre
Chapitre 1. First Nations Writing in Australia: A Context and History
Jeanine Leane
Chapitre 2. Country, People and Language in Carpentaria
Ilana Mushin and Maïa Ponsonnet
Chapitre 3. Chapter Summary
Temiti Lehartel
Chapitre 4. Sovereignty of the Mind
Jacqui Katona and Sandra R. Phillips
Chapitre 5. “In Pieces”: Storying Colonial Violence in Carpentaria
Temiti Lehartel
Chapitre 6. Carpentaria (Alexis Wright) and the Agrégation: Navigating the Paradox
Fiona McCann
Chapitre 7. Propositions pour décoloniser la lecture de Carpentaria . Littérature autochtone et colonialité des savoirs
Mylène Charon
Chapitre 8. “But this was not Vaudeville. Wars were fought here.” : Strategies of Resistance in Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria
Matteo Dutto
Chapitre 9. Mapping Carpentaria : Voices, Stories and Journeys of the Gulf Country
Arnaud Barras
Chapitre 10. La parole plastique des pierres épiques dans Carpentaria d’Alexis Wright
Malik Noël-Ferdinand
Chapitre 11. Alexis Wright’s Storytelling Novel and its “particular kind of knowledge”
Brenda Machosky
Chapitre 12. Lecture éco-critique de Carpentaria : texte et hors-texte
Salhia Ben-Messahel
Chapitre 13. From Carpentaria to Carpentaria : Configurations of Space and Continents of Literature
Peter Brown
Chapitre 14. Dépériphéries politiques, résilience et résistance , souveraineté autochtone en Australie
Vanessa Castejon
Chapitre 15. Notes on Mining, Indigenous Communities and the Gulf of Carpentaria
Deirdre Gilfedder
Chapitre 16. Book Review: Carpentaria by Alexis Wright
Kathleen Birrell
Chapitre 17. Wrighting the Story: Learning from Alexis Wright
Kim Kruger
Author Biographies
Remerciements

À Arun, Kael et Aidan To our parents, à mes grands-parents To my First Nations friends and teachers from Australia and French Polynesia Estelle
I te mau vahine tei ' āua ha'ati iā'u nei, i tō'u nei hoa here. I tō'u mau pīahi no roto mai i te fare ha'api'ira'a Ihi Tea No Vāvau. Aux femmes de ma vie, à mon futur époux. À mes élèves du Lycée Ihi Tea No Vavau. Temiti
Aux Kevin Phantom de ce monde Temiti et Estelle

© Lily Sawenko
I am greatly honoured to have my work Carpentaria included in the national curriculum of the French Agrégation. I am excited by the prospect that the book will be read and discussed by distinguished scholars in France. It is the first book ever to be chosen for the Agrégation that was written by a First Nation Sovereign author of this Continent, and the first Australian book in fifty years, since Voss (1957), by Patrick White.
I am delighted that my work will reach a broader audience and will encourage readers to explore the literatures of the world more broadly.
I hope you go well with your exams. The best way to read Carpentaria is just to enjoy it, which was the way that I wrote it.
Alexis Wright, June 2021


Souffle enfanté du rêve
Chantal T. Spitz
souffle enfanté du rêve
souffle enfanté du rêve
du serpent
du temps
charpentant la terre
les corps
les entrailles
persévérance
persistance
permanence
souffle nourri de visions
de mémoires
de cultures
façonnant les hommes
les esprits
les âmes
dignité
majesté
générosité
ce souffle
venu de l’origine
qui dit les grandeurs les laideurs
ce souffle
venu des souffrances
qui dit la survivance la résilience
ce souffle
venu des éternités
qui dit l’illimité l’infinité
ce souffle
Alexis Wright
Carpentaria
essence born of the dream
essence born of the dream
of the serpent
of time
building the earth
bodies
intestines
perseverance
persistence
permanence
essence nourished by visions
by memories
by cultures
shaping the people
their minds
their souls
dignity
majesty
generosity
this essence
rising up from the source
that speaks of greatness of ugliness
this essence
rising up from suffering
that speaks of survival of resilience
this essence
rising up from all eternity
that speaks of the limitless of infinity
this essence
Alexis Wright
Carpentaria

Translation by Jean Anderson




© Toly Sawenko


Introduction. Carpentaria . Polyphonie cardiogéognosique
Estelle Castro-Koshy et Philippe Guerre
Mais si l’œuvre a pour but […] d’éveiller des témoins pour ce que nous ne suffîmes pas à veiller, et d’appeler à d’autres chants pour porter ce qui dans le nôtre resta sans voix, plus haute est sa tâche de se savoir toujours finie devant l’infinie beauté.
Jean-Louis Chrétien , L’Effroi du beau (1987, 93)
Dans un entretien pour le New York Times , dans lequel il lui était demandé quels écrivains — romanciers, dramaturges, critiques, journalistes, poètes — il admirait le plus, l’écrivain et universitaire de Cambridge Robert MacFarlane répondit :
Alexis Wright: I’m awed by the range, experiment and political intelligence of her work, from fiction such as Carpentaria and The Swan Book , to her “collective memoir” of an Aboriginal elder in Tracker . As essayist, activist, novelist and oral historian she is vital on the subject of land and people. (Tamaki 2020)
Née à Cloncurry en 1950, Alexis Wright est une écrivaine aborigène waanyi dont les terres ancestrales se situent sur les plateaux au sud du golfe de Carpentarie (qui se trouve au nord-ouest du Queensland et nord-est du Territoire du Nord) en Australie. 1 Elle a écrit trois romans, Plains of Promise (1997), Carpentaria (Giramondo, 2006) et The Swan Book (2013), un recueil de nouvelles, Le Pacte du serpent arc-en-ciel (2002), et quatre ouvrages de non-fiction, Grog War (1997), Take Power (1998), Croire en l’incroyable (2000) et Tracker (2017). Deux de ses ouvrages n’ont été publiés qu’en français : Le Pacte du serpent arc-en-ciel et Croire en l’incroyable . Son nouveau roman Praiseworthy est attendu en 2022 chez Giramondo. Wright détient la chaire Boisbouvier de littérature australienne à l’Université de Melbourne et est la seule autrice australienne à avoir reçu à la fois le Miles Franklin Award et le Stella Prize qui lui a été décerné pour Tracker en 2018.
En 2007, son roman magistral Carpentaria est couronné par le Miles Franklin Award, le prix littéraire australien considéré comme le plus prestigieux. C’est la première écrivaine aborigène à recevoir seule ce prix, qui avait également été décerné conjointement en 2000 à l’écrivain aborigène noongar Kim Scott pour son roman Benang (1999) et à l’écrivaine Thea Astley pour Drylands . Carpentaria remporte ensuite plusieurs autres prix littéraires prestigieux : le prix de fiction du Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards, la médaille d’or de la Société de littérature australienne (ASAL — Association for the Study of Australian Literature) ainsi que le prix Vance Palmer de fiction. Dans un discours précédant la remise de la médaille d’or décernée par ASAL, la présidente du jury Susan Sheridan déclara que le roman était « d’importance équivalente à celle de Moby Dick » (« a Moby Dick of a book » 2 ), et qu’il était voué à changer la mentalité des Australiens et le paysage littéraire australien comme Moby Dick changea la mentalité des États-Uniens et le paysage littéraire états-unien.
Une décennie plus tard, dans son essai « On Carpentaria », l’écrivain tibétain Alai estime quant à lui que les scènes en mer du roman de Wright remuent encore plus l’âme (« soul-stirring ») que celles d’Hemingway (2018, 50). Adam Shoemaker, qui rappelle que le jury du Miles Franklin Award loua « the power of her prose, the richness of her imagination, and her risk-taking, stylistic ambitiousness », qualifia le roman de « greatest, most inventive and most mesmerizing Indigenous epic ever produced in Australia » (2008, 55). Lors de la parution de Carpentaria en Chine, le prix Nobel de littérature Mo Yan fit part de son admiration pour le roman lors d’un discours dans lequel il le décrivit comme « a novel of super literature skill » 3 . Le critique littéraire Geng Rui de Mongolie intérieure écrivit aussi à Wright, à propos du roman : « It is a unique and great literary work of magical and complicated history and chaotic reality, an unforgettable one that belongs to you and belongs to the world! » 4 . Pour Kathleen Birrell, dont la recension du roman est reproduite au chapitre 16 :
Carpentaria , is a remarkable rendering of Australian indigeneities, an interweaving web of narratives which defy the limits of conventional literary forms. Simultaneously evocative of the ancient and modern, spiritual and political, the novel is a unique contribution to Australian literature; more specifically, to the ever expanding body of Indigenous Australian literature. (296)
Au-delà de sa grande qualité littéraire, Birrell souligne le pouvoir de transformation et d’intervention dans la sphère politique et légale du roman :
Inherent within this endeavour is a unique challenge to non-Indigenous law, not only in terms of political protest but also in the presentation of an antinomic Indigenous Law, a transformative aesthetic to which Australian law is called to respond. (296)
La portée politique du roman et de l’œuvre de Wright est aussi soulignée par Jacqui Katona et Sandra Phillips qui estiment au chapitre 4 que Carpentaria , comme tout le reste de l’œuvre de Wright, requiert des lecteurs un discernement et une perspicacité politiques et culturels et invite à des pratiques et lectures éthico-critiques et jurisprudentielles :
Wright’s oeuvre of fact-based and fictional works arise as complementary acts of revolution that disrupt political hegemony. (87)
The acuity demanded by Wright’s work moves readers towards new practices, for example there are calls for ethico-critical practices and jurisprudential reading in interpreting Wright’s work. (88)
De par sa richesse tant sur le plan littéraire et stylistique que politique et épistémologique, Carpentaria est rapidement devenu un monument du paysage littéraire australien et mondial. Très largement enseigné dans les universités en Australie, ce chef-d’œuvre a été publié également aux États-Unis, au Royaume-Uni, en Inde et traduit en français, chinois, italien et polonais. En 2021, Carpentaria est le premier roman aborigène retenu pour faire partie du programme de tronc commun de l’agrégation d’anglais externe et interne en France 5 . Comme le demande Fiona McCann au chapitre 6 : « Who knows what innovative pedagogical strategies, and move towards social transformation, the study of this novel might spark, set in motion or drive forward? » (129)
Vouée à encourager de nouvelles dynamiques dans le champ des études anglophones en France et à changer la manière dont l’Australie et les littératures et peuples autochtones du continent sont compris et perçus, cette sélection est aussi une remarquable opportunité de poursuivre les échanges internationaux d’idées et discussions poétiques autour de l’œuvre (Ng 2018 ; Jose and Madden 2021), et de permettre au lectorat francophone de mieux connaître l’œuvre de l’autrice. En effet, le talent de Wright avait été non seulement reconnu mais aussi mis à l’honneur par Actes Sud bien des années avant sa consécration par le Miles Franklin, puisque la maison d’édition d’Arles avait traduit son premier roman Plains of Promise deux ans après sa parution en anglais ( Les Plaines de l’espoir , 1999). Furent ensuite publiés un essai de Wright intitulé Croire en l’incroyable en 2000 dans la collection « Souffle de l’esprit » puis un recueil de nouvelles, Le Pacte du serpent arc-en-ciel , en 2002, tous deux inédits en anglais 6 .
