Posts Tagged

Australian Literature

Representation and Silence in Post-Colonial Australian Fiction

In der Regel werden Machtbeziehungen auf geschriebenen Wörtern oder gesagten Äußerungen aufgebaut. Ob dies auch ohne geht und Rituale, Gesten oder unbeantwortete Fragen eine Form von Selbst-Repräsentation und Macht sein können, untersucht diese Arbeit.

1. Introduction to Post-Colonial Australian Literature

The notion of silence as a way to find and gather representation is a fairly new idea and has been overshadowed by the thought of oppression for a long time. The idea of it comes along with post-colonial studies and their recognition of ambivalent structures which can be subsumed under the ubiquitous ”holy trinity” of race, class and gender. Along post-colonial and other studies new findings have shown that, for example, it was not always only the indigenous population which suffered under colonialism but also white women were subjected under their patriarchal societies.

Important scholars like Edward Said proved that colonialist endeavours were never aimed at a single or limited stay. The aim of most of the colonialists was to take their white European civilisation and inflict it on the indigenous population. On the other side, discourses also present observations that reveal a fear or rebuke of ”going native” and developing back to the indigenous population. Whether the colonisers were afraid of a mute indigenous culture which was able to exercise power or the colonisers just wanted to depict the indigenous peoples as counter-examples cannot be discussed here. Nevertheless, this example can be taken as a hint to a more ambivalent and less clear cut image of the relationship between ruling and subjected groups and their reciprocal representation.

The underlying urge of representation usually is the intention to have an own identity. On the one hand, Australians were still dependent on their descending Empire, but on the other, they claimed Australia as being their country and they did not want to give it away (although the indigenous population lived their long before). They justified their view with their western civilisation and modern culture. The colonisers saw themselves as the parents and the Aborigines as their children who they had to help. However, they degraded them quickly and their representation on the governmental level was the Department of Fisheries, Forests, Wildlife and Aborigines. Australia has been mainly formed by the exclusion of Aboriginals because white settlers marked them as ‘the other’. This fact has not changed and that‘s why Australian culture can still be described as colonial (Sheridan 1995: 121).

These and other examples of representation are the underlying structure of theories on representation and silence. Most of them are based on thoughts of the founding fathers of post-colonial theory, e.g. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin and Edward Said among many others. However, as this paper is about silence and representation, it is helpful to consider The Power of Silence by Adam Jaworski. It revises the advantages and disadvantages of muteness in private and public conversations and will be dealt with later on.

The aim of this paper is to combine theories on representation and silence with four works of authors and directors from Australia and New Zealand: Katherine Susannah Prichard‘s Coonardoo, Warwick Thornton‘s Samson and Delilah, Jane Campion‘s The Piano and Romaine Moreton‘s ”Blak Beauty”. The keystone is that silence is not only regarded to be a sign of weakness and humiliation, but it can also be seen as a lack of understanding or choice of non-communication. When groups are underrepresented by the ruling classes it does not necessarily mean that they are weak. There is and never was a power that was that strong to control even the boundaries of society. Therefore, it can be claimed that silence is a way of representation and a careful view at the periphery might reveal means of power and an-other perspective. The aspects which are the main focus of this paper concern 1) the authorship of the mentioned artists, 2) issues along gender, race and class, 3) notions of perspective, power and truth as well as 4) instances of language and naming. The question which this essay tries to answer is whether underrepresented – indigenous as well as female – groups are represented in the works mentioned as gaining power through silence, whether silence can be used as a powerful device, and whether there are boundaries which cannot be overtaken with the help of silence.

1.1. Introduction to Representation and Silence

Why representation is an important tool in societies, can be shown by a look at various underrepresented minorities. Most of them are not considered in administrative discourses because they do or can not take part in decisions. Therefore, representation – as a picture of a significant object – can also be seen as language because language promotes ideologies of leading classes.

If we look at linguistics, we get to know that most words receive their meaning and concept arbitrarily because most of the time there is no direct correlation between signifier and signified. Moreover, historical linguistics proved that meanings can change and those who changed it were groups of the majority. In consequence, representation led to power and silence to subjugation.

The most important theory of what a discourse is has been formulated by Michel Foucault. Roughly, he defines it as any form of conversation within certain limits. He tried to set out the parameters within an utterance was possible and tried to enlarge the field of discourse. The pivotal part of this is that an enlargement of this field might result in changed power structures and unveil weaknesses in ideologies of the ruling classes. For the case of the Aborigines, however, it should not be taken as a form of rebellion due to the fact that upheavals in large did not take place. Furthermore, it has to be kept in mind that the ruling discourses used representation as a mean to represent the ”other” and as a counter-example for the representation of the ideal colonialist. Like that, colonialist formed both the stereotypical colonialist as well as the stereotypical colonised. These discourses formed identities and it might be said that these ideologies built up realities, too. However, these notions always underlie shifting powers and their perspectives. Thus, Marx‘s theory of the ”false consciousness” and misrepresentation is right because it underlines that the ruling class determines the view of societies on themselves and cannot uphold ultimate truths or realities permanently. Nevertheless, there is also a positive aspect which has been announced by Louis Althusser. He pointed out that subjects might be born into certain expectations, but it also gives them a secure guideline, social codes and conventions. It offers them a framework to orientate themselves and build up an identity. But by offering this scheme, it clearly aims at a prototypical ideal and promotes an underlying ideology and the differentiation between those who follow or inherit it and the ”others” who do not.

