☛ Submission for October, 2024 issue (Vol. 5, No. 2) is going on. The last date for submission is 30 September, 2024.

Of Forgotten People: Australian Memory Politics and Kim Scott’s Fiction


Of Forgotten People: Australian Memory Politics and Kim Scott’s Fiction

Purbasha Mondal

Assistant Professor of English

Saltora Netaji Centenary College

Bankura, West Bengal, India


Ph.D. Research Scholar

Department of English

Bankura University

Bankura, West Bengal, India



The White Government in Australia started removing the children of Indigenous people from their own families. As Victoria Haskins and Margaret D. Jacobs point out, “Child removal sought to accomplish the original aims of warfare against indigenous peoples, by the severance of tribal and land connections, the fragmentation of indigenous communities, and the training of indigenous children to serve their colonizers” (Haskins, Jacobs 238). Kim Scott’s fiction does not only provide an overview of social problems of Noongar people but his fiction also focuses on the culture of Noongar people. This paper aims to read select fiction by Kim Scott and it attempts to show how Australian memory politics is connected to Scott’s fiction.

Keywords: Stolen Generations, Noongar Culture, Memory Politics, Aboriginality.

In his article entitled “Kim Scott’s Storying: a Sense of Country”, Cornelis Martin Renes asserts, “Indigenous Australian literature has both reflected on and evolved from the trauma of separation and removal, describing an acute sense of physical and emotional displacement, but also resilience” (Renes 2). Kim Scott’s True Country is considered as a semi-autobiographical novel which was published in 1993. Billy was introduced as a mouthpiece of Kim Scott in the novel. Scott’s first novel, True Country portrays the culture of Noongar people and the protagonist of his novel is a young school teacher, Billy who had mixed origin. Billy is a representative of Stolen Generations. Arindam Das in “Resisting Deracination, Reviving Identity: Re-reading Kim Scott’s True Country” writes, “Not only Scott appropriates the Eurocentric canonical standards of written narratives and standardized language structure, but also mixes magic realist style with ‘Dreamtime’ spirituality. These stories help fill in the gaps and fissures of documented history of the White missionaries and revive the impoverished culture of the community” (Das 144-145).

While reviewing Kim Scott’s novel, True Country Jazz Money notes:

It is Billy’s tale that drives True Country, and consequently he is the other major narrator of the text. A primary reading of True Country implies a linear progression within the narrative, privileging Billy’s first person perspective initially until slowing succumbing more and more to the omniscient narrators. This narrative shift parallels Billy’s transition from Settler Australia into Aboriginal Australia. (Money 30)

Billy worked as a teacher at Karnama- a place where his grandmother lived:

Karnama was labelled either ‘Aboriginal Community’, or ‘Mission’, depending on the age of the map. On each map there was a small red symbol of an aero plane hovering over my destination. And there were variously drawn lines; lines of different colours, of dots, dashes, or dots and dashes, each indicating a different path, whether it be ‘unsealed one lane road’, ‘4WD track’, ‘river’ or ‘foot trail’. It was like a treasure map. (Scott 19)

Billy describes the life-style of Aborigines at Karnama, a place situated in North Australia:

Aboriginal Karnama had no television, radio, telephones, and only a weekly mail plane. There were few books in the community, but many videos. Few of the adults could read and write, and the students had very low levels of education. We had trouble pronouncing their surnames, and understanding their English. (Scott 20)

Kim Scott offers a picture of the school where traditional dance performances were arranged for ‘community visitors’:

The school, apparently, had a reputation for arranging performances of traditional dancing for community visitors. Alex told us near the end of the first school week that the school would be putting on a dance for some visitors in a couple of weeks. He would get a few of the local adults to come in to help with rehearsals. (Scott 20)

The narrator says, “Some of the elder women from the community dipped chewed twigs or small paint brushes into tins of white ochre as the smaller children clambered over and around them” (Scott 20).

