Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Details

Griffiths, M. R. (2013). Indigenous life writing: rethinking poetics and practice. In B. Wheeler (Eds.), A Companion to Australian Aboriginal Literature (pp. 15-33). Rochester, New York: Camden House.


WHAT DOES IT MEAN to "write of life"? And how does Aboriginal writingposition itself in relation to the politics of life itself? The openingstanza to Jack Davis's poem about sixteen-year-old John Pat, brutallybeaten by police in 1983, troubles the relation between the Aboriginalcustom of not speaking the name of the dead and the necessary task ofmemorializing such trauma. One way to read the stanza is to identifythe pious as a double category: the pious may be those whites who insistDavis "forget the past"; yet, paradoxically, the pious may equally referto those voices of tradition from within the Aboriginal community thatinsist upon maintaining the taboo against speaking the name of the dead.John Pat's death is a tragedy, like that of so many Aboriginal victims ofAustralia's (post)colonial inheritance of trauma and continued structuralviolence and systematic dispossession. Speaking Pat's name is not onlytragic because of his death in police custody, on "a concrete floor / a celldoor," but also because of Davis's necessary compulsion to continue tospeak his name and thereby break a traditional taboo.