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Legacies of Indigenous Resistance

Pemulwuy, Jandamarra and Yagan in Australian Indigenous Film, Theatre and Literature


Matteo Dutto

This book explores the ways in which Australian Indigenous filmmakers, performers and writers work within their Indigenous communities to tell the stories of early Indigenous resistance leaders who fought against British invaders and settlers, thus keeping their legacies alive and connected to community in the present. It offers the first comprehensive and trans-disciplinary analysis of how the stories of Pemulwuy, Jandamarra and Yagan (Bidjigal, Bunuba and Noongar freedom fighters, respectively) have been retold in the past forty years across different media. Combining textual and historical analysis with original interviews with Indigenous cultural producers, it foregrounds the multimodal nature of Indigenous storytelling and the dynamic relationship of these stories to reclamations of sovereignty in the present. It adds a significant new chapter to the study of Indigenous history-making as political action, while modelling a new approach to stories of frontier resistance leaders and providing a greater understanding of how the decolonizing power of Indigenous screen, stage and text production connects past, present and future acts of resistance.

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Chapter 1 Pemulwuy as a pan-Aboriginal hero


Chapter 1

Pemulwuy as a pan-Aboriginal hero

Let no one say the past is dead.

The past is all about us and within.

Haunted by tribal memories, I know

This little now, this accidental present

Is not all of me, whose long making

Is so much of the past.

— Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker), “The Past”

In her 1966 poem “The Past,” the renowned Noonuccal poet, activist and educator Oodgeroo Noonuccal, still writing at the time as Kath Walker, interrogates non-Indigenous understandings of Indigenous history as something relegated to a distant and lost past, presenting it instead as an embodied experience that lives on in the ongoing political struggle against the settler colonial state. Like much of her oeuvre, Oodgeroo’s poem is concerned with the role that history plays in shaping Indigenous and non-Indigenous understandings of the present and provides a powerful critique of non-Indigenous perceptions of “This little now, this accidental present,” which stands in contrast to her powerful dream of the past as a vital source of energy and identity. While “The Past” is not directly concerned with reclaiming specific stories of past resistance, it speaks to the importance that Indigenous history generally and stories like those of Pemulwuy, Jandamarra and Yagan in particular had for the Indigenous poets, writers and artists who first started publishing their works in the 1960s. The use of these histories of past resistance in the...

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