La sélection de Carpentaria pour un concours national, suscitant de nombreuses publications, aura peut-être aussi, nous l’espérons, une incidence positive sur la reconnaissance en Australie, dans le secondaire, de l’importance de l’œuvre de Wright et de nombreux autres auteurs aborigènes et insulaires du détroit de Torres. À l’annonce de la mise au programme à l’agrégation du roman, l’écrivain aborigène Tony Birch fit part du fait qu’en 2019, sur les 32 textes au programme de la dernière année de lycée en Australie (Year 12), aucun n’était d’un auteur autochtone australien. En 2020, aucun changement ne fut proposé en raison du covid. Et pourtant, Carpentaria s’inscrit dans un corpus important d’œuvres d’auteurs aborigènes et insulaires du détroit de Torres qui appartiennent à tous les genres (poésie, roman, roman policier, roman d’anticipation, roman historique, roman graphique, récits de vie, pièces de théâtre, etc.), auquel le chapitre 1 de Jeanine Leane est consacré. L’anthologie Macquarie Pen Anthology of Aboriginal Literature (dir. Anita Heiss et Peter Minter) publiée en 2008 comprenait ainsi 79 auteurs 7 . La littérature aborigène comprenait en 2021 plus de 140 romans, 200 recueils de poésie (anthologies exclues), 360 pièces de théâtre, 315 récits de vie et autobiographies et plus de 1 500 livres pour enfants 8 . À ces ouvrages s’ajoutent des milliers de poèmes, lettres, discours, pétitions sur papier et sur écorce, et d’histoires enregistrées. 9 Des ouvrages ont été traduits en allemand, chinois, français, indonésien, japonais, néerlandais, turc. Le Miles Franklin Award a été remporté en 2019 par l’écrivaine bundjalung Melissa Lucashenko pour Too Much Lip et en 2020 par l’autrice wiradjuri Tara June Winch pour The Yield , et l’écrivaine yankunytjatjara/kokatha Ali Cobby Eckermann se vit décerner en 2017 le prestigieux prix états-unien Windham-Campbell. La richesse et diversité de cette littérature, qui a redessiné le paysage culturel australien, encourage les lecteurs à participer à la décolonisation des esprits et de la société, et touche profondément notre humanité, sont désormais incontournables.
Carpentaria , tout comme des centaines d’autres ouvrages d’écrivains aborigènes, contribue à redéfinir l’histoire littéraire australienne et à écrire une autre histoire du continent. Il réactive et s’inscrit dans une grande tradition multimillénaire d’histoires orales, les archéologues ayant daté la présence aborigène en Australie à –65 000 ans voire –80 000 ans 10 . Écrit, selon les mots de l’autrice, « as if the land was telling a story about itself as much as the narrator is telling stories to the land » (Wright 2018, 225), « by using a storytelling narrative voice in a language that was as much my own as it is of Aboriginal people in the Gulf » (2018, 227) 11 , « to demonstrate the liberating and transgressing power of Aboriginal law over other laws » (Wright 2021, 22), le roman se voulait aussi hommage aux héros aborigènes du golfe de Carpentarie (Wright 2017b).
Épopée, satire sociale émaillée de passages humoristiques, Carpentaria s’appuie sur des épistémologies et valeurs aborigènes pour faire entendre que les Aborigènes et leur terre sont là « depuis des temps immémoriaux » (Wright 2009, 1) tout en offrant une critique radicale (y compris au sens étymologique d’émanant des racines de la terre) de la colonisation à laquelle les Aborigènes et les Insulaires du détroit de Torres ont dû faire face depuis 1788 12 . Ainsi, le roman s’ouvre doublement sur une critique de ceux qui, colonisateurs (passés et contemporains) et missionnaires, refusent d’écouter les Aborigènes, et sur le serpent ancestral créateur qui a façonné le golfe de Carpentarie et vit sous les pieds de ses habitants 13 . Comme l’écrit Arnaud Barras dans le chapitre 13 :
By telling the Australian Indigenous story of the serpent immediately after sarcastically mentioning the colonial myth of the Nation in capital letters, Wright makes clear that Carpentaria is both a critique of colonialism and a reaffirmation of Australian Indigenous cultures, both a map of the effects of colonial history and a song of the multiple voices and of the various ecological practices that compose the Gulf of Carpentaria. (172)
Le roman foisonne d’une pluralité de voix qui s’entremêlent, qui s’opposent, et d’histoires aborigènes du continent et de nombreux autres pays 14 . Le roman comprend des voix éclatées 15 , des paroles rapportées, disséminées, qui peuvent au premier abord déconcerter. Temiti Lehartel remarque ainsi justement au chapitre 5 que les chapitres sont construits de telle sorte qu’ils obligent le lecteur à faire des allers-retours, ce qui fait de l’expérience de lecture « a real exercise for the mind » (91). Or, comme l’explique Wright dans Tracker :
Sometimes it is the little stories that people tell that are the most potent, and when fragments of remembered stories are placed together, they combine to create a truer and fuller portrait than a single story on its own. (2017a, 13)
Par la richesse de ses fils narratifs, Carpentaria déploie à la fois un concert de voix propres au golfe de Carpentarie, et manifeste une attention à l’infime, à l’invisible et l’invisibilisé. Mêlant stream of consciousness et multiplicité de points de vue, le roman pose aussi la question de ce que l’on a compris, de ce que l’on comprend des personnes dont on parle. Il attire l’attention sur les souffrances et violences enfouies qu’évoquent les rapports entre les personnages qui n’ont que des échanges furtifs, ou entre qui le dialogue est impossible. Dans Logique de la philosophie , le philosophe Eric Weil expose l’opposition entre discours et violence, et démontre que si l’on dialogue, on n’est pas dans la violence. La belle amitié qui se noue entre un personnage blanc, Elias, et Norm Phantom, du clan de Westside, dans le roman est d’ailleurs fondée sur le dialogue entre les deux hommes, qui perdure au-delà de la mort. Ce que Weil démontre, et ce que narre Carpentaria , c’est qu’il est impossible d’établir un dialogue avec quelqu’un qui refuse le principe du dialogue. Dans Carpentaria , les trois enfants qui sont arrêtés à tort pour le meurtre de Gordie et se donnent la mort après avoir été brutalisés par le maire Bruiser et le policier Truthful font l’objet de discours rapportés ; leur voix ne se fait pas entendre dans le passage qui traduit leur épouvante et la violence inouïe qui s’abat sur eux alors qu’aucun espace de parole ne leur est accordé.
The three boys, Tristrum aged ten, and his brother Luke Fishman aged twelve, and Aaron Ho Kum aged eleven, all Bob Marley look-alikes, had asked no questions, did not expect any favours, and asked for no one. Together, when they had been left alone, when sure no one was listening, they huddled in a corner spinning out in a whirl of raw-felt fear, clawing into each other, believing they were not humans. (299)
Et pourtant, par le roman, les sans-voix viennent jusqu’à la conscience du lecteur. Les histoires de la colonisation, les massacres, les viols et les meurtres sont évoqués, même si la voix narratoriale les mentionne au détour d’une ligne, ou sans s’appesantir, avec une pudeur qui témoigne du respect pour les victimes. C’est cette même pudeur qui se dégage du poème évocateur d’un massacre dans le roman en vers Ruby Moonlight de l’écrivaine yankunytjatjara/kokatha Ali Cobby Eckermann.
Dans Carpentaria , les histoires et souvenirs qui parfois semblent suspendus sont aussi la manifestation et la preuve d’une résilience, d’une survivance, telle que la définit Vizenor, « en tant que continuation des histoires » et « présence active » (2008, 1). La polyphonie permet de mettre en scène la continuation de multitudes d’histoires et de voix aborigènes. Elle permet des plongées dans la subjectivité des personnages. Mais cette polyphonie est aussi celle de la terre et de la mer, et celle des chants aborigènes des pistes du Rêve 16 (Dreaming Tracks, Wright 2009, 118, 136, 373, 399) que suit le convoi de Mozzie Fishman, et que suivra Will pour tenter d’aller retrouver sa femme Hope. L’un des tours de force de roman, comme l’ont écrit Salhia Ben Messahel et Jeanine Leane, est que « la terre est texte et voix » (page 233 de cet ouvrage), « Country 17 centres and projects the voice of Carpentaria » (2018, 213).
Dans son ouvrage Conscience et roman sur l’exploration de la subjectivité dans le roman, Jean-Louis Chrétien a créé le néologisme de « cardiognosie » pour désigner la connaissance de cette subjectivité, du cœur et des reins. Son ouvrage pose la question : comment peut-on avoir accès à l’intériorité des gens ? Dans Carpentaria , ce n’est pas seulement une cardiognosie qui est à l’œuvre ; ce chef-d’œuvre de la terre et de la mer est cardiogéognosie, connaissance du cœur et de la terre, connaissance du cœur de la terre. À travers la manière dont le roman explore non seulement la subjectivité mais aussi les histoires ancestrales et le souffle du lieu, les voyages des mérous 18 et la connaissance stellaire du sillage et des traces, le roman affirme que le cœur est à la terre qui ne peut être spoliée et que sa connaissance attire et nécessite soin et sollicitude, ce que les Aborigènes appellent « caring for country ».
