Publication Details

Griffiths, M. R. (2012). The correspondence of Bernard O'Dowd and Walt Whitman: Indigeneity and the cosmopolitics of settler literary nationalism. Antipodes: a global journal of Australian/New Zealand literature, 26 (2), 197-202.


In the last two years before his death, Walt Whitman corresponded regularly with an Australian poet named Bernard O'Dowd. While he would later reach great prominence O'Dowd was, at this time, an obscure antipodean nobody, a poetic dilettante whose voice was yet to emerge. On 15 March 1891, Whitman wrote to his admiring antipodean correspondent noting that "[t]houghtful folks here are paying much attention to you south there & Canada north" (Whitman, Collected Writings 5:176). Despite this gesture of transnational comparison between the two countries, Whitman makes no apparent connection between the indigenous peoples of either dominion, nor does he invoke the indigenous peoples of North America. This omission of indigenous Australians is a perplexing lacuna given his deep concern with Native Americans, for instance in the references to "Red Aborigines" in Starting from Paumanok, or to the "Squaw, wrapt in her yellow hemm' d cloth" passing among the multitudes of Song of Myself, or indeed to the "Austral Negro" highlighted in my epigraph (Leaves 30-1, 52). Whitman's association of Canada and Australia seems to be largely predicated on the connection of either to the United Kingdom. "The advice" of American writers on the two imperially governed nation states "is not to be in too g't a hurry to cut loose from G't Britain-but you both are the best judges and deciders of that" (Whitman, Collected Writings 5: 176). Despite this lacuna, there is a great deal to warrant the comparison between Whitman's attitude to the place of indigenous peoples in his vision of nation and a comparable articulation in O'Dowd's work. Each shares an insistence on nativist appropriations of indigeneity as the grounding of an embrace of difference that is nonetheless refused to the living indigenous subject.