Write and Wrong: methods and practice of First Nations Australian representation in young adult fiction

  • Sophie Stanton

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

Representations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) peoples by non-Indigenous writers in young adult fiction is a complex area of study made contentious by political and social tensions stemming from Australia’s colonial history. Representations can have harmful real-world effects (Lucashenko, 2009) rooted not only in their consumption but also in the methods of production. When writing about Indigenous Australian peoples, non-indigenous authors are faced with negotiating these tensions. This thesis documents and compares information about the writing practices and reflections of non-Indigenous authors in regard to their critically lauded works that contain representations of Indigenous peoples. In doing so, it indicates moments of tension, success, and possible pathways towards deeper intercultural understanding.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten writers, all of whom published young adult novels shortlisted by the Children’s Book Council of Australia between 2002 and 2016, in order to explore their experiences of writing across cultures. Their novels were analysed with reference to postcolonial theories and Indigenous criticisms of representation in writing. The writers’ responses to the interview questions were coded and analysed according to established social research methods to establish individuals’ motivations and methods, and examine their reflections on writing about Indigenous peoples.
Discussion of the similarities and differences between the participants’ responses revealed three main themes relating to the research aims. Firstly, the participating writers have a broad awareness of tensions in Indigenous representation including the potential for appropriation and/or tokenism. Secondly, the participants are concerned about the contribution they are making to discourses involving Indigenous peoples and cultures. Finally, despite general agreement that the Protocols for Producing Indigenous Australian Writing (Protocols) are important, responses given by the writers conveyed varying levels of scepticism and resistance to using Protocols as a practical resource. These findings demonstrate the importance of Indigenous representation to Australian young adult literature production, and indicate and define areas of tension that offer opportunities for deeper intercultural engagement by writers.
Date of Award2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorTony Eaton (Supervisor) & Jordan Williams (Supervisor)

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