Les points de vue et épistémologies 19 qui traversent, travaillent et fondent le roman trouvent en effet leur source dans une cosmogonie et vision du monde autochtone, waanyi, qui comprend par exemple « place as being defined by cultural relationships to country, land, spirit and people » (Wright 2021, 12) 20 . Tel le « Golfe mangeur de ces maigres grillages » de Valéry, ce sont ainsi la terre et la mer du golfe de Carpentarie qui reprennent leurs droits à la fin du roman face à ceux qui ont voulu s’approprier leurs ressources : tous les chants de la terre insufflent une force de recommencement (Wright 2009, 499). Comme l’a écrit Alai en rappelant une phrase cruciale de Moby Dick (« Though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright »), dans l’écriture de Wright, « the power of love and the power of fright are presented in juxtaposition » (49). Roman intotalisable, aux interprétations et arborescences multiples, roman d’atmosphère, où les réminiscences et les récits enchâssés (qu’analyse Malik Noël-Ferdinand au chapitre 14) se font poursuite méditative des mérous géants ou poésie aérienne, Carpentaria invite le lecteur à la rêverie mais aussi à considérer le pouvoir politique subversif de la littérature et sa force de changement, à contempler l’infinie beauté du golfe de Carpentarie ainsi qu’à « parler globalement, et agir localement » (392).
Tant par sa forme, sa longueur, que par ses histoires, Carpentaria est un ouvrage incitant à la patience, à l’écoute du prochain et du lointain, tel un mérou géant dont on attend la rencontre. Avertissement ou invitation, le roman évoque que certaines connaissances manquent à Will parce qu’il n’est pas retourné écouter la fin des histoires des Anciens. Quant à Norm, il lui faudra avoir perdu son meilleur ami et risquer la mort en mer pour se rendre compte que tout fut différent à partir du moment où sa femme le quitta, et pour apercevoir le visage de celle-ci empreint d’une innocence qu’il ne lui avait jamais vue auparavant. C’est au détour d’une phrase, qui peut échapper au lecteur de ce roman de 500 pages, que Norm a cette vision, et qu’il semble enfin, pour la première fois, voir Angel Day telle qu’elle était, le lecteur peut supposer, avant d’être violée par le maire Bruiser. Ce passage furtif est comme un renversement de la statue de Glaucus, qui est défigurée et devient méconnaissable car elle est tombée dans la mer. Dans Carpentaria , à l’inverse, c’est le voyage en mer qui dessille les yeux et le cœur de Norm, et lui permet de reconnaître ce qui a été érodé, la vie d’Angel Day tout comme sa relation avec son fils Will. Le roman chuchote et chante à la fois que face à l’épaisseur de l’immémorial et des déchirures et des promesses de l’existence, il convient de sentir l’importance de l’endurance.
Dans cet ouvrage, qui s’ouvre sur un message d’accueil d’Alexis Wright et un poème écrit par l’écrivaine tahitienne autochtone Chantal T. Spitz — et traduit par Jean Anderson en anglais — en hommage à Carpentaria , 17 chapitres de 20 contributeurs de France, d’Australie, d’Hawai`i, d’Italie, de Suisse, de Polynésie française, proposent des études du roman, et fournissent les outils et références historiques, politiques, linguistiques, anthropologiques et littéraires indispensables à sa compréhension et son analyse. Afin de plonger dans le roman, et pour mieux visualiser son incipit, nous vous conseillons aussi d’aller admirer les vues aériennes du golfe de Carpentarie et de son littoral. Il existe aussi une version audio de l’ouvrage lue par l’acteur aborigène Isaac Drandich qui permet d’entendre l’humour du roman ainsi que les voix et langues de l’Australie aborigène.
Le chapitre 1 de Jeanine Leane propose une histoire et une contextualisation de la littérature et de l’écriture des Premières Nations en Australie, et pourra servir de référence aux étudiants souhaitant poursuivre des recherches sur la littérature aborigène et insulaire du détroit de Torres. Le chapitre 2 d’Ilana Mushin et de Maïa Ponsonnet offre une histoire linguistique de l’Australie et du golfe de Carpentarie, et examine l’utilisation du waanyi et d’autres langues aborigènes dans le roman. Le chapitre 3 fournit un résumé des chapitres du roman. Temiti Lehartel et Estelle Castro-Koshy partagent l’avis de Jeanine Leane selon lequel tenter de résumer le roman est réducteur (2015). Toutefois, ce travail réalisé par Temiti Lehartel pour les agrégatifs est un tour de force, tant le roman est riche. Il est proposé ici dans un but pédagogique et bienveillant. Comme nous l’a dit Christophe Régnier, « un professeur est quelqu’un qui se retourne vers les élèves et dit “attention à la marche” » 21 .
Dans le chapitre 4, Jacqui Katona et Sandra Phillips livrent une réflexion sur le sens qu’a pour elles, universitaires aborigènes, l’invitation d’Alexis Wright à défendre « la souveraineté de leur esprit, de leur imagination, et d’agir en tant que peuples souverains », et sur la portée politique et éthique de l’œuvre de Wright. Au chapitre 5, Temiti Lehartel offre une analyse des manifestations de la violence coloniale et de la violence environnementale dans le roman et prête une attention particulière à la fragmentation dans le roman. Elle montre aussi comment Wright représente la terre « as sentient and sacred », « a place for the biome and the departed, not just for living humans ». Au chapitre 6, Fiona McCann examine la manière dont Wright expose la violence des pratiques éducatives dans un contexte de colonialisme de peuplement tout en mettant en valeur les connaissances autochtones et leur transmission selon une éthique du care . Au chapitre 7, Mylène Charon tâche de penser ce que peuvent être des lectures décoloniales de Carpentaria , afin de lire ce texte selon ses propres termes, et pose l’hypothèse que l’inconfort de lecture que produit le roman est notamment lié à la définition d’une autre géographie du savoir. Au chapitre 8, Matteo Dutto analyse la manière dont la résistance se manifeste dans le roman et fait de celui-ci un acte de résistance culturel contre le colonialisme de peuplement.
Au chapitre 9, Arnaud Barras analyse l’esthétique complexe de Carpentaria et montre que sa lecture produit « a polysemous, polyphonic and polymorphic storyworld, the form of which enacts principles of Australian Indigenous ontology and epistemology while subverting colonial and capitalist discourses of oppression, assimilation and marginalization ». Au chapitre 10, Malik Noël-Ferdinand analyse « l’importance de l’ambiguïté des signes dans le roman », puis part « des spéculations épiques de Will pour voir comment l’épaisseur du tissu intertextuel et intermédial construit une esthétique d’un recyclage plastique », pour enfin explorer comment « le roman bruisse d’intertextes épiques et musicaux ».
Au chapitre 11, Brenda Machosky analyse les stratégies narratives variées de Carpentaria et prête une attention particulière au personnage d’Elias et à l’allégorie dans le roman. Le chapitre 12 de Salhia Ben Messahel s’interroge sur les mécanismes qui opèrent dans le roman et « la manière dont l’histoire s’inscrit dans le territoire et la géographie, et ce faisant subvertit la notion d’histoire officielle ». Le chapitre 13 de Peter Brown, qui s’ouvre sur un panorama de la littérature féminine autochtone du Pacifique, analyse la configuration de l’espace chez Alexis Wright.
Le chapitre 14 de Vanessa Castejon fait un état des lieux des questions de discrimination politique, de droits et d’identités autochtones. Au chapitre 15, Deirdre Gilfedder propose un historique et une mise en perspective de l’activité minière en Australie et dans le golfe de Carpentarie et de son impact sur les communautés autochtones australiennes. Le chapitre 16 est une recension critique de l’œuvre qui montre également que « [t]he force of Law evoked in Carpentaria […] is a radical rendering of the transformative capacity of Indigenous Law. » Enfin, le chapitre 17 de Kim Kruger analyse plusieurs écrits de Wright sur l’importance de « story-telling ». Elle montre comment « Wright champions Aboriginal storytelling’s millennia rich wisdom and its continuance through Aboriginal storytellers and their connection to Country and Aboriginal world views ».
Bibliographie
Alai. 2021. “On Carpentaria ”. In Antipodean China: Reflections on Literary Exchange , edited by Nicholas Jose and Benjamin Madden, 43-51. Artarmon: Giramondo. (Disponible en Kindle)
Aurima Devatine, Flora et Estelle Castro-Koshy. 2016. “Poétiques, éthique et transmission sur la toile : l’univers littéraire et le patrimoine culturel de Flora Aurima Devatine, Nathalie Heirani Salmon-Hudry et Chantal T. Spitz.” AnthroVision : Visual Creativity and Narrative Research in and on Oceania 4 (1), edited by Estelle Castro-Koshy and Géraldine Le Roux: https://journals.openedition.org/anthrovision/2307 .
Castro-Koshy, Estelle, and Philippe Guerre. 2019. “‘In My Mind I See Cross-Roads for Everything I Believe In’”: The Way Home in Alexis Wright’s Croire en l’incroyable (Believe in the Unbelievable) and Le Pacte du serpent arc-en-ciel .” Antipodes 33 (1): 79-91. https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/antipodes/vol33/iss1/7/
Castro-Koshy, Estelle. 2018. “The Poetics of Relation in Carpentaria.” In Indigenous Transnationalism: Essays on Carpentaria, edited by Lynda Ng, 118-137. Artarmon: Giramondo.
Chrétien , Jean-Louis. 2009. Conscience et roman . Paris: Éditions de Minuit.
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Flynn, Eugenia. 2021. “Aboriginal Literary History through Self-determination and Self-definition.” In Alexis Wright, Carpentaria : The Law of the Land , edited by Susan Barrett, Estelle Castro-Koshy and Laura Singeot. Paris: Belin.
Barbara Glowczewski. 2021. Réveiller les esprits de la terre . Bellevaux: Éditions Dehors.
— . 2004. Rêves en colère – Alliances aborigènes dans le Nord-Ouest australien . Paris: Plon/Terre Humaine.
Langton, Marcia. 2018. Welcome to Country: A Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia . Melbourne: Hardie Grant Travel. Disponible en kindle.
Leane, Janine. 2015. “Historyless People.” In Deepening Histories of Place , edited by Ann McGrath and Mary Anne Jebb. Canberra: ANU Press. https://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/p319821/html/ch09.xhtml#footnote-403-backlink .
Mead, Philip. 2014. “The Geopolitical Underground: Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria, Mining, and the Sacred.” In Decolonizing the Landscape: Indigenous Cultures in Australia , edited by Beate Neumaier and Kay Schaffer, 185-206. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
Ng, Lynda (ed.). 2018. Indigenous Transnationalism: Essays on Carpentaria. Artarmon: Giramondo.
