Blood Call and ‘Natural Flutters’: Xavier Herbert’s Racialised Quartet of Heteronormativity

Main Article Content

Liz Conor


National belonging for Xavier Herbert was intimately tied to interracial sexuality. ‘Euraustralians’ (‘half-castes’) were for Herbert a redemptive motif that could assuage the ‘awful loneliness of the colonial born’ by which he hinted at the land claim of settler-colonials as spurious. Herbert’s exposure of the spectrum of interracial sex—from companionate marriage to casual prostitution to endemic sexual assault—in his novels Capricornia (1938) and Poor Fellow My Country (1975) was unprecedented and potentially game-changing in the administration of Aboriginal women’s sexuality under the assimilation era. But his deeply fraught masculinity was expressed through a picaresque frontier manhood that expressed itself through this spectrum of relations with Aboriginal women. For all his radical assertions of a ‘Euraustralian’ or hybrid nation, Herbert was myopic and dismissive of the women attached to the ‘lean loins’ he hoped it would spring from. He was also vitriolic about the white women, including wives, who interfered with white men’s access to Aboriginal women’s bodies. In this article I examine how Herbert’s utopian racial destinies depended on the unexamined sexual contract of monogamy and the asymmetrical pact to which it consigned white men and white women, and the class of sexually available Indigenous women, or ‘black velvet’, it rested on in colonial scenarios of sex.

Article Details

Xavier Herbert: Forgotten or Repressed? (Peer Reviewed)
Author Biography

Liz Conor, La Trobe University

Liz Conor is an ARC Future Fellow at La Trobe University. She is author of Skin Deep: Settler Impressions of Aboriginal Women (2016) and The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in the 1920s (2004). She is co-editor of the scholarly journal Aboriginal History and former editor of Metro Magazine and Australian Screen Education and has edited a number of collections and published in a variety of print and digital platforms, scholarly and general, including a column at New Matilda.


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