Postcolonial Departures

Narrative Transformations in Australian and South African Fictions

by Hano Pipic (Author)
©2017 Thesis 258 Pages


This book introduces a comparative transnational approach to Australian and South African literatures to move beyond the boundaries of the nation and to reveal a shared history of indigenous dispossession and violent repression. It engages with issues of trauma, suppression and the manifold concerns regarding the unfinished processes of reconciliation. The contemporary postcolonial fictions chosen for the text-based analysis intervene in the unfinished processes of coming to terms with the legacy of the colonial practices of the past. This book compares nationally diverse postcolonial texts with a particular interest in the parallels in their deliberate breaks with generic patterns and structures.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations used in Book
  • Introduction
  • Nation and Narration
  • Postcolonial Departures from Traditions of Genre
  • Chapter I: Representation of Trauma in Two Selected Bildungsromane: Gail Jones’ Sorry (2008) and Rachel Zadok’s Gem Squash Tokoloshe (2005)
  • The Traditions of the Bildungsroman
  • Postcolonial Bildungsroman
  • A Reading of Sorry
  • A Reading of Gem Squash Tokoloshe
  • Rape in Sorry and Gem Squash Tokoloshe
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter II: Postcolonial Pastoral: David Malouf’s Remembering Babylon (1993) and Lisa Fugard’s Skinner’s Drift (2005)
  • Pastoral Traditions
  • Postcolonial Pastoral
  • A Reading of Remembering Babylon
  • A Reading of Skinner’s Drift
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter III: Making Use of History in Kate Grenville’s The Secret River (2005) and Zoë Wicomb’s David’s Story (2001)
  • The Historical Novel – Possibilities and Dynamics
  • Histories Within Postcolonial Fiction
  • A Reading of The Secret River
  • A Reading of David’s Story
  • Conclusion
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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This book has been submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Vienna under a joint PhD program with the University of Queensland. I am much obliged for being given this unique opportunity and I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to all who have participated in this endeavor.

I would like to formally thank my supervisors Professor Margarete Rubik and Professor Gillian Whitlock for their support, advice, and their intellectual generosity. I have been very fortunate in meeting these two encouraging academicians and wonderful human beings who have never given up on me. Their rigorous questions never allowed me to forget about the complexities of literature and critical theory. This project would not have come to fruition without them.

I would also like to thank Professor Ewald Mengel and Mag. Michela Borzaga as the conversations with them provided me with a foundation in trauma theory and critical thinking.

I would like to express my gratitude to Professor Christa Knellwolf King for always being present to offer help and refreshing guidance in the course of my studies.

For his ingenious and creative computer expertise I would like to thank Timo Zikeli; a boy who simply offered to help.

Since my endless writing hours have been accompanied by constant musical support I would like to express my gratitude to the following artists who kept me going: Yann Tiersen, Ludovico Einaudi, Marcelo Zarvos, Harry Gregson-Williams and Max Richter.

My parents Alma and Nedim have been a source of endless support and love during my countless writing hours. The debt I owe to them has no limit. Lena, I thank you for being everything I could have wished for. I have written over 80,000 words in this book, yet I would have to write another 100,000 more to come close to explain how much your support and patience have meant to me during these trying times for us: Amor vincit omnia.

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List of Abbreviations used in Book

DS David’s Story (2001)

Gem Squash Gem Squash Tokoloshe (2005)

RB Remembering Babylon (1993)

SD Skinner’s Drift (2005)

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Contemporary novels in Australia and South Africa continue to engage with the legacies of invader-settler colonialism1 – literatures that are drawn into the ongoing legacies of dispossession and its terrors. Sue Kossew argues for strong connections between these two ‘postcolonizing’ states,2 suggesting that “both these national narratives [speak] of past suffering […] [and] attempt to heal past wounds by recounting the violence and personal loss that had been unheard or actively buried and hidden” (Writing Woman 11–12). As Kossew suggests, working through historical losses under these conditions involves an engagement with postcolonial trauma: violence, dispossession, and recent responses to these in terms of reconciliation. New comparative readings of contemporary fictions across these two ‘southern spaces’ indicate that literature continues to play an important role in reformulating nation and narration in ways that are open to new possibilities and opportunities for apology and redress. As the concept of ‘postcolonialism’ suggests, the legacies of imperial conquest remain as a continuing presence (Moreton-Robinson “Home” 30). ← 13 | 14 →