Nunn, Patrick D., and Nicholas J. Reid. 2015. “Aboriginal Memories of Inundation of the Australian Coast Dating from More than 7000 Years Ago.” Australian Geographer , DOI: 10.1080/00049182.2015.1077539.
Shoemaker, Adam. “Hard Dreams and Indigenous Worlds in Australia’s North”. Hecate 34:1 (2008): 55-61.
Taçon, Paul S.C. “Rainbow Colour and Power among the Waanyi of Northwest Queensland.” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 18 (2) (2008): 163-176. doi:10.1017/S0959774308000231.
Tamaki, Jillian. 2020. “The Classic Novel that Robert MacFarlane Just Coulnd’t Finish.” New York Times , Nov 19, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/19/books/review/robert-macfarlane-by-the-book-interview.html .
van Toorn, Penny. 2006. Writing Never Arrives Naked: Early Aboriginal Cultures of Writing in Australia . Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.
Vizenor, Gerald Robert (ed.). 2008. Survivance: Narratives of Native Presence . Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Weil, Éric. 1950. Logique de la philosophie . Paris: Vrin.
Alexis Wright. 2021. “Like the Thunder.” In Antipodean China: Reflections on Literary Exchange , edited by Nicholas Jose and Benjamin Madden, 19-23. Artarmon: Giramondo.
— . 2018. “On Writing Carpentaria ”. In Indigenous Transnationalism: Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria, edited by Lynda Ng, 217-234. Artarmon: Giramondo.
— . 2017a. Tracker . Artarmon: Giramondo Publishing.
— . 2017b. “The Big Book about Small Town Australia that Travelled the World.” The Guardian , September 7, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/sep/08/the-big-book-about-small-town-australia-that-travelled-the-world .
— . 2009. Carpentaria . London: Constable.
— . 2000. Croire en l’incroyable . Arles: Actes Sud. Translated from English by Sabine Porte.
— . 1997. Plains of Promise . St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press.


1 . En français, on utilise le terme générique « aborigène » pour désigner une personne autochtone du continent australien, l’autre groupe autochtone de l’Australie étant les Insulaires du détroit de Torres qui se trouve entre la pointe nord-est de l’Australie et la Nouvelle-Guinée. En cette deuxième décennie du vingt-et-unième siècle, les Aborigènes utilisent souvent les termes Premières Nations ou membres des Premières Nations (First Nations) pour s’auto-désigner. Ils rappellent ainsi qu’ils étaient là bien longtemps avant la colonisation par les Britanniques de leur territoire. La traduction retenue à l’ONU pour traduire « Indigenous » pour la Déclaration des Nations Unies sur les droits des peuples autochtones est « autochtone » (et non « indigène »). L’anthropologue et géographe Marcia Langton (2018) résume comme suit les termes qu’il convient d’utiliser en anglais : « Aboriginal people, Torres Strait Islander people, Indigenous people, First Australians, First Nations peoples, or First People: These terms are all generally acceptable when referring to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia. Despite much political correctness and nitpicking, none of these terms is offensive. Confusion arises among non-Indigenous people because of the long history of race hate towards Aboriginal people. Colonial and early twentieth-century laws used terms such as ‘natives’, ‘aborigines’, ‘full-bloods’, ‘half-castes’, and others. »
2 . Les traductions qui suivent sont nôtres.
3 . La traduction est de Li Yao, traducteur d’Alexis Wright en chinois.
4 . Lettre à Alexis Wright de Geng Rui traduite par Li Yao après un symposium sur Carpentaria en Mongolie intérieure en 2018.
5 . Pour un historique des ouvrages qui ne sont pas de l’aire britannique, irlandaise ou nord-américaine retenus — en option (jamais en tronc commun) — jusqu’en 2021 pour le programme de l’agrégation d’anglais, voir le chapitre 6 de Fiona McCann.
6 . Sur la sélection d’Alexis Wright par Marc de Gouvenain, qui créa la collection Antipodes chez Actes Sud et discerna immédiatement le grand talent de l’autrice, voir Castro-Koshy 2018 et Castro-Koshy et Guerre 2019. Les nouvelles ont été publiées séparément en anglais, mais n’existent pas sous la forme de recueil. Cet exemple n’est pas isolé, car le roman Utopia de l’écrivain kamilaroi Philip McLaren parut en français aux Éditions Traversées avant de paraître en anglais.
7 . Introduisant un changement de paradigme, l’anthologie inclut neuf auteurs ayant écrit des lettres ou pétitions entre 1796 et 1900.
8 . Ces chiffres proviennent d’ AustLit , remarquable base de données et ressource éducative donnant accès à des informations sur les œuvres des écrivains australiens, sur les écrivains eux-mêmes et se voulant exhaustive. https://austlit.edu.au/ . Nous remercions Catriona Mills et Jonathan Hadwen d’AustLit d’avoir vérifié ces chiffres pour nous.
9 . Sur une redéfinition élargie de la littérature aborigène, des pratiques textuelles autochtones, et du « continuum littéraire aborigène » (Flynn), voir van Toorn 2006 et Flynn 2021.
10 . En outre, les recherches du géographe Patrick Nunn et du linguiste Nicholas Reid (2015) suggèrent que les traditions orales de vingt-et-un groupe aborigènes tout autour de l’Australie font état de la montée des eaux qui recouvrit l’ancien littoral de l’Australie il y a plus de 7 000 ans, permettant ainsi d’établir l’extraordinaire longévité de traditions orales dans des contextes bien définis comme le contexte australien.
11 . Ibid. : 227.
12 . Sur l’histoire politique australienne et la résistance dans le roman voir le chapitre 14 de Vanessa Castejon et le chapitre 12 de Matteo Dutto. Sur la relation entre la colonisation et l’industrie minière voir le chapitre 15 de Deirdre Gilfedder.
13 . Sur le double commencement du roman, voir le chapitre 9 d’Arnaud Barras, 11 de Brenda Machosky, 12 de Salhia Ben Messahel, et 17 de Kim Kruger, ainsi que Mead 2014. Pour un article éclairant sur les peintures rupestres du Serpent arc-en-ciel, voir Taçon 2008.
14 . Voir notamment les chapitres 6 et 7 de Fiona McCann et Malik Noël-Ferdinand pour les références intertextuelles et les chapitres 1, 4 et 17 de Jeanine Leane, Jacqui Katona et Sandra Phillips, et Kim Kruger pour l’interoralité. Pour une définition d’interoralité, voir Aurima Devatine et Castro-Koshy 2016.
15 . Sur cet aspect, voir le chapitre 5 de Temiti Lehartel.
16 . L’anthropologue Barbara Glowczewski donne la définition suivante de Dreaming : « Le terme anglais Dreaming désigne chez les Aborigènes à la fois les êtres éternels, les récits mythiques dont ils sont les acteurs, leurs itinéraires et les points d’arrêt géographiques devenus des sites sacrés, ainsi que la matrice créative qui les génère. Dreaming traduit des concepts de différentes langues aborigènes — Jukurrpa dans le désert central, Bugarrigarra dans la péninsule Dampier, Wangarr en terre d’Arnhem, etc. — qui englobent la mythologie et ses parcours dans un espace-temps lié au rêve. Cette matrice des rêves correspond non à un âge d’or passé mais à un espace-temps éternel et en devenir auquel on accède par des sortes de portails virtuels que sont les sites sacrés, les rites et la pratique onirique. Beaucoup d’Aborigènes disent que les sites renvoient des images et des sons un peu comme des radiations, des vibrations ou des ondes. En dormant sur les lieux on peut ainsi se nourrir de leur mémoire ; en dansant et en chantant, on entre en phase avec ce qui s’en dégage. Mais pour éviter que l’expérience soit dangereuse, il faut être né de cette terre et connaître des milliers de vers à chanter permettant de donner sens à ce qui se connecte en tel ou tel lieu. Les itinéraires mythiques, qui sont célébrés dans les rites sous forme de chants, de danses et de peintures sur le corps, sur des objets sacrés ou sur le sol, sont des cartes cognitives au sens où ces récits en performance consignent des informations essentielles pour la survie de la société. » (Glowczewski 2004 : 43-44).
17 . Country dans le contexte aborigène australien renvoie à la terre ancestrale, la terre de ses ancêtres.
18 . Sur l’importance et les histoires de mérous (gropers) dans le roman, voir le chapitre 13 de Peter Brown.
19 . Sur la question des épistémologies, voir le chapitre 7 de Mylène Charon.
20 . Sur cet aspect, voir le chapitre 2 d’Ilana Mushin et Maïa Ponsonnet. Selon les termes de Barbara Glowczewski, les relations que chaque humain entretient avec des lieux particuliers « reposent sur une topologie géospirituelle très complexe ». « Une cartographie d’écoparenté […] relie ainsi tout ce qui existe dans un système virtuel de relations diversifiées. » (2021 : 36, 40)
21 . Christophe Régnier fut le professeur de philosophie d’hypokhâgne des deux auteurs de cette introduction.


Chapitre 1. First Nations Writing in Australia: A Context and History
Jeanine Leane
This introduction is intended as an overview of the context and history of First Nations writing in Australia, from the beginnings of published literature to the present. Since its beginning in the 1960s, First Nations writers Kim Scott, a Noongar novelist from Western Australia, Alexis Wright, a Waanyi writer from the Gulf of Carpentaria, Melissa Lucashenko, a Bundjalung novelist and essayist, and Tara June Winch, a Wiradjuri novelist have won the nation’s most prestigious literary prize, the Miles Franklin for Australian literature. In the last two decades, First Nations novelists, poets, essayists and playwrights have been widely published and critically acclaimed nationally, and internationally. 1
I belong to the Wiradjuri Peoples of the Murrumbidya (Murrumbidgee River) of the south-west slopes of New South Wales. Wiradjuri can be interpreted in English as ‘of rivers’, ‘river peoples’, ‘freshwater peoples’. I am a writer, poet, essayist and teacher who currently lives and works on the lands and waterways of the Wurundjeri Peoples of Naarm, Melbourne. As an important part of First Nations’ writing protocols, it is important for me to ground and position myself as a First Nations writer, teacher and academic living and writing on the stolen lands of Australia—lands never ceded by the nation’s First Peoples. I am just one of a growing number of First Nations literary scholars who are currently writing to challenge and expand existing and largely limited northern hemisphere, western European post-Enlightenment literary critique and analysis to a more culturally appropriate, expansive model, that is grounded in First Nations storytelling pre- and post- invasion, intergenerational cultural transmission; and a shared colonial history of resistance, resilience and continuance.
