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A review of Frank Gurrmanamana, Les Hiatt and Kim McKenzie with Betty Ngurraban-Gurraba, Betty Meehan and Rhys Jones's People of the Rivermouth: The Joborr Texts of Frank Gurrmanamana (National Museum of Australia and Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 2002).
The concept of postcolonialism, and an Australian postcolonial literature specifically, is fraught with problems. The least of these is the reality of this country not yet being fully free from its British colonial inheritance, let alone from ongoing internal colonialism. Even so, postcolonialism is still a useful term to define a body of (particularly Indigenous) literature produced over the last thirty years. Keeping the irony in mind, Australia’s virtual postcolonial literature has been gaining increasing prominence, providing fertile ground for the political promise that one day may be realised as a state of actual Australian postcoloniality of sorts. In the meantime, the postcolonial movement desired and reinforced by the literature continues to gather momentum. People of the Rivermouth, a recent addition to the Australian anthropological corpus, initiates what looks like a promising future for postcolonial ethnographies; yet it too has some problems. While the book claims that it is ‘arguably the most comprehensive work ever produced on a single Australian Aboriginal group’, in effect presenting itself as an ethnography of the highest order, the main component of the work—the Joborr texts—are, I believe, somewhat more aligned to what Eric Michaels once described as ‘para-ethnography’: a story that transcends itself into a kind of incidental ethnography.
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