Publication Details

Slater, L. (2010). Saltwater cowboys: life in a time of death and destruction. Rethinking the Postcolonial in the Age of the War on Terror Symposium SA: University of South Australia.

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The MnM Centre in conjunction with the UNESCO Chair in Transnational Diasporas and Reconciliation Studies, held a joint Symposium titled: Re-Thinking the Postcolonial in the Age of the War on Terror, at the University of South Australia, on 16 and 17 September 2010. The aim of the symposium was to explore the postcolonial condition in the era of the 'war on terror' and to rethink postcolonialism in order to reformulate or reinforce its critical insights. This symposium will be the first in a series directed to re-thinking the postcolonial. Postcolonial thought was for the most part consolidated during the era of the Cold War and as such its critiques and interventions were implicated in the narrative and institutions of that global conflict. The stealthy emergence of a new grammar of international politics centred around the logic of the 'war on terror' demands a reconsideration of some central themes associated with postcolonial thinking. The violent hierarchy between the West and the Rest which characterised much of postcolonial interventions and critiques seems at once inadequate to the contemporary complexities of modernities, societies and cultures, yet at the same time necessary as campaigns of pacification, racisms and exploitations point to the continuities of coloniality


This paper begins at the Derby (western Kimberley, WA) bull rides, where young Aboriginal men compete to be champion bull riders - with the prize of a social status akin to an AFL football star. The abundance of life performed in this arena lies in stark contrast to the too often rehearsed appalling health and social statistics, which has produced policies such as the Northern Territory National Emergency Response, Shared Responsibility Agreements and 'Close the Gap'. Too many Indigenous Australians are in a state of relentless poverty, which is responded to with shortsighted instrumentalist policies. Achille Mbembe argues that the ultimate expression of sovereignty resides in the power and the capacity to dictate who may live and who must die - the creation of death worlds (2003). Notably, above the Tropic of Capricorn 90% of the prison population is Indigenous, leading some to contend that we are in a state of war. The wounded Indigenous body is represented as an aberration - outside of the healthy civic body - and in need of mainstreaming. In the political moment there is a focus upon the war on terror, but what of the war at home? War upon Australian soil seemingly has been consigned to history. Is it productive to consider the ongoing death and destruction in Indigenous Australia as forms of state based terrorism? The challenge as a postcolonial scholar is to not only critique our time but to also think relationally and trace paths of decolonization - to create models of thinking that renew life.