It is crucial for me to say before I begin with the history and context of print literature, that our stories and our peoples’ stories are our literature now, but our storytelling is older than any existing literature—predates any existing body of published literature; and story is the mother of literature—the symbols on a page. As Waanyi writer Alexis Wright said, our literature was written in rock in the Countries of our origins long before any page was ever printed.
I may be the first—but I hope not the last to produce an enduring record of customs, beliefs and imaginings (David Unaipon 1925).
David Unaipon is today best known as the face that stares out from the Australian fifty-dollar note. He is celebrated as the first published Aboriginal author in Australia, as well as a notable inventor (Unaipon 2001). Today his name is the moniker for a national Indigenous writing award that in 2019 celebrated its 30 th year.
David Unaipon’s life experience encapsulates some of the challenges that Aboriginal writers have faced in gaining public recognition for their work. He was born on 28 September 1872 at the South Australian Congregational mission then known to First Nations people as Raukkan and to settlers as Point McLeay. He was identified as bright and being the son of the first Aboriginal convert and lay preacher, James Unaipon (Ngunaitponi), he was seen as a suitable candidate for education. He attended a mission school until age thirteen at which time he was sent to Adelaide to work for C.B. Young who was a prominent member of the Aborigines’ Friends’ Association (AFA) formed in 1858 in the lower Murray River region.
Unaipon is acknowledged as the first Aboriginal Australian writer by virtue of the pamphlets he wrote, published and distributed from 1927 onwards. He wrote a book-length manuscript of traditional Aboriginal stories from South Australia; Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines in 1925. It was appropriated by anthropologist and Chief Medical Officer for South Australia W. Ramsay Smith and published under his name by Angus and Robertson in 1930 with the title Myths and Legends of the Australian Aboriginals . In 2001 Unaipon’s descendent Harold Kropinyeri and settler scholars Stephen Muecke and Adam Shoemaker retrieved the original manuscript from the State Library of New South Wales and in an act of literary repatriation published the work under Unaipon’s name with the original title.
Goenpul academic, Aileen Moreton-Robinson (2000, xxii) wrote; ‘Representations are more than just symbols. They are a means by which we come to know, embody and perform reality.’ Beginning with the nature of first contact, Aboriginal Australians have been the subject of two hundred and fifty years of uninterrupted representation by white writers. Since the late seventeenth century Aboriginal Australians have been constructed and re-constructed in Anglo-western literary canons from the exotic, the primitive, the noble savage, the innocent, the child-like, the barbaric, the depraved fringe dweller, the violent demonic aggressor, the tragic ‘half-caste’, the ‘Venus jezebel’ and the militant troublemaker. The representation of Aboriginal people by non-Aboriginal authors has a long history in the Australian literary landscape. Continuing almost entirely uninterrupted till the second half of the twentieth century, explorers, sailors, soldiers, clergymen, settlers, philanthropists, anthropologists, archaeologists, government officials, settlers and even some convicts wrote of the Aborigine.
As early as 1859, author Frank Fowler wrote in Southern Lights and Shadows that; ‘our fictionists have fallen on the soil of Australia like so many industrious diggers and though merely scratching and fossicking the surface have turned up much of the precious and malleable stuff’. J.J. Healy (1978) took up this reference in his phenomenological study Literature and the Aborigine in Australia, pointing out that ‘the Aborigine was definitely part of the malleable stuff’. This certainly appears to be the case for the next hundred years of literary representation where non-Aboriginal authors had the monopoly of the dominant mode of communication–writing.
Literature and the Aborigine in Australia is an extensive and early analysis of the works of fiction that deal with Aboriginal subjects in the nineteen and twentieth centuries. It is a phenomenological work in that rather than deal solely with raw historical accounts (journals, diaries, memoirs etc) he chose to look at how such accounts impact on and emerge in the genre of fiction, and particularly how ‘Aborigines’ are used as a vessel or vehicle to speak about and/or write of issues that cut right to the core of non-Aboriginal psyche and national consciousness.
Beginning with a study of characters in novels set during the time of first contact, Healy’s (1978) work tracks ‘the Aborigine’ as a subject in literature across the landscape of nineteenth and twentieth century Australia. The chapters unfold to explore particular time frames where Aboriginal subjects/characters are ‘set’ or cast, and themes are enacted within literary genres by Aboriginal characters. His 1978 work is an extensive coverage of the trajectory that is the Australian literary landscape, and the interest he takes in ‘the Aborigine’ as a subject within is seminal in Australian literary discourse. His analysis of Australian writers draws forward the way that ‘Aborigines’ are written about, and the way Aboriginality is constructed as manifestations of ‘white consciousness’.
Healy’s work uncovers the way non-Aboriginal authors drive the Aboriginal characters and experiences they create through the literary landscape, carefully navigated to arrive at a certain point that speaks to non-Aboriginal audiences. The lack of agency that comes through the use of Aboriginal people and experiences serves as a vehicle for transporting manifestations of elements of white consciousness. He describes the containment of Aboriginal people in literature over the past two centuries as ‘moths caught in webs of words’ (Healy 1978, xvii).
By contrast the history of Aboriginal published work has had a short but intense history. Although as First Nations academics Anita Heiss and Peter Minter (2007, 2) noted; ‘that from the very early days, writing became a tool of negotiation in which Aboriginal voices could be heard in a form that was recognisable to British authority’ and many Aboriginal activists wrote in English, from Benelong’s letter to Lord Sydney’s steward in 1796 through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with activists such as David Unaipon (1872-1967), William Cooper (1861-1941), William Ferguson (1882-1950) and Pearl Gibbs (1901-1983). However, it was not until 1964 that the first Aboriginal authored volume of poetry We are Going appeared by Oodgeroo Noonuccal (aka Kath Walker). Aboriginal published literature continued in a slow trickle throughout the 1970s with the publication of works such as Jack Davis’s poetry, The First Born (1970), Margaret Tucker’s If Anybody Cared; The Autobiography of Margaret Tucker (1977), Ella Simon’s Through My Eyes (1978), Ida West’s Pride Against Prejudice: Reminiscences of a Tasmanian Aboriginal (1984) and Sally Morgan’s My Place 1987. Works that did appear were mainly in the form of biography, autobiography or life writing. Absent from the scene was any consistent effort or initiatives by publishing houses or governments to encourage and nurture First Nations writing. Consequently, as Australia approached the bicentenary of the 1788 Invasion (aka the ‘Bicentenary of Settlement to white Australians) the lack of Aboriginal writing by and representations of First Nations people by First Nations writers was striking.
Since the 1980s, at least, there has been a proliferation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writing and publication across many platforms (Heiss and Minter 2007). Not insignificant to this expansion were various public and private initiatives to support and mentor Aboriginal writing and writers. For example, in the mid-1980s, Australia’s only all Indigenous publishing house, Magabala Books was established. Magabala’s beginnings were part of a wider movement by First Nations people of self-determination and self-representation in government, education, health, media, visual and performing arts and literature. First Nations’ activism and resistance began in 1788, as did the complex relationship between First Nations peoples and writing–both as an incarcerator and a liberator. Aboriginal self-determination in the 1980s was part of this ongoing resistance.
1988 saw the coining of the term ‘White Australia has a Black History’ . A celebration of nation through a re-enactment of the arrival of the First Fleet in Botany Bay on January 26, 1788, was planned for 1988. At the same time as this event was taking place, 40,000 Aboriginal people from across Australia, and their non-Aboriginal supporters staged what was known at the time as the largest public march in Sydney. Busloads of First Nations people from across rural and remote Australia came to Sydney to march in peaceful protest of Invasion Day, and the continued colonisation of Australia which continues to cause injustice, suffering and dispossession of First Nations peoples. Protesters marched through Sydney carrying Aboriginal flags and chanting ‘Land Rights’. The protest, captured on national and international media posed a visible challenge to white Australia’s construction of narratives of ‘discovery’, and ‘settlement’. It was a statement of survival showing that despite Australian history excluding Aboriginal voices, we are still here, and we will continue to fight for our rights as the nation’s First People.
Not everyone agreed with what some settler historians were quick to describe as ‘the Black Armband’ view of Australian history. Australia faced the year 1988 as a divided nation. The debate over how we see our past, unsurprisingly centred on the past treatment of the Aboriginal people. Since the Bicentenary of Invasion in 1988, and with greater intensity since the High Court’s decisions in Mabo (1992) and Wik (1996), competing attempts to explain Australia’s past have been swept up in the rhetoric of Australian politics. In an earlier period, the black armband was a symbol of both black protest and grieving. From 1993 ownership of the term has been contested reflecting a parallel contest over ‘historical truth’. The socio-political context of settler Australia and the ongoing ‘history wars’ have specific and ongoing ramifications for our literature. Not the least of which is the abysmal job that most national histories have done thus far in their representations of First Nations peoples.
In 1988, amid the polarised politics and the momentum spurred by the settler bicentenary, the University of Queensland Press set up an award named in David Unaipon’s honour for an unpublished Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander writer. The inaugural presentation was in 1989. The award has continued annually ever since and has been a major factor in the ‘arrival’ of Aboriginal published literature since 1988 to the wider reading public of the nation. Its presence as a growing body of literature is a significant intervention not only to the Australian literary landscape, but to the national mythscape 2 of peaceful and triumphant ‘settlement’ of Australia.
Since then, First Nations writing has grown across many literary genres. The field of fiction has seen a proliferation of Aboriginal work across the genres of poetry, social realism narrative prose, young adult fiction, plays, historical fiction, neo-traditionalism, Aboriginal realism and popular female literature genres. For example, there are now a range of Aboriginal writers publishing poetry, including Lionel Fogarty (1995, 2004 & 2007), Lisa Bellear (1996), Yvette Holt (2008), Elizabeth Hodgson (2008), Kerry Reed-Gilbert (1996, 2000 & 2002), Barbara Nicholson (2000), Jennifer Martiniello (1999, 2000 & 2002), Ali Cobby Eckermann (2009), Jeanine Leane (2010 & 2018), Ellen van Neerven (2016 & 2020), Natalie Harkin (2016 & 2020), Evelyn Araluen (2020) and Elfie Shiosaki (2020). There is a growing field of narrative prose in social realism represented by such authors as, for example, John Muk-Muk Burke (1994), Kim Scott (1993, 1999, 2010, 2017), Melissa Lucashenko (1997, 1998, 2002, 2014, 2019), Vivienne Cleven (2001), Larissa Behrendt (2004, 2009, 2021), Tony Birch, (2011, 2015, 2019) Marie Munkara (2009), Jared Thomas (2014, 2016) Anita Heiss (2021), Claire Coleman (2016) and Nardi Simpson (2020).
