“We haven’t reached our postcolonial moment yet”: Chelsea Watego on Colonialism and the Canon | Indigenous Australians

Famous scholar and writer from Munanjahli and the South Sea Islands Chelsea watego wrote his book unambiguously Another day in the colony for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readership.

Nothing prevents you from reading it if you are not native. But if you do it with an open mind – even if you’re the type of “progressive” whitefella who considers yourself aware of the awful and violent racism that Australia is founded on – you could wander for days afterward ringing your bell. . your ears.

Part of it will be the sound of pennies hitting the ground. It will also be the internal alarm of an awakening consciousness that no matter how much you think you understand or even sympathize, you cannot fully. So, best read it with one simple proposition in mind: you will never understand what it is like to confront oppressive colonial structures in almost every aspect of your life, and every day of it.

“Look for conversations that aren’t designed for you – well, that’s the experience the Blackfellas have with a lot of accounts about us,” Watego explains. “… And that’s what I want readers to feel that this book isn’t written for them to understand – you know, you can sit and listen, but maybe not all that.” there is to take.

“And that’s OK. It’s the complete opposite of colonization – you can see something, but you don’t have to take it and claim it.

Watego speaks on the phone from his home in Brisbane amid planning the next night’s Fortitude Valley book launch and party for 150 native comrades. Even before the book hit stores late last month, pre-orders required an early reprint (and one since).

Those of us for whom the book was not intended should begin with the title – Another Day in the Colony.

She explains, “Another Day in the Colony is a hashtag that came out of Blackfella Twitter… it’s clearly aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders on Twitter claiming that conversations are for us – and it just took off. kinds of interesting ways.

“People use [the hashtag] to describe the tragic violence that the Blackfellas are subjected to and at the same time you use it to describe the mundane ridiculous encounters we have every day … I love what it has done for the Blackfellas, in particular, to to be able to externalize the thing that happens to us and to say, “This is not about us, this is about the colony”, and it is also about insisting that we have not yet reached our postcolonial moment in this country. “

So we sometimes say – and the hashtag used – with an eyeroll?

“Absolutely,” she said. “So you use it in a sarcastic way. You use it with anger and in all kinds of humorous ways. And you can say it – you know, “Well, it’s just another day in the colony” about the mundane, everyday reality of settlement colonialism and how it is experienced by the Blackfellas. “

Watego is a former Indigenous health worker who has become a renowned Indigenous health humanities researcher, writer, and public scholar. In her book, she writes with candor, elegance and at times biting humor six compelling essays including “Don’t Feed the Natives,” “Animals, Cannibals, and Criminals,” “Fucking Hope” and the astonishing “Non-Story”. publishable ”(on which more soon).

Each essay – or chapter – is preceded by a document from the archives of his life. They include files of two (utterly ridiculous) Queensland Police charges – one for swearing at a cop in Dalby (where she worked as a Native health worker as a young woman) and 20 years later for public nuisance … For arguing with a man outside a Brisbane nightclub. Then there’s her 2007 Dean’s Commendation for her outstanding doctorate at the University of Queensland, and a drawing for Harmony Day by her then-seven-year-old daughter (she has five children).

“Each of these images at the start of each essay… they’re all representations of me by different people and different points of view,” she says. “Whether it was the state, whether it was the judge, whether it was my child, whether it was my academic institution … what I wanted to do was let readers think, ‘Well, which account is true? Because I am all of these things – be it the drunken Aboriginal or the scholar, the award-winning scholar … self-employed as human beings in our own country.

Write with frankness, elegance and sometimes biting humor: Chelsea Watego. Photograph: David Kelly / The Guardian

Her daughter’s drawing shows Watego in a red frock coat, next to a gunyah, holding a boomerang. She drew her father holding spears.

Watego writes: “We have been placed in our natural habitat among animals and items that she and her four siblings are named in the Yugambeh language: Kargaru, Murun, Bilinba, Gibam and Yalgan. She had never seen her family in this setting before, but it was, according to her, at seven, her culture. Its cultural representation placed us in another time and another place, which were unfamiliar to us. Where was it?”

