Indigenous Cultural Capital

Postcolonial Narratives in Australian Children’s Literature

by Daozhi Xu (Author)
Monographs XII, 238 Pages


Winner of the Biennial Australian Studies in China Book Prize 2018 for an Original Work of Scholarship (in English)
This book explores how Australian Indigenous people’s histories and cultures are deployed, represented and transmitted in post-Mabo children’s literature authored by Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers. Postcolonial narratives in Australian children’s books enable readers access to Indigenous cultures, knowledge and history, which bring with them the possibility of acculturation. This process of acquisition emerges as an embodiment of cultural capital, as theorised by Pierre Bourdieu, but carries an alternative, anti-colonial force. This book argues that by affirming Indigenous cultural value and re-orienting the instituting power of recognition, the operation of «Indigenous cultural capital» enacts a tactic of resistance and functions with transformative potential to change the way in which cultural relations are reproduced in settler society. Through examining the representation, formative processes, modes of transmission, and ethical deployment of Indigenous cultural capital, this book provides a fresh perspective on postcolonial readings of children’s literature. In doing so, it makes original contributions to literary criticism and significant theoretical advances to postcolonial scholarship.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Indigenous Cultural Capital
  • Part I
  • Chapter 1: Decolonised Landscape: Aboriginal Connection to Country
  • Decolonising the “Empty Space”
  • Connecting Aboriginal Land and History
  • Native Title and Aboriginal Sovereignty
  • Chapter 2: Living Memories and the Mechanism of Forgetting: Narratives of Indigenous Child Separation
  • The Narratives of the Stolen Generations
  • An Archive of Living Memories
  • Part II
  • Chapter 3: Book Reviews, Prizes, and the Paratextual Space in Children’s Books
  • The Politics of Reviewing: The Reviewing History of Australia’s First Indigenous Children’s Book
  • The Power of Consecration: The CBCA Book of the Year Awards
  • Transformation and Collaboration in the Paratextual Space
  • Chapter 4: School Texts: From “Silent Apartheid” to “Cross-Curriculum Priority”
  • Indigenous Education in the Classroom
  • A Comparative Reading of School Readers
  • Part III
  • Chapter 5: The Gift and the Ethics of Representing Aboriginality
  • The Ethics of Representing Aboriginality
  • A Solution to the Dilemma of Non-Aboriginal Writers
  • The Gift and Indigenous Collective Ownership
  • Conclusion
  • Resistance and Transformation in a Project of Hope
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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This book is based on research undertaken for a PhD at the University of Hong Kong, although in many respects it had an earlier genesis. My background is in literary studies, which exposed me to the insights and limitations of postcolonial theory, issues related to race and representation, and the vexed debates over speaking positions. Although the situation is very different in respect to many of China’s ethnic minorities, there are certain resonances such as the conundrums in cultural continuity and revitalisation. Hence the issues germane to this book have long been shaping my thoughts. Serendipitously the pertinence of children’s literature and its comparatively few critiques was brought to my attention, so I turned my focus to this body of work, which also allowed me to combine my long interest in Australia and Australian Indigenous peoples and cultures.

While the discussion of children’s books that draw on Indigenous life and cultures as “Indigenous cultural capital” is inextricably entangled with the question of whose voice – Indigenous or non-Indigenous – is speaking in the texts, the concept of Indigenous cultural capital is more concerned with representations, formative processes, modes of transmission, and ethical implications: what message this or that voice expresses, how is it articulated, and what role it plays in knowledge production and exchange. This book therefore explores a set of intertwined questions pertaining to how Indigenous Australians are positioned, represented, and self-represented in children’s books that are authored by Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers and published in the post-Mabo era.

This book would not have been completed without the help, guidance, suggestions, and advice that I have received from the very beginning of my PhD study; they are invaluable gifts for which I would like to extend my sincere thanks. First, I want to express my deepest gratitude to Otto Heim, my PhD supervisor, for his intellectual generosity, unfailing support, and rigorous guidance, which have led me through the completion of my doctoral thesis and the final revision of this book manuscript. I am also deeply ← ix | x → grateful to Clare Bradford. Her scholarship in postcolonial criticism of children’s literature initiated me into this field. I am very thankful for her tremendous help, insightful advice, and constant support over the years, especially during my two research visits at Deakin University. I am particularly grateful to Mitchell Rolls for reading drafts of the entire manuscript, offering his insights and helpful suggestions. His unfailing encouragement and enormous support gave me much confidence in completing this book and furthering my academic pursuit in Australian studies. I am indebted to June Senyard for her kindness and generous help since my postgraduate study. She has read my Master’s and doctoral theses and part of this book manuscript. Every time she gave me detailed comments, helpful guidance and constant encouragement. I am also thankful to Zhang Yongxian for his supervision when I studied at the Australian Studies Centre, Renmin University of China. I express my heartfelt thanks to David Walker and Karen Walker for their wisdom and humour and for helping me build up my academia career. I also express my appreciation to Colin Mackerras for his erudition, inspiring conversations, and cheerful encouragement.