The written genre of plays is another staging ground that builds the larger context of Aboriginal experience from our standpoints. Contemporary examples in this category include Ernie Blackmore, Wesley Enoch and Leah Purcell 3 . Historical fiction is another important vehicle for representing Aboriginal standpoints and Eric Wilmott (1987) and Bruce Pascoe (1986, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 2007 2014) are well-known. The Murri, the late Sam Watson (1990), gained recognition for his crafting of the neo-traditionalist narrative form, and Alexis Wright (2006) similarly so for her narratives of Aboriginal realism.
These authors represent only some of the more well-known and recognised Aboriginal authors who are constructing the growing field of Aboriginal literature. The plots and characters in their various productions give creative expression to a range of themes and realities emerging from within Aboriginal experience. These include generational stories of exile and longing, identity stories of becoming and homecoming, stories of urban life, mission life, small town prejudice, racial intolerance, broken lives and survival. But they also cross themes of Aboriginal dreams and aspirations, of Aboriginal success and of participation in non-Aboriginal society on Aboriginal terms.
In these forms, Aboriginal writers draw on and express the diversity, multiplicity and complexity of historical and contemporary experiences as well as individual creative urge and talent. Like non-Aboriginal authors, Aboriginal writers assume particular writing positions that emerge from the political and social context of their times and their backgrounds or experiences or interests. These shape the forms, themes and purposes for writing. Although Aboriginal writers write from the context of their own shared Aboriginal experience, care has to be taken when considering for whom Aboriginal authors write. However, whoever Aboriginal writers purport to write for, their increasing publication and recognition as serious writers brings increased non-Aboriginal readership.
There is no doubt that representation from the Aboriginal side of the frontier fills many silences and gaps that were missing from Australia’s literary landscape. This recent phenomenon in Australian literature has ‘unsettled’ the previous body of settler literature. In this relatively short time, a body of works across a range of genres sees Aboriginal literary representation of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, which constructs Aboriginality and non-Aboriginality differently to the previous trajectory where white writers had the monopoly on the literary construction of Aboriginality. This emerging and still growing Aboriginal literary canon does three important things for the purpose of this study; first, it brings to the forefront in Australian literature Aboriginal characters that are active, not passive like the previous trajectory of white representations depicted. Secondly, the speaking active black subjects in these literary worlds have unsettled settler claims and exemplify the stakes that emerge in contemporary literary encounters which not only retell the past but implicate the present and future as well in terms of ongoing investments in nationhood and forging a national identity in the now shared space of settlers and the nation’s first people. Finally, the two bodies of literature elicit that Australia’s past is more than ever publicly contested.
Presence of First Nations literatures is a significant intervention into the Australian literary and socio-cultural landscape–it challenges, expands and enriches what was for almost two centuries an otherwise monocultural history and literature of nation. Narratives such as Carpentaria (Wright 2007) present Aboriginal realism that refuses to be contained within the confines of colonial calendars or the limits of western rationalism. Similarly, Taboo (Scott 2017) confronts the language of colonialism with its euphemisms for bloodshed, massacre and dispossession and presents the wider reading public with a vision of a shared history through truth telling, where settlers are the listeners and euphemisms are replaced with the truths of massacres and dispossession that must be told before any healing can occur.
It would be a gross injustice and oversimplification to see and/or read our writing as only a reaction to colonialism. As First Nations Cherokee writer and literary scholar Daniel Heath Justice points out in his 2019 work Why Indigenous Literatures Matter, while First Nations peoples have undoubtedly experienced trauma, we are not just the products of colonialism–we are not just made of trauma. Heath Justice points out there has been and there still is inequality and racial discrimination towards First Nations peoples, but we are not just the products of colonialism: it is not what determines our being. It can’t be, because if it is, we don’t continue. If we’re nothing but trauma, there’s no future. We can experience trauma, and not be made of it. There is much in late twentieth and twenty-first century First Nations writing that speaks to the strength that we are made of, and to our continuance as the nation’s first storytellers.
There is still much to be done in the colonial nation of Australia that has and, in many ways, continues to overwrite First Nations her/histories. There is still a long way to go in terms of the recognition of Aboriginal rights and sovereignty on stolen lands never ceded. As I write this, despite significant national pressure from First Nations peoples, no treaty has ever been negotiated between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and the Federal Government at any level. 2021 marks the 30 th anniversary since the findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody were handed down. In the three decades that have passed, many of the recommendations of the report have not been implemented and, tragically 478 more lives have been lost in custody since 1991. Our literature across the many different genres of poetry, prose, creative nonfiction, social commentary, essays and plays does the job of telling our resilience and vision for the future that national settler history fails to do.
A fitting place to end is with the latest creative offerings of First Nations writings. I would like to mention four new anthologies of First Nations literature that were released in 2020 and 2021. Homeland Calling: Words from a New Generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voices edited by Mununjali poet and writer Ellen van Neerven was released in 2020 by Desert Pea Media. Homeland Calling is a collection of poems created from hip-hop song lyrics written by First Nations youth from across Australia that channel culture and challenge stereotypes. Also edited by Ellen van Neerven is Flock published in 2021 by the University of Queensland Press (UQP). Flock is a wide-ranging and diverse collection of short fiction that features both established and emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers. Gomeroi poet, essayist and legal studies scholar Alison Whittaker edited Fire Front: First Nations Poetry and Power Today, published by UQP in 2020 and 2021. Divided into five thematic sections, each one introduced by a key First Nations thinker, Fire Front reflects on the power and endurance of First Nations poetry through the works of some of Australia’s best known First Nations poets alongside new and emerging voices. 2020 also saw the release of Guwayu– for all times: A collection of First Nations Poems commissioned by Red Room Poetry, published by Magabala Books and edited by Wiradjuri writer Jeanine Leane. This fiercely uncensored collection features 61 poems from First Nations poets in 12 different First Nations languages. Together the poems in Guwayu are a timely intervention into Australian poetry publishing and an exquisite expression of living First Nations culture.
In closing I would like to leave you with the words of my offering from Guwayu.
Nurambang yali—Country speaks
~ Wiradjuri interpretations provided by Aunty Elaine Lomas
It’s been too long since I sat on granite in my
Country and thought
Too many years since I breathed this air–
Bunyi-ng–ganha
Felt this dirt–Ngamanhi Dhaagun
Smelt this dust–Budha–nhi Bunan
Listened for the sounds of her words that say
‘Balandha–dhuraay Bumal-ayi-nya Wumbay
abuny (yaboing)’–History does not have the
first claim. Nor the last word.
Nghindhi yarra dhalanbul ngiyanhi gin gu
‘You can speak us now!’
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Elfie Shiosaki. 2021. Homecoming . Broome, W.A.: Magabala Books.
Ellen Van Neerven. 2016. Comfort Food . St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.
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1 . See for example Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha poet Ali Cobby Eckermann who was awarded the Windham Campbell Literature Prize for Poetry, 2017; and Eualeyai/Kamillaroi academic and writer Larissa Behrendt who won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, 2005.
2 . A mythscape is a national narrative of half-truths, perpetuated by national settler literature and history that is culturally transmitted and continued through the education system.
3 . Playwrights are not listed in the bibliography as their works are performed and not always published as stand-alone texts.


Chapitre 2. Country, People and Language in Carpentaria
Ilana Mushin and Maïa Ponsonnet
Australian languages: background
This chapter concentrates on the representation of language in Carpentaria , and how this contributes to shaping the story and its literary significance. The Aboriginal residents of Desperance mostly speak English throughout the novel. Some characters, particularly the ‘old people’ use words from Waanyi, a language which was spoken in the region in which the novel is placed, and which is an ancestral language of Alexis Wright. In order to contextualize this usage, we will first summarize some of the linguistic history of Australia, and especially around the southern coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria. In the second part of the chapter, we examine the use of the Waanyi language and other Aboriginal languages within the novel.
Language and identity in Australia
A recent estimation of the number of ‘languages’ spoken in Australia in 1788, when the British Fleet landed to begin colonial expansion, is around 400 (Bowern 2021a). Given that humans have occupied what is now Australia for more than 80,000 years (at least 35,000 years in the Southern Gulf region where Carpentaria takes us (Roberts 2005, 2)), this diversity is perhaps unsurprising. Languages are made to diversify, as human cultures shift, responding to changes in climate, location and interaction with other people. The Australian linguistic landscape is no exception. Today, as a result of colonization, about 20 of these languages are still widely spoken and learnt by children, and probably 120 of them are still known by a smaller number of people in adults or elders generations (see below).
Linguistic diversity has different implications in Australia compared to what Europeans are used to. The modern European (and generally ‘western’) notion of ‘Nation’ canonically projects intimate associations between a people, a territory and a language (Foley 2005). These three elements are taken to define and constitute what we call a ‘country’ as a cultural and political entity. This organization normally assumes (and/or enforces) monolingualism as constitutive of the Nation: the citizens of a country are expected to all speak a single language. In European countries, this ideology drove the progressive imposition of unified national idioms, replacing regional languages, as a result of state policies around education, administration and other government services. France is an example of this dynamics (Bourdieu 2001).
Very different linguistic ideologies prevail among Australian First Nations (see for instance Rumsey 2018). In most parts of the continent, languages are normally closely associated with tracts of land, due to their cosmological origins. Languages are regarded as having emerged in creation times, when ancestral forces created the land, the animals and peoples who populate it, the social rules they would abide by, and the tongues they would speak. According to this ancestral law 1 , a language belongs to a tract of land, and as a result, the people who also belong to this land belong to the language as well, as illustrated in the diagram below (from Rumsey 2018, 93). This sense of ‘belonging’ does not imply that one necessarily lives on the land or speak the language they belong to. Instead, it represents a reciprocal intimate association and a form of cultural ownership that is independent of how people live their lives.