The most obvious and direct way to promote and determine ideologies is through language – either written or spoken. Major ideologies could never have had such a huge impact on their subjects without the power of propaganda. Nevertheless, there are ways of communication which do not lie their basis on different forms of exchanging information. Sign language, for example, is equally representative and even consists of different local or regional dialects. Therefore, it cannot be far-fetched if we say that silence can be a way of communication and representation as well. To come back to ideologies, though, it seems hard to establish silence next to propaganda because propaganda in its most negative connotation evokes images of party gatherings where speeches are held and everybody screams in unity; anything but silent.

Silence seen by Adam Jaworski, however, is a powerful mean due to its ambivalence. If somebody wants to be indirect or polite it leaves options. Moreover, it can be used to avoid an open conflict. Although it is more difficult to undo words, a person might interpret dumbness when a certain answer is expected. Jaworski emphasises that these interpretations become especially important in cross-cultural communications. He concludes with the ambivalence of speech and silence and underlines the helpfulness of speech and gestures as well as facial expressions (Jaworski 1993: 24-25).

If we look at the past, it can be concluded that silence cannot be pinpointed as an effective and essential tool for representation. Theories and historical discourses have shown that representation was mainly focused on majorities. However, since voices from the former colonies and colonised get louder, they receive more attention and gain representation.

2. Representation and Silence

2.1. Authorship

On a meta-level we can observe that similar happenings and circumstances occur for the authors and directors themselves. Narrations which were not accepted had to find alternative ways of being published. The possibilities either consisted of pseudonyms, minor publishers or publishers from different countries. Romaine Moreton is the only indigenous representative in this paper and therefore technically underrepresented. Nevertheless, along with other Aboriginal poets like Lionel Fogarty and Jack Davis she is one who reached certain fame and apart from this is a female indigenous poet. On the opposite there is Jane Campion, who had an international success with The Piano. She does represent the Maori culture in the film, but does not make it her central priority. She focuses much more on the ambivalent situation of white female colonisers and their submission to patriarchal colonialism which will be dealt with later on.

The following two artists, Katherine Susannah Prichard and Warwick Thornton, shall stand as examples of issues of authorship at the beginning of the 20th and 21st century. Both are white colonisers or respectively descendants of them. Prichard had to struggle to publish Coonardoo, thus she submitted her story under a male pseudonym in the Bulletin literary competition in 1928 and published it in England before finding an Australian publisher with Angus & Robertson. When Prichard wrote Coonardoo her readers were not prepared to open their minds for a love-story between an Aboriginal woman and a white man. It is not only a love-story, but also opens up a space between outback and white civilisation – a third space that was not thought about before (Prichard 1994: viii). One of the reasons which she exclaimed was that ”Life in the north-west of Western Australia is almost as little known in Australia as in England or America” (Prichard 1994: v). This underrepresentation led to a general misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Aboriginal culture. Prichard foresaw that there will be an outrage because of the love between a white man and an aboriginal woman. Love was not accepted while a pure sexual relationship was not a problem. These findings do not only put questions under a morally justified protest against Prichard‘s novel, but at least underline the preeminence of an Australian patriarchal society (Prichard 1994: v-vi).

The circumstances of being a female author writing about Aboriginal society under the influence of patriarchy offer an interesting situation. The fact that women were inferior in the Australian patriarchal society renders an interesting question on Australian female authors and their depiction of Aboriginal women: how does the other, i.e. Australian woman, write about the other Others, i.e. Aboriginal women (Sheridan 1995: 122)? Of course, it is always hard and dangerous to draw parallels between the narrator and the author, but in Prichard‘s case there are certain areas which can be linked. Prichard was a convinced socialist/communist and wanted to put attention on the situation of the Aborigines. Many modern, post-colonial critics praise her for her unique and exceptional writing of her time. They say that she was the first to have an open mind for procedures in the aboriginal society and to express them with words and silences, too (Prichard 1994: vi). But, although it was the first novel with an aboriginal woman in the centre of interest, there are limits for Prichard to dig into aboriginal culture. For example, there are no conversations among aboriginal people that have been part of the novel. Prichard herself is not able to discard her white view (Prichard 1994: x; Sheridan 1995: 143-44). Furthermore, she names her novel after an aboriginal woman, but describes Coonardoo stereotypically according to the white view: sexual, mad and suffering (Prichard 1994: xii).