The readings in this book are organized in terms of three selected generic types that shape fictional responses to colonialism, trauma, and reconciliation: Bildungsroman, pastoral, and historical fiction. These genres are transformed to address the continuing presence of the colonial past. In the first chapter a comparative reading of Gail Jones’ Sorry (2007) and Rachel Zadok’s Gem Squash Tokoloshe (2005) investigates how traditional boundaries of the Bildungsroman are redefined to explore the psychic landscapes of childhood trauma. In the second chapter, David Malouf’s Remembering Babylon (1993) and Lisa Fugard’s Skinner’s Drift (2005) are read as transformations of the pastoral mode to suggest the flexibility and mutability of generic themes, such as landscape, borders, and memory. The final chapter that reads Kate Grenville’s The Secret River (2005) and Zoë Wicomb’s David’s Story (2001) as contemporary postcolonial historical novels focuses on the historical novel to consider alternative imaginings of histories of settlement in Australia and South Africa that deal with the trauma of the past.

Through the case studies this book will adopt a comparative approach to Australian and South African contemporary fictions that employs key concepts of postcolonial and trauma theory. In both countries there have been processes of reconciliation and social justice in recent decades that have produced intense debates about history, fiction and the ways these disciplines can produce new ways of understanding the traumatic legacies of settler colonialism. By focusing on a selection of close and comparative readings of recent fictions, this book identifies a series of common tropes, techniques and preoccupations that draw together these two literatures which are so often read apart, in terms of distinctive national histories.

Nation and Narration

This study moves “beyond the boundaries of the nation” (Whitlock “Departure” 157) in search of transnational ties and interrelationships between postcolonial narratives prevalent in the contemporary literary landscape of Australia and South Africa.3 Chaganti Vijayasree argues that in narrating the nation postcolonial writers “stress the need for making the contours of nation and nationalism elastic, porous and resilient so that all historical and contemporary cultural formations […] are accounted for and accommodated” (xvi). This study of selected ← 14 | 15 → Australian and South African contemporary novels transcends readings that focus on nation and narration by exploring readings that look for connections and intersections across the south.

Several Australian scholars (Carter 1999; Whitlock 1999; Kossew 2004; Huggan 2007) call for readings of Australian literature that move beyond the national frame (Whitlock “Departure” 153). Postcolonial approaches have been part of this turn in criticism, representing a valuable tool “to understanding Australian literature, which has emerged into something transnational and transdisciplinary” (Carter “Post-Colonialism” 114) by generating new narrative forms and thus calling “for literary and historical revisionism” (Huggan Transnationalism 33).4 Graham Huggan’s recent study of Australian literature is an extended argument in favour of a new transnational approach.5 Attention to cultural connections and transnational forces triggers a rethinking of the nation, questioning “the process of imagining the nation as purely the product of internal factors […] [W]e should not consider [national] cultures in isolation, but endeavour to locate them in the relational matrix of their significant others” (M. Featherstone 57). In this respect, the opening of new perspectives for understanding the connections between – in this case – Australia and South Africa can prove to be useful.

In recognizing South Africa as one of Australia’s “significant others”, David Carter calls for a re-examination of Australia’s continued conservative stance towards the neighbouring continent as more and more parallels between the two countries’ histories cannot be overlooked: “We still tend to think of South Africa as belonging to another time and place altogether, another moral universe and historical trajectory. This is not a mistake that colonial Australians made. The ← 15 | 16 → parallels will become less and less resistible” (“Readers” 131). A comparison of Australian and South African contemporary fictions points to the multiple pasts of these nations, decentring a single and progressive historical analysis. They generate “counter-narratives of the nation that continually evoke and erase its totalizing boundaries – both actual and conceptual – disturb those ideological manoeuvres through which ‘imagined communities’ are given essentialist identities” (Bhabha “DissemiNation” 300).

This reading is based on the comparative analysis of postcolonial Australian and South African texts which destabilise the parameters of the nation in literary analysis and move across and beyond them. The treatment of African and Australian Indigenous communities is particularly relevant in this book. When referring to a trend in a recent study of Indians and Inuit in Canada, A.G. Hopkins argues that “the best of recent studies deal with [indigenous histories, claims, and wrongs] entirely within a national framework, thereby conveying the impression that they are unique” (217). Yet in resisting the exclusivity of nation, he goes on to suggest that one can “open new possibilities for comparative studies of both settler communities and indigenous peoples, and underline the widespread growing significance of non-national affiliations in a world divided formally into nation-states” (217). Similarly, Annie E. Coombes argues that the

Whilst Indigenous literature is not a focus of the book, the representation of Indigenous peoples is a shared concern across these settler literatures.

