So lets get to it. I live outside the village of Nimbin, in northern New South Wales, on a property that overlooks Nimbin Rocks, a 40 million year-old geological formation that is a sacred site for the Bundjalung nation and was once a burial ground for the Clever Men of the Widjyabal people.
Fortunately – and as odd as it may seem to say this – the Rocks are on private land, on one of the many local communes that ring Nimbin. Indigenous people still have access to the site, and are engaged in a large-scale bush regeneration project there, but the restricted access ensures that tourists are not free to climb the Rocks (and shit all over them), as is the case with Uluru.
Last year, I happened to be in Sydney at a public event where there was a Welcome to Country delivered by a Cadigal elder of the Eora nation. He made his welcome, eyes sweeping the crowd, by saying, ‘This is Cadigal land, always has been Cadigal land, and always will be Cadigal land.’ He wasn’t mucking about. While the welcome in his voice was genuine, he wasn’t, so to speak, giving ground. And neither should he, we might say.
A few weeks ago, somewhere in the Overland blogosphere, some comments were made – reporting something Jeff Sparrow said at the launch of Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Gil Scott Heron is on Parole – about the conservatism of Australian fiction.
The conservatism and timidity of Australian fiction – which is also by more than implication, the conservatism of Australian publishers – is an odd thing that doesn’t seem to want to go away. And perhaps tell us more about who we are as a nation than we would care to know. Australian fiction, and a lot of other fiction, seems to take place in an apolitical landscape, maybe because we feel it’s easier to get at Universal Truths that way. Jeff Sparrow referenced climate change. He wanted to know why we aren’t writing about it? It’s a highly salient question. If there’s a bigger elephant in the room than climate change I’m buggered if I know what it is. If there were, it would need its own warehouse because all the rooms I can see are already full of elephants with the words Planetary Catastrophe tattooed on their hides.
Like indigenous dispossession, climate catastrophe shadows the whole of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. If we can’t write with the full consciousness of that shadow over us, what the hell are we writing?
It’s not about trying to fit an indigenous eco-friendly character into your novel, or writing novels full of didactic speeches. It has very little to do, I’d venture to say, with being incredibly topical or writing about Copenhagen and climate science. (And before I forget, have a look at John Crace’s hilarious review of Ian McEwan’s ‘climate change novel’ Solar.)
It’s probably got more to do with the depth of our awareness of just where we are living: on stolen land, on an ecologically devastated continent. Meanwhile, an inexorable planetary disaster unfolds around us. An awareness of this situation could enable us to write, give texture and ambivalence to our work, enable us to track and expose and map the fault lines of where we live – do we have the chutzpah to look at the gorgon and draw our own conclusions about what it means to be here?
To put it in the form of a non-rocket science thought experiment: I am put on a planet where strenuous efforts have been made to dispossess and exterminate the indigenous population. For all I know, the land on which my comfy house sits was land acquired through the slaughter of an extended family, or an entire clan. Because of an insane and staggering practice of greed, acquisition and cultural blindness, the planet is fundamentally changing its own structure and may cease to support life.
Someone gives me a pen and says, Now you must write.
The Dark Mountain Project, a UK-based outfit just getting itself together, looks like an attempt to come to grips with at least some of this kind of thinking. It’s British so its… Well, it’s British and their post-colonial dilemmas are different from ours. An Australian version, if we could negotiate the volcanic chasms of our own fractured position, here at the far side of the world, would whup their asses.
Anyway, when exhorting guest bloggers to blog, Overland reminded us that it is, in fact, a blog. You know, the Internet. So in that spirit, and because I can and because it’s a good a way of summing up my first Overland blog, lets cut to the legendary Nungah band No Fixed Address, in a recently reformed incarnation. In 1981 in Adelaide, along with their Nungah brothers Us Mob, nobody did better gigs. And nobody was saying stuff like this:
And with that, I would like to acknowledge that I wrote this blog on land of which the elders of the Bundjalung nation are the Traditional custodians, and pay my respect to Elders of both the past and the present. I would like to further acknowledge that this is Bundjalung land, always has been Bundjalung land and always will be Bundjalung land.