How a community imagines the past contributes to the shaping of its present culture; influences that community's vision for the future. Yet much about the past can be difficult to access, as it can be lost or hidden. Therefore, when retelling first contact stories, especially when the documentary information is limited to a colonial perspective, how might a writer approach fictionalizing historical Indigenous figures? 'Will Martin' (2011), a tale written as part of my practice-led PhD, is a fictional retelling of the eighteenth century sailing trip, taken along the New South Wales coast, by explorers Matthew Flinders, George Bass, and Bass's servant, William Martin. This paper traces my attempts to discover how to approach fictionalizing the historical Indigenous figures that Flinders met. Examining how some non-Indigenous writers have appropriated Indigenous culture and investigating what some writers have said about non-Indigenous writers creating Indigenous characters, provided me with some guidelines. Interviews with Indigenous elders, and other members of the Illawarra community, helped me imagine the gaps in knowledge. In the fictional retelling, using unreliable narration to suggest there may be multiple stories around a single historical event, some of which we may never get to hear, became a useful narrative strategy.
McKinnon, C. (2012). Writing white, writing black, and events at Canoe Rivulet. TEXT: Journal of Writing and Writing Programs, 16 (2), 1-17.