This semester I am teaching a creative writing course at the University of Wollongong (UOW) that I am really excited about. I’ve taught a number of other courses at UOW over the last few years and many that I have been genuinely enthusiastic to teach – I like teaching and I particularly enjoy teaching writing. There is something about engaging students in new ways of reading and thinking about writing and then writing that I find really rewarding.
This course, called ‘Writing Across Borders’, though, is an adaptation of a course that sits within the core subjects of the Creative Writing degree. It has been taught for a number of years by the award winning writer and academic Merlinda Bobis who has now retired from academia (but not writing – who retires from writing?). I was asked to re-vision the subject for my interests in postcolonial writing, whiteness and writing as a form of reply or dialogue. How cool is that? (Yes, I am a casual academic and we could have a discussion about the potential professional issues of this ask but you know what? Let’s not. Other people do that better than me, like here.)
My version of ‘Writing Across Borders’ focuses on Noongar writer Kim Scott’s novel That Deadman Dance that was published in 2010. It is a wonderfully told re-imagining of the colonisation of the Noongar people around Albany on the south west coast of Western Australia in the 1800s. The novel is inspired by true events of this frontier and is a sophisticated, engaging and moving evocation of the Noongar and European experience of colonisation.
Language, in all its connotations, is one of the primary themes of the novel. What is a language? How to communicate without language? What is lost when language is lost? Place and time is also primary to the novel – the specificity of experience, response, relationship – which is often overlooked in the broader discussions about the past and ongoing colonisation of Australia by non-Aboriginal people.
But significantly, the novel is about writing, it’s about how we tell our stories, what stories we tell and how we might be able to tell them differently. Investigating Scott’s writing with my writing students over 13 weeks is an extraordinary privilege, I reckon.
Because I am, in my writing and my life, overtly and continually interested in relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in this country, I am keen to keep track of the course as it progresses and so I have decided to blog our progress. I won’t be naming names or detailing responses from students in any way but I will be meditating on the material, posting links and asking questions – questions I have, questions my students have, questions that That Deadman Dance asks. I have also set weekly reading of other texts in a compare and contrast exercise and I will post those titles here as well. I hope you come along with me for the ride. To get started, here’s a link to a short taster of Kim Scott talking about That Deadman Dance.