Willa McDonald, Bunty Avieson

Against the tide: Alternative voices in colonial Australian writing

Racism was rife in colonial Australia. Nineteenth century newspapers, journals, pamphlets and books carried writing that reflected the intolerance of the settlers, too often by ignoring the indigenous peoples altogether, but also by overt racism. The latter took a number of forms, not least of which was 'maternalism', a movement that disempowered Aborigines in the process of promoting the 'mothering' of their children by white women. Yet, amid the imperialist clamour were a rare few voices who formed different relationships with indigenous people and whose writing presented a more empathetic and pluralistic view of their lives and culture, while revealing the cruelties they endured under colonial settlement. An analysis of the texts of three of these voices - Christina Smith, Mary Montgomerie Bennett and Eliza Hamilton Dunlop, who each cared deeply about the plight of the Aboriginal peoples and managed to avoid the worst of the maternalist movement - demonstrates the existence of an alternative 'ethical space' in colonial Australian writing.1

Keywords: Aborigines, maternalist movement, Christina Smith, Mary Montgomerie Bennett, Eliza Hamilton Dunlop


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Note on the contributor

Dr Willa McDonald is Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Media at Macquarie University where she teaches and researches creative non-fiction writing and literary journalism. A former journalist, she has worked in print, television and radio, including for the Sydney Morning Herald, the Bulletin, the Times on Sunday, ABC TV and ABC Radio National. She completed her doctorate at UNSW in Australian Studies. She has written two books: Warrior for peace: Dorothy Auchterlonie Green (2009, Australian Scholarly Publishing) and The writer's reader: Understanding journalism and non-fiction (with Susie Eisenhuth, 2007, Cambridge University Press). She is currently researching the history of literary journalism in Australia.

Dr Bunty Avieson is a journalism lecturer at University of Sydney and an award-winning author. She worked as a journalist for two decades in Britain, Australia and Asia and spent a year in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan in 2008-9 funded by the United Nations to train journalists as part of the country's move to democracy. It was the subject of her doctorate, which she presented as a piece of literary journalism with accompanying scholarly exegesis and received a Vice-Chancellor Commendation. It will be published by UQP in 2015.