For the generous help with this research, my special thanks go to Juliet O’Conor, as children’s research librarian at the State Library of Victoria, for sending me references and taking time to answer my queries; Doug Marmion, as the Linguistics Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), for offering his expertise in Indigenous languages; Michelle Prawer, as Judge of CBCA Book of the Year Award, for her valuable insights; Robin Freeman, for helpful suggestions on the Indigenous publishing industry; Mark Rose, for his expertise in Indigenous education; Cathie Henbest and Shirlaine Tse, for informative conversations about the education systems in Australia. During my visit to Dunwich State School on North Stradbroke Island in Queensland, Elisha Iselin, Leanore Gregory, David Christie, and Michele Connell shared with me invaluable insights and information on the Australian Curriculum and I hope to offer my sincere thanks. I also had the privilege to meet Aboriginal elder Aunty Margaret Iselin, and I am grateful for her kindness. My thanks also go to Megan Cope, Toni Cope, and Zhou Xiaoping for their hospitality and assistance which made my visit to Straddie possible and pleasurable. ← x | xi →

This research has been supported by the University Postgraduate Fellowship from the University of Hong Kong. It would not have been productive without the support from the School of English at HKU. My thanks to all staff members, in particular Julia Kuehn, Douglas Kerr, Ho Yee Lin Elaine, Haewon Hwang, and Adam Jaworski, for their guidance and support; and to all postgraduate fellows for cheerful talks and memorable times. I wish to thank the Faculty of Arts, HKU, for sponsoring me to attend the School of Criticism and Theory at Cornell University where the group discussions about the Gift was rewarding, for which I thank the Course Instructor Annelise Riles and all the friends I met during that wonderful summer at Ithaca. I am very grateful to the Australia–China Council for awarding me the Australian Studies Competitive Projects Funding, the Foundation for Australian Studies in China for conference and travel grants, the Australasian Society for the History of Children and Youth Symposium for the travel bursary, and the Australian Children’s Literature Association for Research for the postgraduate student bursary. These generous funds enabled me to conduct research trips to Australia and present my work at national and international conferences. I thank the conference/symposium convenors, in particular David Carter, David Walker, Greg McCarthy, Duan Manfu, Kristine Moruzi, Anthony Eaton, Erica Hateley, and the audience for their helpful feedback.

I am thankful to Julia Kuehn, Tim Gruenewald, and Anne Brewster for their generous reports on my PhD thesis, which encouraged me to turn it into a book manuscript. Portions of this book were published in Australian Aboriginal Studies (Issue 2, 2016), Antipodes: A Global Journal of Australian / New Zealand Literature (Issue 30, Vol. 2, 2016), Ilha do Desterro: A Journal of English Language, Literatures in English and Cultural Studies (Vol. 69, No. 2, 2016),《澳大利文化研究》(Australian Cultural Studies Vol. 2, 2016), and Australian Studies – Proceedings of the 15th International Conference of Australian Studies in China (Peking University Press, 2018). My thanks to the editors and publishers for giving me permission to reprint material here. I thank Rod Garlett for permission to use his painting “Noongar Boodja Wangkiny (Our Land is Talking)” for the cover and I thank Clive Barstow and Susan Starcken for kind assistance in accessing and reproducing this image from the art collection of Edith ← xi | xii → Cowan University. I am very grateful to Bill Ashcroft for his generous comments and the endorsement for the book. I am indebted to Clare Bradford for taking time out of her busy schedule to write the endorsement. I owe grateful thanks to series editor, Anne Brewster, for her invaluable comments, advice and editing. I appreciate Laurel Plapp and Emma Clarke at Peter Lang for their meticulous work.

Finally, I would like to express my greatest gratitude to my family. This book is dedicated to them for their constant love and support.

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Indigenous Cultural Capital

The representations of Aboriginal life and cultures in Australian children’s books, throughout much of Australia’s post-contact history, have been plagued by racial stereotypes and prejudice, starting with Charlotte Barton’s A Mother’s Offering to Her Children (1841), the first children’s book produced in Australia. In a chapter entitled “Anecdotes of the Aborigines of New South Wales”, Barton’s depiction of Aboriginal people as uncivilised savages set an example for children’s books published during the second half of the nineteenth century (McVitty 7). While early Australian children’s literature had little Aboriginal presence, Aboriginal people were either depicted in ways “as formulaic as the description of countryside” or treated injuriously as abhorred villains whom young British settlers encountered in their journey to explore Australia’s vast terrain (Nimon 7; see also McVitty 9).


XII, 238
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (March)
Indigenous cultural capital postcolonial narratives Australian children’s literature
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2018. XII, 238 pp.

Biographical notes

Daozhi Xu (Author)

Xu Daozhi completed her PhD in English literary studies at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and is now a senior research assistant in the Faculty of Education at HKU. Her research interests include postcolonial studies, cultural theory, children’s literature, and studies of race and ethnicity. Her scholarly articles have appeared in Australian Aboriginal Studies, Papers: Explorations into Children’s Literature, and Antipodes.


Title: Indigenous Cultural Capital