Although Warwick Thornton himself is a white Australian, he did not have the same problems to publish his work like Prichard 80 years later. He even got awarded, among others at the Cannes Film Festival and won the Caméra d‘Or. Moreover, he even got nominated as the best foreign film at the Academy Awards.

The biggest advantage of Thornton‘s film is that he chose first-time actors with Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson as protagonists of the film. In interviews about the film, it is obvious that both are much closer to the characters, because their capability to speak English and communicate is fairly limited. Like this Thornton does not only give voice to a subject which is underrepresented in the predominantly white media, but also gives voice to actors/persons who are able to identify with a few events that happened in the film. The doubts which might come up according to Prichard‘s piece do not occur due to Thornton‘s authentic and passive shooting.

As Jaworski pointed out, cross-cultural communication is complicated when issues are raised which have not been addressed before or in other words have been silenced. This counts for Prichard, who had to struggle to get her story published. Warwick Thornton did not have these problems in the 21st century because he tried to establish a mutual cross-cultural level of communication. Although the topic of petrol-sniffing and tedious way of life in the Aboriginal community is not present in white Australian‘s everyday culture, it received many awards. Due to the equally successful Jane Campion, it is not a decisive factor that Warwick Thornton is male and Katherine Prichard female. It is rather a change in society and perspective upon cultural differences which underlines the argument that silence and underrepresented groups gained a more powerful position than it had during Prichard‘s times and the centuries before.

2.2. Gender, Race, Class

Gender, race and class are the most dominating topics in post-colonial studies. Their origin, of course, can be traced further back into the past, but their interrelationship and impact cannot be underestimated anyway. British, for instance, noticed that Aboriginal men were not at all the one and only breadwinner, but Aboriginal women were at least equally important and men in fact also participated in nurturing children. This, of course, challenged European ideals of social order and led to discussions about gender roles and society (McCrath 1995: 36). Generally, the most important aspects concern contrasts and interrelations between men and women, indigeneity and colonialist people, lower and higher class. By saying that, it means in consequence that gender, race and class can be found in many sequences and passages, too. However, this paper is not supposed to be an analysis on these terms only and that is why only a few scenes are chosen which stand prototypically for silence as a mean of (mis)representation in terms of gender, race and class.

In Coonardoo, we find out that Hugh does not want to marry an aboriginal woman. He wants to ”marry white and stick white” (Prichard 1994: 51). However, Hugh desires Coonardoo and thus, the question arises whether he does not want to or cannot marry an Aboriginal woman. Obviously, he feels obliged to keep his white race white. The

expectations force him to say what he is not convinced of. The preeminent discourse of the ruling Australian class makes it impossible for him to utter an impossible urge to start a serious relationship with Coonardoo. Unfortunately, there is no third space for Hugh as he feels obliged to fulfil the expectations of the white Australian community.

On the other side, there is the ambivalent character of Sam Geary and his ambivalent treatment of Aboriginal women. He is mean and personifies the stereotypical cruel, violent and consuming coloniser. On the other side, he lives in intercultural relationships, although these are far away from any notion of emancipation and equality. Coonardoo becomes one of Geary‘s gins in the end when they commit sexual intercourse. There is an ambivalence in the scene which swings between the images of a predator consuming its prey and the dependence of its prey on the predator (Prichard 1994: 203). However, it can be claimed that she does not depend on Geary in person, but in general on somebody who fulfils her needs. This picture, nonetheless, strongly evokes the colonial view of the wild and sequacious Aboriginal woman who has to be saved by a white heroic coloniser who fulfils her lust, eventually. He is a prototypical coloniser and subjects Aboriginal women, but it is known throughout the society that he treats them well, too. This might be the result of pretended values and discourses of the ruling classes.

On the opposite, Hugh clearly loves Coonardoo, but does not allow himself to perform his feelings which makes him mad at the end and results in both the death of the station and Coonardoo herself. Hugh‘s relationship with Mollie is clearly aimed at the production of a male heir. Mollie does not give birth to a boy and is at the end of her physical power, finally. When Phyllis comes and visits the station years later, she is not recognised by Hugh at first. While Coonardoo embraces her, Hugh‘s daughter is not represented in his memory. Nevertheless, Phyllis is a very talkative and self-confident young woman and does not listen to her father when he tells her to leave. Phyllis – as well as Bessie –  is a woman who wants to be her own boss and decide for herself.

A look at Samson and Delilah presents similar incidents as there are no signs of miscegenation and traditional allocations of roles are not challenged neither. At the beginning, Delilah does not want to share her home with Samson, but they end up in a very mature love relationship for teenagers. It is stereotypically male that Samson has to court for Delilah and her grandmother understands immediately by calling Samson ”her husband”.