Based on these conceptions of language, there are no expectations amongst Australian Aboriginal groups that people who speak different languages remain socially or politically distinct. In pre-colonial time as today, speakers of different languages have ‘lived’ together: they intermarry, share social networks and organizations, rituals etc. Each person usually identifies with one specific language, corresponding to a specific land, but this does not mean that they live in this location and/or interact only with speakers of the same idiom. As a result, at least prior to colonization, most people in Australia spoke several languages. One usually mastered the respective languages of each parent, as well as that of their grandparents and/or other close relatives, and potentially a few more. It was not uncommon for people to speak around five languages. People also had passive competences, i.e. there were languages that they could understand but not speak. Even today, in communities that have remained multilingual, it is not uncommon to hear conversations taking place in several tongues, with each person speaking one and understanding the others (Singer 2018). This is important to keep in mind to understand how the characters of Carpentaria use the Waanyi language.



Fig. 1. Differing understandings of the nexus of people, land and language. From Rumsey (2018, 93).
Emergence and development of linguistic diversity in Australia
Apart from some early records produced by amateur linguists, the systematic investigation of Australian languages by non-Aboriginal linguists truly started in the second half of 20 th century. Scientific research offers another interesting perspective on Australian languages, their origins and their diversity.
Although the exact history of humans’ arrival in Australia is not known, it is generally accepted that the first inhabitants came by sea from what is now Asia in one, or perhaps two relatively small groups, at least 80,000 years ago (probably longer). We cannot be sure about what languages or how many languages were spoken by these original migrants, nor whether they were in any way related to the languages spoken in Australia at the time of the British colonization. The techniques currently used by historical linguists to deduce the origins and developments of contemporary languages do not normally offer insights beyond ≈10,000 years before present. As a result, we do not have the means to discover whether contemporary languages were related to those spoken by the very first human settlers. Despite recent advances in historical linguistics to harness computational power to detect patterns in genetic evolution to infer deep historical connections between languages (e.g. Bouckaert, Bowern & Atkinson 2018), there is still much that remains unknown about Australian languages (Miceli 2015). While it is commonly hypothesized that all Australian languages stem from a common ancient source, it is not yet clear whether Australia was the only landing place for the early navigators that first populated the continent or whether they also settled other territories; or whether, for example, they branched out from groups speaking a common ancestor language also spoken elsewhere. As a result, currently it is not possible to trace relations between Australian languages and languages from other continents.
Based on what we know at this time of writing, the southern Gulf region where Carpentaria is set has emerged as a hypothetical cradle for Australia’s linguistic diversity. Note that since this is based on recent research, Alexis Wright was not aware of this theory when she wrote the book. On the basis of linguistic, archeological and genetic evidence, in 2018 a study suggested that around 5,000 years ago, one language (really a hypothesized ‘protolanguage’) began to spread from its roots around the south-western corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria, not far from the fictional town of Desperance (Bouckaert et al. 2018, Harvey & Mailhammer 2018). This hypothesis remains contested (Miceli 2020), yet there is currently no alternative proposal.
The models that have produced this hypothesis cannot yet tell us what motivated the spread of this postulated linguistic spread–for instance, whether its speakers moved and replaced earlier populations who spoke other languages, or whether the people living in those regions adopted this language along with other new technologies and cultural practices. What the model does suggest is that by 1788, around three quarters of the languages spoken on the mainland of Australia were descendent languages of this one hypothesized ‘protolanguage’, just as French and English are descendent languages of a hypothesized proto-Indo European language. That group constitutes what is called the ‘Pama-Nyungan’ language family, named after the word for (Aboriginal) person in the far Northeast ( pama ) and the far Southwest ( nyungar ) of the continent. Alongside the very large and widespread Pama-Nyungan family, the northwest corner of Australia is home to around 27 other language families, each consisting of many different languages (see Bowern 2021b for details of this classification).
How diverse were the 400 or so Australian languages spoken when the country was invaded? Some Australian languages differ from each other to the extent that their speakers cannot even recognize similarities—as different as, say, French and Hindi. Other Australian languages are regarded as ‘similar’ to one another, albeit not mutually intelligible, perhaps like French and Spanish. Yet others have recognized differences but their speakers mostly understand one another, as with two varieties of French like the one spoken in Marseille and the one spoken in Montreal for instance. Groups may claim different language names and identities with very little overt differences in words, grammar and pronunciation. This can be understood in the light of the intense multilingualism described in the previous section.
Language ecology in the Gulf Region
It takes a particular kind of knowledge to go with the river, whatever its mood. It is about there being no difference between you and the movement of water as it seasonally shifts it tracks according to its mood... In one moment, during a Wet season early in the last century, the town lost its harbour waters when the river simply decided to change course, to bypass it by several kilometres. Just like that . (p. 3)
Before she introduces the reader to any of the human characters, Alexis Wright introduces us to the country in which Carpentaria takes place–a land of rivers, mudflats and coastline; a climate of wet and dry, and cyclones. The geological and archeological record of the Southern coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria shows a country with fluid demarcations of land and sea. These varied in the very long term under the effect of glaciation and melting; and in the shorter term due to more local topological modifications of the coast and water courses. One of the impacts of this fluidity on the culture of the peoples who have lived in this country is that different language groups at times found themselves isolated on islands that could support reasonable populations, while at other times, the ancestors of the Aboriginal people in Carpentaria may have found themselves competing with other groups for resources. The shifting coastline of the Gulf may have impacted the placement and replacement of peoples. There is linguistic evidence that in the past Waanyi country lay away from the coast: words for sea-related flora and fauna (e.g. dugong, walya ) have been borrowed from neighboring coastal languages, Yanyuwa or Ganggalida.
In a study of the linguistic and archeological evidence for the spread and classification of the neighboring Tangkic languages (which include the aforementioned Ganggalida language), Memmott et al. (2016) posits that speakers of Waanyi replaced coastal people from another language group around 400-800 years ago. Memmott hypothesizes a ‘severe environmental event, which caused depopulation and abandonment of country for some time.’ (p. 115). More recently, and subsequent to colonization, there is evidence that the Waanyi language group has been moving coastwards, claiming country whose inhabitants had fallen to disease or massacre (Trigger 1992). These migrations speak to the ebbs and flows of the Gulf coastline, evoked so effectively in Wright’s novel. It may perhaps also echo the apparent contradictory claims to country alluded to in the novel–although these were in any case not uncommon in Australia, irrespective of any specific migratory movements.
As in other parts of the continent, several language groups lived together, sharing features of social organization, intermarrying, and maintaining cultural connectivity to country. As alluded to above, the ‘language of the old people’ in Carpentaria, Waanyi, has a closely related western neighbor called Garrwa. Linguists group Waanyi and Garrwa together into what they call the ‘Garrwan’ language family. Waanyi and Garrwa people also see their languages as distinct but related. Linguistic descriptions undertaken by Mushin, Breen and Laughren show a great deal of grammatical similarity between these languages, with greater differences in the vocabulary. This is illustrated in the following question and answer interchange between Norm Phantom to the bush woman Gardajala (p. 288). The first line ( italics ) is in Waanyi, the second line ( underlined , which we are providing) is in Garrwa.
Waanyi: Waningkanyi ninji nanangkurru jila ? ‘What are you doing there?’ (lit. Why are you going there?)
Garrwa: Wanyinkanyi ninji nanangkurri jilajba ?
Waanyi: Wawaru . ‘Nothing’
Garrwa: Miku
The Garrwan languages have resisted clear classification by linguists. In particular, being surrounded by non-Pama-Nyungan languages to the west and east, and by Pama-Nyungan languages to the north and south they bear resemblances with both. As a result it is unclear which group they belong to.
Another important group of languages situated in the Southern Gulf region are the Tangkic languages, traditionally spoken along the coastal region along which the novel is set. This group includes languages spoken on the Wellesley group of Islands in the Gulf adjacent to this part of the coastline. Tankgic languages are classified as non-Pama-Nyungan. The Tangkic language Ganggalida was traditionally spoken in country immediately adjacent to Waanyi, and in earlier times, Waanyi people and Ganggalida people would have intermarried and spoken each other’s languages.
None of the languages of the Gulf region was ever spoken by more than a few thousands of people, probably hundreds for some. With small populations, they were sustained by the connectivity of language to country, as we discussed above, that made language a core part of cultural continuity and identification with one’s family’s country. The lack of a dominant lingua franca in this region, a common feature of Australian language ecologies before colonization, also contributed to the maintenance of a number of structurally different languages in this highly multilingual region.
The Gulf’s language ecology today
In Carpentaria , the Aboriginal residents of Desperance no longer speak Waanyi (or Garrwa or Ganggalida), and the language is ‘invisible’ to the White residents in their daily lives. This is true of all of the actual Gulf settlements along the southern coastline. The survival of languages depends on their transmission from one generation to the next, and the maintenance of mundane social contexts of daily life in which languages are used. The interruption of intergenerational transmission and the shift away from speaking Waanyi have a number of causes, many of which are common in the story of the colonization of Australia.
Firstly, the arrival of European invaders to the Gulf region was preceded by diseases that resulted in significant population declines. With languages spoken by only hundreds of people, this in itself may have affected their viability. Dozens of documented massacres contributed to massive population decline in the 19 th and early 20 th centuries (Roberts 2005, Bottoms 2013). For the survivors, normal access to food and water was disrupted by the usurping of land for White settlement and the pastoral industry, resulting in fewer ways that families could support themselves independently on their traditional country, and resulting in further dislocation. As anthropologist David Trigger has documented,
… the colonial invasion led to an unprecedented and widespread series of movements. This was generally from west to east, but not entirely… Some Waanyi groups moved west from their traditional territories ... to stations on the Barkly Tableland… A considerable number of Garrwa and Yanyula [Yanyuwa] people moved east, often along the coast, to stations in Queensland, and many Ganggalida people joined those of other language groups in camps on the fringes of Burketown. (Trigger 1992, 26) 2
As noted above, the health of languages in multilingual communities was achieved through connectivity to country–something that was increasingly harder to maintain as groups struggled to survive. In addition, while these language groups had long been in contact with each other, they had not been forcibly brought together, and this changed the dynamics of multilingualism.
The colonizers of the Gulf country were predominantly English-speaking, and initially they did not have much cause for direct communication with the local Aboriginal groups. When they did have reasons to converse, they used an Australian Pidgin–a variety of language usually developed for trade and simple interactions, in this case based on English grammar and English and Aboriginal language lexicon (see Meakins 2014 for more details). This English-based Pidgin served as a lingua franca not only for interactions between Aboriginal people and White settlers, but also between Aboriginal people, especially those who came into the Gulf country with the White settlers from places that had not been in contact with the Gulf region prior to the colonial period.
