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The Mabo Turn in Australian Fiction


Geoff Rodoreda

Winner of the Association for Anglophone Postcolonial Studies (GAPS) Dissertation Award 2018

This is the first in-depth, broad-based study of the impact of the Australian High Court’s landmark Mabo decision of 1992 on Australian fiction. More than any other event in Australia’s legal, political and cultural history, the Mabo judgement – which recognised indigenous Australians’ customary «native title» to land – challenged previous ways of thinking about land and space, settlement and belonging, race and relationships, and nation and history, both historically and contemporaneously. While Mabo’s impact on history, law, politics and film has been the focus of scholarly attention, the study of its influence on literature has been sporadic and largely limited to examinations of non-Aboriginal novels.

Now, a quarter of a century after Mabo, this book takes a closer look at nineteen contemporary novels – including works by David Malouf, Alex Miller, Kate Grenville, Thea Astley, Tim Winton, Michelle de Kretser, Richard Flanagan, Alexis Wright and Kim Scott – in order to define and describe Australia’s literary imaginary as it reflects and articulates post-Mabo discourse today. Indeed, literature’s substantial engagement with Mabo’s cultural legacy – the acknowledgement of indigenous people’s presence in the land, in history, and in public affairs, as opposed to their absence – demands a re-writing of literary history to account for a “Mabo turn” in Australian fiction.

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The genesis of this book was a PhD project completed within the English Literature department at the University of Stuttgart, Germany. I am fortunate to be able to work there with wonderful colleagues and friends, in both the English and American Studies departments, who have always supported and encouraged me in my teaching and research. I am especially grateful to Renate Brosch for offering me work as a lecturer and then for supervising my doctoral research. She took a chance on an outsider – given, among other things, my previous career in journalism rather than literary scholarship – and kept pointing me in the right direction with wise counsel and critique. Thanks also to Russell West-Pavlov for his advice and encouragement as my second supervisor. I extend my thanks to the anonymous reviewers of drafts of this book for their helpful feedback, and to the series editor, Anne Brewster, for invaluable and insightful advice. Three good organisations need to be thanked, too: the European Association for Studies of Australia, the Association for Anglophone Postcolonial Studies (GAPS, in German), and the Association for Australian Studies (GASt, in German). This book could not have been produced by an Australian scholar in Europe without the stimulating, collegial and critical energy – and especially the regular conferences – generated by these institutions. Parts of some chapters of this book have appeared in the following journals or books:

“The Darkest Aspect: Mabo and Liam Davison’s The White Woman.” Zeitschrift für Australienstudien/Australian Studies Journal 30...

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