Maggie Nolan

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One of the questions driving Kim Scott's award-winning historical novel That Deadman Dance (2010) is whether "appropriation is a good thing, or is it a destructive thing"? (Scott, "Interview", 2010). That Deadman Dance is a fictionalised portrayal of cross-cultural contact on the so-called "Friendly Frontier" of the Southern coast of Western Australia in the early to mid-nineteenth century.1 Bobby Wabalanginy, the central character, is a confident, highly intelligent, but perhaps also na ve young Noongar, who appropriates whatever ideas and technologies the coloniser has to offer, including European clothing and technologies of reading and writing. Relations begin positively, especially with the inclusive Dr Cross, but after Cross's death, and with the growing town under the control of the avuncular yet self-interested Geordie Chaine, mutuality deteriorates. By the novel's end, as Bobby slowly undresses in a misplaced and ignored plea for the recognition of his people for their generosity in accommodating white settlers, it is clear that the openness displayed by Bobby is not reciprocated. He is forced to recognise that his more suspicious compatriots were right and that he had been wrong.


School of Arts

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Journal Article

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