I read an article* today about non-Aboriginal writers using Aboriginal characters and Aboriginal themes in their fiction. The article was quite severe in its criticism of non-Aboriginal writers, but I couldn’t ignore writer Melissa Lucashenko’s point: it is inappropriate to write of a culture that is not your own; that the writer’s own prejudices will leak into the pages, and many complex or sensitive issues are usually overlooked or ignored in the process. Does this mean that I can never have Aboriginal, Maori, Tibetan, Cherokee or Incan characters in my books because I’m Anglo-Irish Australian? This seems a little unreasonable to me, after all, humanity is as diverse as it is considerable. In Australia about 70 indigenous languages are spoken with a further 60 or more non-indigenous languages. How are we to deal with Lucashenko’s caveat? How will I write about the Northern Territory, where one in every two people is indigenous? What message am I to take away from Lucashenko’s almost hostile treatise? I can’t blame her for being protective of her culture and its laws and my own code of ethics prohibits me from “trespassing” as she puts it, onto other cultures without first doing a lot of primary research. That means seeking permission, seeking advice from Elders and leaders and being mindful of cultural laws. What do you think?
*”Muwi muwi-nyhin, binung goonji: boastful talk and broken ears” by Melissa Lucashenko, in Writing Queensland, Vol 186, Jul 2009