I don’t normally trawl the interwebs for short fiction because publishers and authors send Dark Matter more than sufficient items for review. However, Dr Sean Williams, a respected Australian author, made this comment on Facebook:
What, is it Offend Indigenous Australians Week in the SF flash fiction community at the moment?
So I headed to Sean’s links to see what was happening.
One link was to Dreamtime by Phyllis A Duncan. Phyllis is an American author and her bio doesn’t mention visiting Australia much less living here. Apparently Phyllis feels entitled to co-opt Indigenous Australian culture without following the guidelines set for writing in their culture. She says:
The hiss-crack of static has a familiar sound, as if some alien with thinned aboriginal blood has sent its song into space toward this speck in the sky. We are kindred spirits, that alien dreamwalker and I, for am I not the alien here, my face the only dark one among the pale?
The non-Australian author is saying that the dark person in his own homeland is an alien because he’s the only dark one among white people.[splutter]
Country. If she doesn’t get the concept of Country, not “the” country, not “a” country, not “a piece of land” but COUNTRY according to Australian Aboriginal culture then she should not be writing in this culture.
Meanwhile, in Dreamtime by Matthew Harrison, a captain of a spaceship treats a member of his crew like shit. He treats the telepathic Aborigine like a prima donna. This is the guy whose role is to communicate with Earth lightyears away, without whom they’re isolated in the deep black. Meanwhile the (presumably) white captain is nurtured by a subordinate woman who really should have told the captain to get his head out of his ass and start being a team player because every member of the crew is essential and telepathy is complex.
How the fuck did this “captain” qualify for his role if he doesn’t understand his crew and their needs? Is he a poor man’s version of Mal Reynolds who bought his ship and gathered a rag-tag crew together? Obviously he doesn’t like the telepath; is the telepath the equivalent of Simon? Pardon the Firefly references but I’m struggling to make sense of the story.
Harrison’s solution is the white captain playing the didgeridoo because that helps the Aborigine. Ooo, isn’t the white captain awesome. And so special that he can learn to play the didgeridoo after looking at it one time. Not to mention: white person playing a sacred instrument fixes the Aborigine.
Someone get me a bucket.
Both of these stories feature the worst kind of colonial-style cultural misappropriation with complete disregard for the culture and theft occurring.
For more information about how to write Indigenous Australian culture, the Australia Council has this guide.
More protocols for working with Indigenous artists including writing are available from the Australia Council here.
Anna Yeats, the publisher of the flash fiction magazine has apologised; she deeply regrets any offence caused. Anna is investigating ways of building bridges and using this incident as a learning experience for us all, helping the entire community learn more about writing Indigenous culture and cultural appropriation in general.
I haven’t heard from Phyllis Duncan whose flash fiction was published on a different website with the same name as Anna’s Every Day Fiction. It appears Phyllis has removed her story without comment.
Please note: for a while the locals were called “Australian Aborigines” then that was deemed insulting because every country has its own aborigines.
Then they were called “Indigenous Australians” but that term was co-opted by the patriarchy. Y’know, the patriarchy that sent Australia’s armed forces to invade Indigenous communities and is currently trying to remove Aborigines from their land. Again.
Last year I interviewed Keelen Mailman who assured me that “Australian Aborigines” is, again, the correct term. Like the Queer community, they’re reclaiming and reframing the title. However, different people want to use different terms so I do my best to use the terms preferred by the people to whom I am talking. It’s confusing.
In addition to the nationwide terms “Australian Aborigines” and “Indigenous Australians” each people group has their own culture and name.