Another sign for a conventional display of role behaviour is the scene where

Samson listens to music in the middle of the night. Body language and music is taken up as a mean to communicate and express oneself. Samson emancipates through his rock music and Delilah sees him with different eyes. She sits in her car and listens to her Spanish love music while he dances toplessly. Delilah‘s taste in music mirrors the stereotypical romantic fantasy of girls to be saved by a heroic boy. While Delilah sits in the car in a reddish light adoring Samson, he shows his bare upper body, moves around, almost personifying an ape illuminated in a blueish shine. In spite of this traditional display of roles, Delilah stays an independent figure and emerges as the most important person in the end. She is the one who cares for Samson when he is a victim of his addiction. Thus, the conservative role of the woman is challenged for both white Australians, but also Aborigines.

Concerning race and class, it can be said that they belong to the lowest class possible because they are Aboriginal. When they go into a supermarket they are immediately followed by a security person. Even when they are severely injured, the cashier wishes them a nice day. If she meant it like she said it, she would have realised their bruises and might have tried to find them a doctor. The boundaries of silence become blatant as they do not have access to education and health. Even the homeless Gonzo has better chances to find people who care for him when he leaves Samson and Delilah for a rehab. In contrast to silence, words become more powerful because they stand for help. The fact that Samson and Delilah do not speak also means that they do not belong to a class where social security, education and health is offered. Thus, silence is both an exclusion of power structures and frameworks which exclude them from promoted identities and put them among the not represented group of others.

Most importantly in The Piano, is Ada‘s ambivalent situation as a female, upper class, white person who on top of that is mute. She stands for the ambivalent situation for white female colonisers in a patriarchal society who are affected by the same injustices as indigenous people. In spite of their ”higher” race and class, these women suffer under misrepresentation and tutelage, too. Ada‘s father, for example, marries her to a man, Alistair Stewart, she has not met yet. Later we get to know that her daughter, Flora, has been born out of a relationship, but not a marriage. Back then this was a hard situation because it was not accepted and she had to struggle to finance her and her daughter‘s life. In consequence, her father decided to send her far away, in fact as far away as possible. Apparently, Ada‘s muteness is not quiet enough as she is still (re-)present(-ed) in Scotland, so he sends her away.

On the opposite side are the Maori. They are a remarkable group in The Piano, because they are not suppressed and they are anything but voiceless. Many times they comment on things and foresee the events which are still to come. In comparison to fairy tales or Shakespearean terms, they rather take up the role of the fool, who has the lowest rank in society but is the wittiest one of all. Accordingly, they make fun of Alistair and do not treat him like a master or typical coloniser.

In general, Alistair does not convey the typical image of a male, white coloniser; especially, when he is compared to Sam Geary in Coonardoo. When he and Ada have their first encounter at the beach, he is nervous and tries to be an empathetic husband. However, later he forces her to accept that George Baines will get the piano and does not negotiate with her at all. Parallel to Hugh who also lacks of a (third) space; both hang between expectations of their peer groups and their inner emotions. These thoughts, however, cannot be uttered in public and end up in physical harm against women. Again in comparison to Coonardoo, the best solution is an intermarriage between the group of representative power (Baines) and the group of silence (Ada). The Piano on this account does not have to address miscegenation because of the Maori‘s independence.

This type of independence is also mirrored in ”Blak Beauty” by Romaine Moreton who sets up an interesting connection between the Aborigines and their connection to the country. To put it in a nutshell, Aboriginal belief says that many mythological animals formed Australia and thus they feel a very close alignment to the Australian countryside and nature as a whole. There is no hierarchy among Aborigines and their surrounding because ”clay is [their] words, the stone [their] friend, the sea [their] market, and tress [their] weapon”. Classes and hierarchies do not exist, so there is no upper or lower between Aborigines and nature, too.

While Moreton tells the reader about the meaning of ”blakness”, she also mentions the stereotypical depictions and prejudices which have been spread around by the white society. Their prototypical blackness encompasses images of black witchcraft, black comedy, black unlucky Friday, black eye, even blackmail, black market and black throat. Although Moreton highlights the power to form new words and fill them with individual, indigenous meaning, these new concepts are not represented in white (Australian) societies.

In conclusion, it can be said that silence in connection with gender, race and class offers an ambiguous picture. On the one hand, there is a fear of miscegenation that goes

hand in hand with the earlier mentioned fear of ”going native”. This aspect can be detected in Coonardoo as well as in The Piano. It stands for a silence of an intercultural relationship and accepts identity constructions only which orientate on guidelines. These guidelines, however, develop as threats and leave no third space for Hugh and Alistair. While certain men fail to find a way to an alternative role model, women stay sexually dependent on men in the cases of Coonardoo and Ada. They cannot pass the patriarchal system and in the case of Coonardoo die, or in the case of Ada nearly die before they learn how to speak and represent themselves with words. The representation of white and aboriginal women is juxtaposed to each other with the result that their situations are often the same: they are sold, have to serve and give birth (Sheridan 1995: 127). For Samson and Delilah, however, this possibility is out of question. They are not only excluded from any institution, but also move further apart into the outback and start a life on their own. Also Romaine Moreton analyses speech critically as she juxtaposes the concept of ”bla(c)kness” and comes up with superficial judgements mainly presented by mass media.

