The City’s Outback explores the deprivation of the blackfella experience and documents intergenerational trauma in the ‘concrete jungle’. Cowlishaw asks: ‘Can the mythic “we” actually offer Aborigines, “them”, equality, self-determination, “our” respect or understanding?’ Reconciliation, as it presently stands, can only be recognised in impersonal terms – as an abstraction, of crimes perpetrated by ‘others’.
The City’s Outback is based upon an ethnographic study conducted in Mount Druitt, a suburb in western Sydney. Cowlishaw introduces Frank Doolan, a blackfella who helps her find Aboriginal people to interview – ‘the people of the place’ living within the city’s ‘subordinated self’. Doolan is an agitator, poet, protector, confidant and mediator. He recognises something woeful in a world that ‘systemically damages Aboriginal lives’.
Cowlishaw, an ARC Professorial Fellow at UTS, is familiar with Australia’s race-related difficulties. She has produced several accounts before, including Rednecks, Eggheads and Blackfellas: Racial Power and Intimacy in Australia (1999) and was the winner of the Gleebooks Prize for Literary and Cultural Criticism in 2004 with Blackfellas, Whitefellas and the Hidden Injuries of Race. She wants her account to mean something beyond the usual ‘talking under water’. Despite the public expressions in the media, the politicking, the whitefellas ‘shit-eating grin’, an arduous question remains: how to tackle the problem of Aboriginal control of their own self-representation?