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Tony Birch World

The Promise by Tony Birch
The Promise
by Tony Birch
University of Queensland Press
232pp
$22.95 AU
Published April, 2014
ISBN 9780702249990

Tony Birch’s first novel Blood (2011) was narrated by Jesse, a thoughtful, barely educated adolescent. Jesse’s childhood is characterised by changes of address and chronic insecurity, material and emotional. His damaged mother, Gwen, has failed him as a parent. In a cinematic sequence, Jesse and his sister Rachel are drawn into a dangerous chase across the roadkill-strewn highway that runs from Adelaide to Melbourne, and the back roads that sprout from it. They find themselves stranded in western Victoria. A giant koala takes shape in the dark, appearing as if in a dream. They stumble upon the abandoned ‘Carson’s World in Miniature’, a former tourist attraction in an area now empty of people or signs of life. The children hide for a time in deserted wheat silos. Later, a cave provides shelter for Jesse and Rachel; on waking they discover paintings on the roof. From a sign they learn the story of the ancestral spirit of the eagle, whom Jesse hopes is up there, somewhere, in the empty sky, ‘looking out for us’.

These are all markers of the ‘landscapes of abandonment’ that Birch, who holds a PhD in history, has theorised elsewhere. While touring sites of ‘colonial ruination’ in Victoria’s western district in the late 1990s, he came across ‘giant Koalas, miniature Great Pyramids and Eiffel Towers, and even a rather puny Big Apple’. The Giant Koala, he argues, ‘serves a fundamental if futile purpose’. This fifteen metre high marsupial appears on the highway, ‘Godzilla-like, to startle unsuspecting visitors’. Its purpose is to secure some kind of future for the town of Dadswell’s Bridge, even if the tiny town exists only to ‘guard and serve the interests of the Koala itself’. Without this fibreglass monument, Dadswell’s Bridge might well go the way of other localities in this district: after brief periods of prosperity, these places have been evacuated, revealing the sometimes tenuous nature of the colonial hold on Indigenous country. Yet Birch found them memorialised. Vanished towns and places remain signposted and represented on maps. In essays such as ‘Come See the Giant Koala’ and ‘Death is Forgotten in Victory’, he offers arresting readings of these unoccupied spaces ‘claimed’ by Europeans. He considers the anxious and contradictory attempts to inscribe the settler presence onto an Australian landscape both dominated and domesticated, and to erase the enduring Indigenous presence.

Bunjil’s Shelter (or Cave) is a central focus of Birch’s historical work on the backlash that accompanied the Victorian government’s 1989 decision to restore Indigenous place names to what was formerly called the Grampians mountain range. The Grampians eventually became ‘Grampians (Gariwerd)’, eliciting local responses that ranged from cynicism and ridicule to racist outrage. Note, too, that the bracketing of the Indigenous place name is not exactly a reversion or restoration, as first mooted. The legitimate right of the settler state to possess and name spaces, seemingly unsettled by the proposed renaming, was ultimately shored up by the subordination of the Indigenous place name.

Bunjil the eagle is an ancestral being held in common by many south-eastern Aboriginal language groups, and Bunjil’s Shelter is a significant rock-art site that has been subjected to ‘decades of vandalism by those affronted by the history it represented’. Birch has analysed the proposed commodification of the western district’s rock-art sites, whereby ‘Aboriginal culture’ might be sanitised, aestheticised and appropriated, before being squizzed at through wire mesh. He argues that, rather than representing traces of a cultural heritage that belong to a world that is popularly understood to have disappeared, the rock-art sites of Gariwerd are important to Koori people today for their cultural significance, but also as signs of occupation that link contemporary Victorian Kooris to their past.

*

Tony Birch’s fiction is part of a recent revival of the longstanding Australian tradition of social realism that is concerned with everyday lives of working class (and now welfare class) characters. While its origins lie in the late nineteenth century, and it was prominent in the 1930s in the work of Katharine Susannah Prichard and others, Ruth Park might be regarded as the matriarch of such a tradition; her superb Swords and Crowns and Rings (1977), recently reissued as a Text Classic, attests to her skill in creating empathetic portraits of lives in which intense pain and deprivation are mixed with joy. Birch’s fiction, like that of Christos Tsiolkas, is concerned with contemporary Australian formations of class. More specifically, in concert with Kalinda Ashton and Maxine Beneba Clarke’s recent debut Foreign Soil (2014), it concerns itself with lives lived on Australia’s social and economic margins. Where his historical scholarship disturbs colonial myths of ‘settlement’, questioning national narratives that tell of modernity, productivity and progress, his fiction unsettles a pervasive and related myth: that of social equality.