2.3. Perspective, power and truth

Talking about it, mass media can be an useful source to investigate power structures and their ideologies. Mass media is usually seen as the mouthpiece of the ruling classes and consumed both by the represented and by the underrepresented. Thus, power and truth go together and can be recognised along the discourses of the dominant classes. However, as mentioned earlier, post-colonial studies have uttered the thought that even the most powerful classes have never been able to control states, groups or cultures completely. Therefore, perspective of ”others”, mostly minor and underrepresented societies can be investigated in order to find out whether there are certain areas where overt or covert discourses of silenced groups take up their voice and offer their perspective.

Interestingly, in Coonardoo, white civilisation can be put on a level with silence. Every time somebody goes to the cities along the coastline in order to get healthy again (Hugh) or even to leave forever (Mollie) the reader does not hear anything about what happens in greater detail. Thus, white civilisation is put in an unknown, even mythical corner if the perspective is taken over by Aborigines. They do not know much about the white people‘s society and their technological developments, because they know their own

ways to deal with diseases with the help of the surrounding nature. On the other hand, it can also be said that it is not worth mentioning for a white reader. Therefore, this silence can also be seen as a device to keep those who do not have the knowledge away from power.

This ambivalence is held up if we look at Bessie and other white settlers. Bessie only has little knowledge of the customs of Aborigines, apparently due to a lack of communication or indifference (Prichard 1994: 25). There is no exchange on cultural grounds and a cross-cultural communication à la Jaworski is avoided. The whites are not interested in the Aboriginal culture because they see theirs as superior. But the influence of the white coloniser‘s culture is limited. Bessie, for example, is  frustrated when she realises that Coonardoo cannot be taught to be a civilised white person because she gets too much influence from her aboriginal culture. The question remains unanswered whether Bessie is discontent because she sees Coonardoo as one of her children or only as one of her subjects. Anyway, it can be stated that the influence of white people‘s society and especially their language is not ubiquitous. Thus, the power of silence exists due to Coonardoo‘s inclination towards Aboriginal culture. One reason might be that Coonardoo is not allowed to talk about aboriginal rituals. Here silence is a mean to keep secrets, to share knowledge only among fellow Aborigines and keep whites out of Aboriginal culture. Thus, Aborigines depict white colonisers as the ‘others’ (Prichard 1994: 26) and turn the ”game” upside down.

Nevertheless, there are limits where silence does not have influence anymore. When Hugh comes home from his boarding school, Bessie hands over the country to him. The question might be asked whether she actually owns it and therefore has the justification to give it to her son (Prichard 1994: 33-34). The results and repercussions of the ownership of Australia are without a doubt negative for the Aborigines. One reason for these issues might be the fact that Aboriginal language (an oversimplification because there were 300-700 in the 18th century, whereas today‘s number might be around 150) does not know words or concepts like ”ownership” as well as ”master” or ”boss”. As linguists claim that languages and their concepts influence their speakers on a wide range, it sheds a negative light on the English, colonising language and a very cooperative one on the aboriginal tongue. As a result, however, Aborigines lose their country and foundation to live and become servants of the white settlers.

In Samson and Delilah Thornton tried to put petrol sniffing in a different light. This addiction, unfortunately, is fairly common in the Aboriginal community, but little is reported about it. Normally, petrol sniffers are represented as homeless, uneducated, dirty, benumbed, but Thornton tried to humanise their fate and give them also a caring and tender image.

On the other hand, the white Australians who are able to help are depicted negatively. Especially the role of Christianity and the church as a whole are represented as a hollow and hypocritical institution. Although Christian churches are even built up in the outback, they do not care for their believers. Christianity is just another device to exploit Aborigines and extract their original identity. When Delilah is in a church in Alice Springs – beaten, wounded in her face, dirty clothes on – she sees the hollowness of Christianity. The church promotes charity, but Delilah does not profit from it. There is even a painting of a coloured mother with a little child and a halo behind them. It looks like Maria and her baby Jesus who might promote the idea of a multicultural Christian society, but a priest turns up and even he does not talk to Delilah and offers her help. In spite of these happenings, she places a cross on a wall at the end when she is with Samson at her new house. This action either represents that the values of Christianity are higher and go beyond buildings and people or from a colonial viewpoint that representations of white identity still influence Aborigines even after all what they have gone through.

In addition, the film withholds a few scenes and leaves it to the audience to fill them with content. When Delilah is kidnapped by white men she comes back beaten up. The audience does not have to guess, but for sure the white men abused and raped. On the other side, when Delilah has the car accident, white Australians come rushing to her and bring her to a hospital obviously. These interpretations are not hard to grasp, but if we try to reach a communicative level with Samson, it gets harder and more broadly based. For instance, the interpretation of ”S4D onely ones” which Samson writes on the wall of the shop. One could come up with four different results at least: 1) Samson for Delilah – only ones; 2) Samson for Delilah – lonely ones; 3) sad only ones; 4) sad lonely ones.