Photograph is a marker of memory. In Kim Scott’s True Country, the narrator says, “I have a photograph of Fatima … It is in black and white and I processed it myself in the crudest of circumstances” (Scott 33). In Scott’s novel, Fatima Nangimara is a character who was “the first one born in the mission” (Scott 30).Fatima was asked to share her memories about Karnama. It is interesting to note that she grew up in the mission. In the novel, we find that Fatima and Mary were sent to Beagle Bay school:

Out on the water we used to dance corroboree for them. We were happy to do that. I used to sing, Mary dance. She used to sing for me, and I used to dance. Well we were children. We didn’t feel shame or anything like that you know. (Scott 31)

The Australian novelist, Kim Scott gives a vivid picture of his true country- Australia in his novel, True Country:

Now you know. True country. Because just living, just living is going downward lost drifting nowhere, no matter if you be skitter-scatter dancing anykind like mad. We gotta be moving, remembering, singing our place little bit new, little bit special, all the time. (Scott 255)

 Kim Scott received the Miles Franklin Award for his second novel, Benang: From the Heart. His novel focuses on the experiences of Harley who was a young Noongar man. His protagonist lives with his grandfather named Ernest Solomon who had European origin. Lisa Slater in her article entitled “Kim Scott’s Benang: An Ethics of Uncertainty” states, “In constructing Harley as a subject in formation, Scott bears witness to Indigenous (and non-Indigenous) identity being created through dialogue, storying and embodied practices. Harley’s identity is produced in the articulation of cultural differences” (Slater 150). John Donnelly finds that the novelist, Kim Scott explores the issue of ‘Aboriginality’ through his novel, Benang: From the Heart. In True Country, Scott also focuses on the issue of Aboriginality as he writes:

There’s Aboriginal people everywhere you know. Even like you, paler. We are all different, but the same. Something the same in us all, that’s what they say. Not many Aboriginal people live like this here. Only couple hundred here, little places like this. But in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, you know, there’s many. Not maybe like us here, but started off in this way, sometime. We like the forgotten tribe of chosen ones. (Scott 166)

Kim Scott has introduced “an uncertain narrator to portray the intersubjectivity and intertextuality of the self and to limit imaginative desire” (Slater 149). In Scott’s novel, Harley was described as the “first white man born” (Scott 10) but the protagonist presents himself as a Noongar man, “I am no white man” (Scott 494). Slater observes, “The eugenicists created a world in which one engaged with difference through repression, ordered violence and fear” (Slater 157). She also adds, “Benang is both a political critique and a reimagining of contemporary Australia. Scott intervenes in and reconfigures dominant race relations” (157).

Kim Scott expresses his inner thoughts through his fiction. Lisa Slater observes, “To resist, challenge and reconfigure the colonial project that continues in Australia, where the colonisers’ culture, will and knowledge dominate the social field and notions of “truth,” Indigenous people must name themselves with names that are generated from histories, memories and imaginaries that are other to non-Indigenous Australians” (Slater 149).

Works Cited

Das, Arindam. “Resisting Deracination, Reviving Identity: Re-reading Kim Scott’s True Country.”Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, 4 (2), 2012, pp. 144-152.

Donnelly, John. “Benang by Kim Scott.” Australian Book Review, 6 (211),1999. australianbookreview.com.au. Accessed 21 Apr. 2023.

Haskins, Victoria, and Margaret D. Jacobs. “Stolen Generations and Vanishing Indians: The Removal of Indigenous Children as a Weapon of War in the United States and Australia, 1870-1940.”Children and War: A Historical Anthology, edited by James Marten. New York University Press, 2002, pp. 227-241. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/historyfacpub/10. Accessed 22 Apr. 2023.

Money, Jazz. “The Form and Function of Narrative Perspective in Kim Scott’s True Country.NEW: Emerging Scholars in Australian Indigenous Studies, 1 (1), 2015, pp. 28-36.https://doi.org/10.5130/nesais.v1i1.1399. Accessed 18 Apr. 2023.

Renes, Cornelis Martin. “Kim Scott’s Storying: a Sense of Country.” The Colonies. 2012.

Scott, Kim. Benang: From the Heart. Australia: Fremantle Press.1999.

---. True Country. Australia: Fremantle Arts Centre Press. 1993.

Slater, Lisa. “Kim Scott’s Benang: An Ethics of Uncertainty.” JASAL, 4, 2005, pp. 147-158. https://ro.uow.edu.au/artspapers/1500. Accessed 21 Apr. 2023.