She says the drawing revealed that despite the fact that two Indigenous parents live in a proud urban black community and are constantly exposed to sophisticated conversations about identity, her daughter “knew by the age of seven what depiction of [her] culture was meant to be ”.

“It touches the day-to-day life of settler colonialism in terms of how it makes us think about ourselves and what dispossession does. In this, when we are going to tell our story, we are in another place and another time because it was told for us. So I wanted to show the everyday of how this plays out in the psyche of our people. “

VSRitivating the canon of revered 20th century Australian literature through this paradigm is a bold and welcome provocation. Watch out for Patrick White and Randolph Stow (Ion Idriess, Lawson and Paterson, you should be next).

Watego refers to writer Wiradjuri Jeanine Leane’s observations on Patrick White’s A Fringe of Leaves, his reimagined tale of Eliza Fraser, the Scottish woman shipwrecked off the coast of Queensland, collected by the people of Butchulla and for which Fraser Island is named. White, says Watego, “Easily constructed a fictional story of native cannibals, not having met any native people.”

Watego writes: “She [Leane] also wrote of his claim that he didn’t need to engage with Butchulla [people] during their visit to K’gari, also known as Fraser Island, as their tale would complicate matters. How ironic that the blacks from which the black characters come can hinder a supposed “good story”. The canon of Australian literature, we are reminded, is to be of service to the colonizer, not the colonized, and black bodies are referred to in the most vile and fanciful way to help it, without any responsibility. “

Against this background, Watego’s “Unpublishable Story” unfolds as a remarkable comparative study of two books both published by University of Queensland Press (also publisher of Another day in the Colony).

One book is Finding Eliza: Power and Colonial Storytelling, by Larissa Behrendt, in which (in Watego’s words) the author “questions the role that Indigenous characters – men and women – play in keeping Eliza as the embodiment of white female virtue ”. The other is Saltwater: An Epic Fight for Justice in the Tropics, by Cathy McLennan, who chronicles her time as a lawyer with the Townsville Aboriginal Legal Service.

Watego writes: “Like Eliza (Fraser), McLennan uses his captive story of life in the tropics among the ‘Aborigines’ to participate in the speaking circuit, this time at writers’ festivals and universities. She is praised in the media for her “ideas” on crime, justice and alcoholism in Aboriginal communities. She’s not just a writer: she’s a connoisseur, via this account of a group of murderous aboriginal children. It is striking that despite its animal representations of indigenous peoples, Saltwater has been so regularly celebrated. This is not a testament to the quality of the text, but rather to the continued popularity of the “White Women’s Drama Among the Savages” story.

Chelsea watego
“Another Day in the Colony is a hashtag that came out of Blackfella Twitter… and it just took off in all kinds of interesting ways,” Watego says. Photograph: David Kelly / The Guardian

We read the full essay in Watego’s book. But the “unpublishable” backstory began when the Australian Feminist Law Journal invited Watego to contribute to a special edition on “Indigenous writing on law and justice”. She criticized the McLennan book. Two anonymous peer reviewers praised the essay.

Watego writes: “Unfortunately, the editor and editor of the journal did not share the same point of view as the anonymous reviewers or the editors of the special issues, academic Gomeroi Alison Whittaker and Birri Gubba and academic Yugambeh, Dr Nicole Watson.

“The story of what happened is documented elsewhere, but suffice it to say that after much discussion, the editor and editor indicated that this work was not publishable in any form. either because it apparently posed a threat of libel… I was eventually allowed to write an op-ed on the experience of not being published in the special issue instead of the article I had submitted. But that would be accompanied by another contribution from a white man to explain how the libel law works… ”

Watego laughs. But it’s an exasperated laugh – a crappy giggle – more than humor.

“It was weird. And you sort of say, “This just can’t be real” … the fact that in this special issue a white male legal voice was given a space that I was denied in order to justify why the story could not be told. And that was just a review of the text.

And this is another day in the colony.

  • Another Day in the Colony, by Chelsea Watego, is published by University of Queensland Press and is now available

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