However, Samson and Delilah are not able to develop a power or concurrence within Australian society. They go back to their station and leave for a remote place. In juxtaposition to Coonardoo, the message is not cooperation, but distinction. Thornton presents their destiny and wants to make the white Australian society aware of it. There are Aborigines in their country who share the similar occurrences and feelings with Samson and Delilah.

An important aspect of The Piano is the mystery around Ada and Flora‘s identity: does Flora tell the truth when she says that her father was a famous German composer and Ada an opera singer? Ada silences her. Is Flora right when she claims that her mother became mute after an accident? The whole scene can be compared to a fireside story and therefore gets closer to rumours than truth. However, the women who Flora tells the story to are of a simple kind and believe her. Similar rumours are put in Alistair‘s mind by them and put most of the pressure on him. They are not able to change perspectives and get access to anything but their own perception. When Flora comes up with one of her mother‘s sayings which is that most people only talk rubbish and it is not worth listening, they are startled and do not review it critically. The perspectives of both Flora and the women exercise influence upon others and especially in Alistair‘s case lead to the exertion of his power over Ada when he chops off one of her fingers.

By cutting off Ada‘s finger, Alistair deprives her off a crucial device for playing the piano and to communicate in Ada‘s case as well. But, when he actually uses his axe and does so, she does not make a single sound. Therefore, it is questionable whether he was able to punish her at all, because eventually all this pain leads to a liberation. Although she is in pain she is not uttering a single sound and represents herself first, as a brave person and secondly, as unwilling to communicate.

Romaine Moreton‘s poem deals with nature and gives it as well as Aborigines a voice. Although Aborigines do make sounds like nature, for example the bark of certain animals, the sound of a cyclone, the shattering of an earthquake, Aborigines are not represented or falsely seen by white Australians. They share features of animals, e.g. the plume of the emu, the tooth of the shark and movements of the spear and boomerang. They even move like unseen, but also unrepresented shadows. White Australian society has discarded itself from nature and rather tries to master nature than being a part of it.

Aboriginal beliefs, nonetheless, have been defined in large by white settlers as being wrong. Their culture has been transferred to ill-beliefs and superstition due to their ”bla(c)kness”. The ”bla(c)k beauty” had to be silenced and they could not worship nature any longer.

As ambivalent as before are the results for this chapter. Voiceless figures are able to reach powerful positions and oppose against stereotypical representations. For instance, indigenous and white people in Coonardoo reveal that white civilisation and

black culture oppose each other. White civilisation is an unknown land for the Aborigines, but there is no notion of a myth-building around it. In contrast to that, black culture is a quiet, unknown place to the white settlers, but in contrast they do come up with myths and rumours. Out of these stories the white settlers use their powerful position and create ”truths” for them. They also have the means to take the country and make their ownership a fact, another ”truth” for them. Samson and Delilah juxtaposes these thoughts most significantly with the help of the Christian Church. It stands for a powerful institution which promotes the words of The Holy Bible and western civilisation. On the other hand, when Flora talks about her fabulous story of ancestry, she also makes believe that it is true. She spreads a fairy tale which you might believe in. What might be most powerful of her story and the word of God are the underlying values. Especially in Samson and Delilah, Christian faith retains its position even after Delilah has been ignored by the priest in the Church in Alice Springs. But when she is back in her home country and puts a cross at the wall of her shed, it is clear that silence does not only mean ignorance and indifference, but also the belief in a better future, salvation and faith in a just deity.

Nevertheless, the silence of Aboriginal culture in Samson and Delilah evokes a loss of identity, too. The power of western civilisation brought Christianity to the Aborigines and resulted in a decay of their belief. In juxtaposition, Romaine Moreton puts up the debate of culture versus nature. The modern western civilisation might have brought many developments and improvements to us, but also a distance to nature. While indigenous people are able to survive in a remote place, civilised people are not anymore, although we are still part of nature – a thought which is also indicated with reference to Friday from Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe in Moreton‘s poem.

2.4. Language and Naming

Language and naming itself is the underlying structure of this paper and therefore it should mark the end point of the aspects under investigation. Being the opposite of silence it is important to analyse Language and Naming, too, because first, it presents those who bear a powerful position and secondly, it sheds light to those who are about to gain representation by finding a way of communication, too. Already a look at the titles Coonardoo, Samson and Delilah, The Piano and ”Blak Beauty” show a rich fundament of interpretation. Coonardoo and Samson and Delilah allude to muteness and subjugation under western naming. Coonardoo, i.e. the well in the shadows, is as controlled as

Samson and Delilah, i.e. two figures of the  Old Testament. In contrast, The Piano and ”Blak Beauty” can be seen as speaking up against violence and degradation. Both works suffer under preeminent discourses and struggle to be represented in their community. However, in the end Ada learns how to speak and the poem by Moreton ends with the description of blakness which is peace and harmony with nature.