The addition of Pidgin to the Gulf language ecology did not in itself cause the decline in the use of traditional languages such as Waanyi, as Pidgin could simply have added to an already multilingual context. A much greater influence in the 20 th century was the Queensland colonial government policy of so-called ‘protection’ of Aboriginal people by forcibly moving them into Missions and Reserves, by closely controlling their movements, and by placing children in dormitories and separating them from their families (Trigger 1992 provides a summary of this policy, the 1897 Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act, that was in force until 1971). In addition to separation from family, there was a concerted effort to suppress the transmission of Aboriginal languages in favor of English. While families made sometimes heroic efforts to pass on their own languages, over the 20 th century, all the languages of the region of Carpentaria became critically endangered, and ceased to be spoken as languages of daily life.
The language of daily life of most Aboriginal residents of this region today might be called ‘Aboriginal English’, a variety clearly influenced by Aboriginal cultural and linguistic heritage (Dickson 2019 ; Rodriguez Louro & Collard 2021). Aboriginal varieties of English exist in most parts of Australia. In some regions, the varieties in question are so different from standard Australian English that they are regarded as different languages, i.e. types of ‘creoles’ (e.g. Schultze-Berndt ; Meakins & Angelo 2013 ; Munro & Mushin 2016).
While languages like Waanyi are no longer spoken in daily life, since the late 20 th century there has been an upsurge in work by communities and non-Aboriginal linguists to reclaim linguistic knowledge and to revive traditional language use (Stebbins, Eira & Couzens 2018). Linguist Gavan Breen, who is acknowledged by Wright, worked with Waanyi speakers in the 1980s and produced some documentary work. More recently, linguist Mary Laughren has worked with surviving Waanyi speakers since the early 2000s and there have been regular Waanyi language camps on Waanyi country to support the revitalization of that language. A Waanyi dictionary and grammar is now in production. 3 This work reflects a cultural shift in Australia to recognize the significance of the linguistic heritage of its First Peoples. The Australian school curriculum now has an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages curriculum; organizations like First Languages Australia 4 and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies 5 support the revitalization efforts of communities. So, in spite of the drastic consequences of colonization, it is possible to see a future where languages like Waanyi are recognized to be part of the language ecology of the Gulf country, and perhaps used again in some situations of daily life–perhaps not as the main language of communication, but as culturally meaningful additional languages favored in some symbolically loaded contexts (e.g. official ceremonies, arts…).
Aboriginal ways of speaking in Carpentaria
In the second part of this chapter, we describe the way Waanyi and other Aboriginal ‘ways of speaking’ are represented in Carpentaria . While Aboriginal languages do not have an overwhelming presence in the novel, their relatively rare occurrences are meaningful in several important ways.
Firstly, the use of Waanyi serves to index not only an Aboriginal presence, but also, to some extent, an Aboriginal narratee, which may be the Waanyi-speaking ‘Pricklebush people’. For this reason—among many others—, it would be extremelly interesting to gain insights on the perception of Carpentaria by a reader who speaks Waanyi. Unfortunately we cannot offer this here, however we will try and envisage this perspective as best as we can in the following sections. Waanyi words and speech recur, occasionally but regularly, throughout the chapters; crucially, some Waanyi words remain opaque to a non-Waanyi-speaking reader. This opacity contributes to position Waanyi speakers as key, overarching narratees of the entire work. This observation, and the descriptions of how this operates offered below, should be understood in the context of the complex and subtle narrative structure of Carpentaria . This structure has been analysed elsewhere (Castro-Koshy 2018) and we will refrain from diving too deep into it in our discussion. Suffice to say that Alexis Wright’s writing style channels incessant shifts between a multitude of narratees, and that this principle forms the background of our observations.
Another important function of language use—including Aboriginal language use—in Carpentaria is as a marker of social differentiation. Importantly, this is not a fixed distinction that would be ‘given’ to the reader based on the observation of how characters speak. On the contrary, not much can be inferred from the way characters deal with English grammar for instance. Instead, language use is represented as a tool recruited by the characters themselves to signal and create ever-changing social demarcations (Silverstein 1976).
In the following sections we explain how this unfolds in the novel by looking at three aspects of the representation of Aboriginal languages in the text. We start with isolated Waanyi words usually spoken in the narrator’s voice. In the second section, we describe the ways in which the novel’s characters use traditional Aboriginal languages. In the last section, we discuss how they use English.
Waanyi words
Waanyi words appear in isolation within sentences in English, in paragraphs that are presented in the narrator’s voice. The choice of words used in this way is coherent throughout the book, as reported below. They generally evoke various dimensions—natural, social and supernatural—of an Aboriginal world that is not necessarily accessible or decipherable by non-Waanyi readers. The sense of mystery associated with this world is conveyed partly by the meanings of the Waanyi words that occur in the text; and partly by the fact that their meaning is not always fully retrievable from the text (sometimes, it is not at all).
How easy Alexis Wright chose to make the meaning of the Waanyi words she used transparent to the non-Waanyi-speaking reader varies a lot. Jarrbikala ‘policeman’, for instance, is plainly translated in its first occurrence (p. 189). Words related to the natural environment tend to be retrievable from context. Some of the words that allude to the social or supernatural worlds, on the other hand, are left somewhat opaque (without hampering comprehension of the plot). The occurrence, in the narrator’s voice, of words that could only be fully understood by speakers of the Waanyi language indexes an Aboriginal audience, and more specifically the Waanyi-speaking tribe, as key narratees. This Waanyi-speaking audience also surfaces on p. 9 for instance:
Traditional people gathered up for the event mumbled, Ngabarn, Ngabarn, Mandagi , and so did Normal in a very loud and sour-sounding voice over the loudspeaker in his extremely short thankyou address, although those who knew a fruit salad full of abuse in the local languages knew he was not saying Thank you! Thank you! […] ’ (p. 9)
In the sections below we present the Waanyi words used in Carpentaria , considering those pertaining to the natural world first, then the social world, and finally the supernatural world. As we examined these words we consulted the draft Waanyi dictionary kindly provided by Mary Laughren, albeit keeping in mind that most readers would not have access to it, or to any further insights about Waanyi than what is in the novel.
The natural world
We identified 13 Waanyi words related to nature or the environment, listed in Table 1 below. Most of these occur only once throughout the novel, some of them a few times albeit in the same or adjacent paragraphs. This semantic domain does not account for a large number of occurrences in total, but this vocabulary is distributed relatively evenly throughout the text. The dissemination of these Waanyi words indexes an Aboriginal perspective on country, including a realm of knowledge about the environment that non-Waanyi readers have no direct access to. Further, the reader is regularly reminded that the narrator of Carpentaria is (also) addressing an audience who speaks Waanyi, i.e. an Aboriginal audience. In other words, the novel is not simply ‘about’ Aboriginal characters, but instead establishes a world where Aboriginal characters and people stand as privileged (if implicit) recipients.
They were squatting like a pair of dogs sheltering under one prickle bush to the next, in little yaji nests, and going about bewildered, cowering from one nothing place to another. (p. 117)
It can be noted that species names are occasionally given in Latin as well. In the occurrence below, this is qualified as ‘ scientify ’, a term that recurs throughout the novel to index the distance of the ‘old people’ towards scientific knowledge. At other times, Latin names are used without clear distanciation (e.g. p. 445). The theme of syncretism is recurrent, and occasionally discussed explicitly (e.g. p. 117).
Fishman patted the dry skin of the creature, and called it the giant Queensland groper, Promicrops lanceolatus . Norm was amused with the Fishman’s knowledge of science. Fishman smiled, and said maybe it weighed nearly a ton, and joked, ‘All that scientify stuff is easy. You could learn it in a day.’ (p. 238)

word
meaning
occurrences
wangala
Name of the river.
p. 9
yidimil
The star of the morning, i.e. Venus.
pp. 90 and 486
yaji
Nests. The context could suggest that it is a species of birds, but the Waanyi dictionary confirms it can be interpreted as ‘nest’ in this context.
p. 177
jurrbu
Hole in the ground. (Word spoken by spirits, see section on the supernatural world below.)
p. 185
kunbulki
Flat country.
p. 184/185
kangolgi
Morning Glory cloud.
p. 247
wirriwidji
Whirly wind.
p. 264
dumularra
Flood water.
p. 286
bari
Bad, used to qualify waters.
p. 289 (twice)
majinmaja
Fish hawk.
p. 467 (three times)
maliwi
Star in the west.
p. 477
Kudawedangire
Constellation. Pleiades or the Seven Sisters.
p. 485
jinkiji
Star (generic).
p. 486

Table 1. Waanyi words in the semantic domain of nature and environment.
The social world
Carpentaria also contains a number of Waanyi words that refer to people or groups of people. This includes in particular labels for people with status or authority, as listed in Table 2. Malbu , which means ‘old man’, is used 22 times in the novel. The word occurs mostly between pages 269 and 281, which tell us about the interactions between the old Norm Phantom and his grandchild Bala. Note that Bala is not a common name in Australian English, and could be an Aboriginal name, since bala is the Waanyi word for ‘sky’ (p. 269). Bala calls his grandfather ‘ Malbu ’, and this Waanyi word occurs in dialogues, and/or in the narrator’s voice but indexing Bala’s perspective. Other occurrences indicate that Malbu is a deference term used not only with relatives, but more broadly by younger people addressing older men (see p. 452, where the middle-age male character Will Phantom addresses an ‘old man’). This reflects a regional practice, whereby Malbu (which is found in Garrwa as well) is indeed used in English or Aboriginal English to refer to or address old men, as observed by Ilana Mushin.
The second most frequent word in the ‘social realm’ is jarrbikala ‘policeman’. It is used five times in the book, alternatively in the mouth of Aboriginal characters or in the narrator’s voice. In addition, we found a few expressions including the word damu , apparently referring to respectable old men. While the meaning of Malbu is easily understandable from the context, and the meaning of jarrbikala is spelt out in its first occurrence (p. 189), the exact sense of damu and surrounding expressions are not fully retrievable. This signals the existence of an alternative social world, and leaves the details of its organization somewhat opaque at the same time. It is interesting that this operates through the use of words that refer to males exclusively. This could simply be an effect of the small number of female characters (and even smaller number of female characters with prestige or authority) in the novel.
word
meaning
occurrences
Malbu

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