Inspired by a rich body of comparative work that explores the connections between settler colonies as southern spaces, my book aims to investigate the dialogical relations between selected Australian and South African contemporary fictions in regard to their commensurate thematic concerns. Overlapping themes recur across these literatures. These focus on, for example, history and memory, the settler/Indigenous relationships to land, place, and space, and the frameworks of reconciliation, and they provide new insights into a comparative relationship between South African and Australian literatures.6 Moreover, ← 16 | 17 → both postcolonial literatures, when placed in “wider imperial contexts” (Huggan Transnationalism 34), take up similar themes, such as the quest for individual growth and development towards reconciliation, the search for belonging and a stabilized identity, and the ongoing attempt to claim and come to terms with a violent and complex past. These similarities highlight the resemblances between Australian and South African narratives, placing them within a discourse of transnational relations rather than national distinctiveness. As Kossew argues, “the links between land, gender, identity, and indigenity are of increasing significance in settler cultures, particularly in contemporary Australia and in post-apartheid South Africa, as the processes of reconciliation become increasingly urgent” (Writing Woman 10).7

My book aims to provide explicit references to landscapes and territories as ‘battlegrounds’. Settlers are not only determined to prevent the Indigenous peoples from breaching their physical borders, but they are also caught by an anxiety of belonging that is characteristic of the unease and unsettledness in Australia’s and South Africa’s colonial settler nations. Settlers inscribe their histories and identities upon previously occupied lands; in view of this, borders, boundaries, and frontiers become essential concerns in the formation of settler subjectivities and the exclusion of the colonized. To shape my readings of the selected postcolonial narratives in this book territory and landscape are viewed as, on the one hand, determinants in the formation of white settler identities, and on the other, contested spaces in regard to settler/Indigenous belonging. Marked by the phenomenon of colonization, both postcolonial literatures share affinities in relation to tropes such as land claims, dispossession, belonging and alienation. In their postcolonial study Text, Theory, Space (1996) Kate Darian-Smith, Liz Gunner, and Sarah Nuttall open up new directions for defining transnational links between the two settler nations. ← 17 | 18 → Possession and dispossession are prevalent themes that shape their collection of essays to provide and “highlight the multiple and complex meanings attached to both land and place in South African and Australian colonial and post-colonial societies” (Darian-Smith, Gunner, and Nuttall 3). In Fugard’s Skinner’s Drift (2005), Malouf’s Remembering Babylon (1993) and Kate Grenville’s The Secret River (2005) these similarities between these southern spaces become very clear.

David Trigger’s and Gareth Griffiths’ collection of essays Disputed Territories: Land Culture and Identity in Settler Societies (2003) also identifies issues of land contestation as a shared legacy in settler nations. This lays the groundwork for my book in its comparative attention to overlapping colonial histories and the specific nature of settlers’ contested identities on conflicted lands. In this essay collection Gareth Griffiths argues that conflicts over land belonging are thematic concerns across settler nations, whereby “land […] becomes the subject of speculative and competitive politics involving such culturally determined practices as naming, selecting of environmental features as foci of meaning, and intellectual ordering of natural phenomena” (305). Both Australian and South African settlers are involved in ‘taming’ unforgiving landscapes that share “similar latitudes, their arid, fragile interiors” (Darian-Smith, Gunner, and Nuttall 1). This not only involves the working of the land through agriculture and industry, but also the systematic acts of place-naming that erase Indigenous prior occupation and map out settler colonial space.8

A thematic concern with the nations’ problematic and violent past in both literatures is one of the transnational issues in this book. The history of white settlement in Australia and South Africa is marked by ongoing Indigenous dispossession. In Writing Woman, Writing Place (2004), Sue Kossew argues that:

One of the striking issues of comparison between the new South Africa and Australia at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty first is the renewed sense in each nation of coming to terms with the past. The more obvious need to effect a transition from apartheid to post-apartheid state by means of the healing process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was echoed in Australia’s long-overdue release of voices and breaking of silence in the stories of the Stolen Generations published as the Bringing them Home report, as well as the 1992 Native Title Act that finally refuted the concept of terra nullius. What both these narratives of past suffering performed was an attempt to heal past wounds by recounting the violence and personal loss that had been unheard or actively buried and hidden. Both have had profound effects on their societies – hopefully, leading to an awareness of reconciliation and redress of past ← 18 | 19 → and present injustices – but also on literary production which has had, too, to come to terms.9 (11–12)


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (August)
Contemporary literature Trauma theory Genre theory Bildungsroman Pastoral Historiography
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2017. 258 pp.

Biographical notes

Hano Pipic (Author)

Hano Pipic is a lecturer at the Department of English at the University of Vienna. Since finishing his PhD he has been focusing his research interests on contemporary themes in North American literatures and postcolonial literatures, in particular contemporary South African and Australian fiction.


Title: Postcolonial Departures
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260 pages