This kind of peace and nature is also described in Coonardoo a couple of times, but especially Aboriginal language is branded as a bad tongue. Throughout the story of Coonardoo there is a scene where Saul – normally a fairly liberal mind about Aborigines – says that Aborigines forget their mother tongue and will not use aboriginal swear words anymore. First, it is apparent how language and its usage or not-usage performs domination and, secondly, Saul does not think positively about the aboriginal language (Prichard 1994: 128). This might be due to the fact that he does not understand them and feels uncomfortable with this. Anyway, it points out the strategy that has been practised with many languages on the borderline (e.g. Welsh, Breton and many others). Speakers of underrepresented or forbidden languages have to find alternative ways to keep their language and distinctive feature of their identity alive.

On the other side, but equally negative is the power of the white settlers to name items. Sam Geary, for example, names his Aboriginal women after Greek goddesses, but do not speak one word. They are subjugated to the will of Geary and are removed of any kind of identity. Furthermore, all the horses that have been domesticated are called after Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, too. This points out once again the power of white European civilisation and their power to name things and therefore exercise power upon the country (Prichard 1994: 45). Their influence is even so deep that Warieda uses the aboriginal language to help domesticating the wild horses. It might be true to say that the Aboriginal tongue is a special one because it has the power to communicate to the horses but this service helps the white colonisers to domesticate and geld them (Prichard 1994: 53).

Another almost mythological and prophetical naming can be interpreted if we consider that one of Geary‘s Aboriginal women is called Sheba. A glance at the meaning of the Old Testament‘s Sheba uncovers that she united southern Arabia to one single country after many battles. Although Sheba is underrepresented and given identity through Geary‘s power of naming her as he wishes, it promotes the assessment that there is only a future for Australia if Aborigines and white Australians can be united.

Aboriginal power of naming things is reduced to the station and their own limited circle. The Aborigines call Hugh either You (a reference and allusion to the reader?!) or Youie whereas Mollie is named Mulli. The Aborigines have to laugh when they say it, but we do not get to know why (Prichard 1994: 93). This passage is not only another example of the boundaries of communication, but also the power of naming things for Aborigines. They make Mollie feel uncomfortable and turn her into a foreign figure, an outsider who leaves the homestead eventually. A special significance, however, has to be paid to Coonardoo and her representation. Not only because the novel is called Coonardoo but also because of her meaning: the well in the shadows. It fosters images of deepness, fertility, but also of ownership and usage by the white Australians. There is an interrelation between nature and people (including indigenous and settlers) which explains why she and the homestead die eventually. By representing Aboriginal Australia and White Australia with Coonardoo and Hugh, Prichard parallels their fate with Australia‘s as a whole; if these two are not able to love each other, the country will decay and dissolve in nature (Prichard 1994: ix).

An example of white silence in connection with power of communication can be seen in the scene where Mollie asks Hugh whether Winni is his son. Hugh does not respond and leaves it up to Mollie whether she thinks so. However, this silence does not leave room for interpretation; the answer is clear. The Aborigines, on the other side, possess a whole system to communicate without using words. They sense each others thinking, they have an ”aboriginal intuition, instinctive wisdom” (Prichard 1994: 150).

As I mentioned before, it is quite hard to reach a mutual communicative level with Samson and Delilah. According to Therese Davis, the audience has to go beyond spoken language in order to understand Samson. The fact that there are not many dialogues, camera techniques and music get more important. There is Charley Pride, for example, who turns up with two songs: ”All I Have To Offer You Is Me” and ”Sunshiny Day”. Both symbolise the ambivalence for indigenous people and especially, at the very beginning, they convey a deeply sarcastic message. Charley Pride himself offers an ambivalent story as he was one of the few who had success as a black country singer. A representation is mainly possible through western music and other ways of representations which are highly influenced by western prejudices though.

Furthermore, Samson utters only a very limited amount of spoken language. It becomes clear throughout the film that he is not able to speak neither English nor

Aboriginal. Thus, the few expressions he makes are of a higher importance, then. At the beginning, when he plays the guitar, he says ”yeah”. Apparently, he enjoys playing the guitar because it is an opportunity to convey messages for him. But he can play the guitar only on very basic term and it rather sounds like noise. His brother who plays the guitar always takes away the instrument and does not leave him a chance to learn how to play a few chords which makes Samson sad and angry. Thus, his way of communication is limited to actions, gestures and facial expressions because he is not taught differently.

On the other side, Delilah speaks Aboriginal with her grandmother, although the English subtitles reveal that their language is also based only on a fundamental level and consists of fairly no elaborated constructions. It cannot be judged whether she understands English or not. The few encounters with white Australians are based on a few words only. Their communicative foundation could be grounded on gestures and facial expressions, too. In her case it might be quite likely that she chose not to speak English which would put her silence in a more powerful position. First, it would mean that she chose it actively and still has the power to decide. Secondly, the white Australian society might have influenced her (e.g. on religious terms), but the influence stopped at her language.

Right at the beginning of The Piano, Ada indicates that there is a difference between speaking and mind voice. She makes clear that she does not see herself as silent because of her piano. However, others do not treat her as a single, distinctive character. Her daughter Flora is her speaking voice, nobody else understands sign language, so Flora has to act as an interpreter. Thus, most of the others do not look at or address Ada when they want to communicate with her.

Baines, as indicated before, is a person who inherits both a white coloniser, but also features of the indigenous Maori. He speaks Maori and has a few tattoos who link him to the Maori culture. Furthermore, he is also linked to Ada through a lack of representation. Ada is not capable of speaking and Baines cannot read. Normally, there is no way of communication left because Baines does not play the piano either. Anyhow, they are able to communicate and even fall in love. In parallel, when Ada tells Flora the story of her father she points out that she did not need to speak to him and they could communicate without words, too. The Piano underlines the impossibility of expressing certain feelings, most of all love. Eventually, it even finishes with Ada getting her speaking voice again.

However, when they leave New Zealand she has to decide whether to keep the piano or push it overboard due to its weight. She decides to push it into the sea, but to go with it and drown as well. But she realises that she wants to stay alive, which is a surprise to hear as the mind voice admits. She decides against a silent grave and ultimate silence meaning death. On the contrary, she experiences a rebirth and starts a new life.

The most apparent feature of gaining voice, the power of representation in ”Blak Beauty” is the ”misspelling” of the word ”bla(c)k” itself. It does not only point out the contradiction that blackness has been defined by whites over centuries, but also the new strength of indigenous people to fill languages of the old colonisers with new meanings. There is a discussion in post-colonial studies whether a tongue of former colonisers can lead to more independence and self-determination in the first place, and whether it rather should be their native language which should be used. Nonetheless, it can be claimed at least that methods like ”misspellings” are indicators of distinction and thus, can be regarded as non-western. Thereby, Moreton gains possession of the word ”blak” and is able to give it a distinctive concept which is different to the ”original”. However, Moreton also regrets that the need for ”black” art demanded by the white society originated from the discovery of ”blak” art in the first place. By declaring indigenous beliefs as ”evil” and ”outlaw” ”the like of black art” was born. In consequence, many superficial judgements have been formulated and extended through western community.

3. Conclusion

The result of this paper shows that the works of Katherine Susannah Prichard, Warwick Thornton, Jane Campion and Romaine Moreton present advantages as well as disadvantages of silence as a way of representation. Examples from our everyday life reveal that communication does not only take place through words, but to a large amount also through silence supported by gestures and facial expressions. Especially, both films Samson and Delilah and The Piano make great use of silence and music as alternative forms of representation. In contrast, the perspectives of Prichard as an outsider and Moreton as an insider of Aboriginal community highlight that certain prejudices and stereotypes are still up to date. While Moreton‘s poem favours a harmonious and equal relationship with nature, Coonardoo, Samson and Delilah and The Piano finish with either death, segregation and love-unison. All of the artists describe the bond between colonisers, Aborigines and the land, but there are limits which seem to be impossible to

overcome with words (Sheridan 1995: 135). Thus, some questions remain unanswered if we combine all of them: does representation without silence mean that indigenous and/or white settlers lose their identity? Are indigenous people able to get representation and also participation in governmental institutions, eventually?

Silence, however, does not stop at indigeneity, but is equally performed on women in Australian patriarchal society. Thus, it is only men who perform acts of physical brutality upon silent women. Ada loses one of her fingers, Delilah is abused as well as raped, and Coonardoo is maltreated, burnt and dies, finally. Instead of Coonardoo, there are Bessie and Phyllis who function as women with a powerful voice. They are able to stand up for themselves and do not have to overcome a silence in the first place. Nevertheless, there is no sign that Aboriginal women are able follow them on equal terms. The same can be said of Delilah and the Maori women in The Piano. They care for their relatives and share many common interests, but they cannot or do not want to speak up against white women and white civilisation as a whole. Male white civilisation is not as much influenced by the female indigenous population as the other way around.



Campion, Jane. 2006 [1992]. The Piano. Ciby 2000.

Jaworski, Adam. 1993. The Power of Silence – Social and Pragmatic Perspectives. Newbury Park: SAGE Publications.

McCrath, Ann. 1995. ”‘Modern Stone-Age Slavery’: Images of Aboriginal Labour and Sexuality”. Labour History, No. 69: 30-51.

Moreton, Romaine. 2004. ”Blak Beauty.” 2004. Moreton, Romaine. Post me to The Prime Minister. Alice Springs: IAD Press.

Prichard, Katherine Susannah. 1994 [1925]. Coonardoo. Sydney: Angus & Robertson.

Sheridan, Susan. 1995. Along the Faultlines – Sex, Race and Nation in Australian Women‘s Writing 1880s-1930s. St. Leonards: Allen & Unwin.

Thornton, Warwick. 2010 [2009]. Samson and Delilah. Victoria: Madman Entertainment.