Reading Birch’s latest short story collection, The Promise, I found myself traversing familiar terrain – heading back into ‘Tony Birch World’. I have been on the back roads that teenage lovers wander along to the beach, and on the flat hard irrigation road along which ex-con Cal, the romantic protagonist of ‘China’, drives hard and fast — his beacon a radio tower pulsing a beam of red light across sheep country. I have been in the encroached-upon wild places that persist within cities, where, in ‘The Toecutters’, urban myths and adventures are thickly entangled with weeds that wend their way through heaped debris, animal remains, tossed amber bottles and car wrecks. Solitary wheat silos loom again in ‘Distance’, this time over a near-deserted town as the mechanic mouths off at Conway, a young blackfella with attitude, who is named after a his old man’s favourite country and western singer. It is Conway’s Nan who gently enfolds the story’s searching protagonist, bringing him ‘home’. In ‘After Rachel’, I picked through dusty sheds to find a forgotten record player, which brings music into the life of a lonely man.

Once again, Birch’s fiction confronts the reader with rural and urban landscapes of abandonment, scenes of decay and decline. The Promise deals with late modernity’s wastelands and the lives our society is willing to lay to waste. The landscapes are sometimes those left behind after factory work has disappeared from established working class neighbourhoods. Sometimes they are the depopulated trashed hinterlands of Australia’s sprawling cities — rural landscapes that speak of the decline of the agricultural industries upon which colonial Australia built its prosperity.

I read the twelve stories in The Promise on the train. My morning ride shuttles across that grand ‘iron coat hanger’. At its southern end, the bridge’s foundations are planted alongside Miller’s Point, where the kinds of working lives once centred on Sydney’s wharves have long since disappeared, but where residents are fighting the state government’s recent announcement that the entire public housing community of the area is soon to be evicted. The bridge is anchored at its northern end at Milson’s Point, where apartment blocks scale the sky high above Luna Park’s spooky, toothy grin. No doubt this area’s public housing residents, who enjoy harbour views, are wondering if they are next. It is easy not to notice these fixtures as the bright Sydney light bounces from the harbour to a skyline dominated by corporate towers and gleaming apartment blocks. But The Promise demands we go looking for that which is harder to see: the underside of all this plenty. Its characters are drawn from Birch’s imagination, but they are not drawn from an imagined world.

In the same way that Birch’s work on colonial ruination is evident in Blood, his corpus of historical writings, as well as his various reflections and commentaries, might further enrich the reading of his fiction, including The Promise. This does not involve simply mapping selected pieces on to other pieces to take pleasure in moments of recognition and neat alignment; I am also interested here in the fact that, while there is much in Birch’s non-fiction that might allow us to better understand his fiction, it is striking that he writes in two entirely different registers. This is not a ‘problem’ to resolve: its non-resolvability is crucial to my understanding of it.

Readers of Birch’s non-fiction will know that there is a ‘we’ and an ‘us’ and an ‘our people’ that is spoken of and for, with pride and in anger. In these works, Birch speaks comfortably in, and is designated as, an ‘Aboriginal voice’. But it also seems clear that he does not seek to produce fiction under the mantle of an ‘Aboriginal writer’. He does not see himself as necessarily producing something that should best be understood as ‘Aboriginal literature’. Having set the terms himself, he is not often talked about as an Aboriginal writer, or designated as one in the Australian literary landscape. His multiple positioning involves a refusal to play the part of the ‘public Aborigine’, a refusal born of an ambivalence that reveals much about the conditions of Australian public and intellectual life, and the broader social conditions that make it so difficult to fulfill the impossible demands of this role.

In his 2004 essay ‘Meeting with Simon’, Birch writes of his interpellation as an Aboriginal historian in the so-called ‘History Wars’. He remembers giving a reading in Melbourne in the same period, alongside the visiting Native American poet Simon Ortiz, where he rose to speak after enduring

one of those weeks in the life of a ‘public Aborigine’; of being worn down attempting not to justify an intellectual point of view within public discourse (as one might expect), but to defend existence itself – the existence of identity, the existence of history, the existence of colonialism’s dirty secrets. By the end of that week I was a knot of anger.

This anger dissipated as Birch read about the suburb he lives in to an attentive audience. He had developed his story alongside a group of kids at a local high school, and it spoke of the value of a familiar place. It spoke of ‘the marginalised, the outsider, the refugee, and how we can learn to value each other’. He left the church hall that cold North Melbourne night, sensing that he was valued by others, ‘something that we can never take for granted in Australia’.

Aboriginal public figures are caught in an invidious bind. They are called upon as if they have unmediated access to some kind of singular culturally distinct ‘Aboriginal perspective’ or Aboriginal experience; they are called upon as ‘Aborigines’ first and as intellectuals, writers and political actors second; they are called upon to speak but are often not heard unless they act as ventriloquists speaking desires imagined as properly Aboriginal. Of course, Indigenous public figures are not merely passive; they also assert themselves. But the assertion of one’s public Aboriginality carries profound risks: just ask Andrew Bolt’s litigants. The speakers’ right to exist on their own terms, let alone to opine, is more closely scrutinised when that person either does not, or perhaps does not want to, approximate (it is a fantasy, so no one fulfills) an image of what authentic Aboriginality looks and sounds like. Their contributions to public life risk being ultimately reduced – as Birch’s was – to a defence of their very existence as Indigenous people.

None of what I am saying here is new. Nor is Birch alone in having to negotiate all of this as a writer. Recall the bitter debate that erupted over Mudrooroo’s identity when, in 1996, it was revealed that his genealogy did not conclusively involve Aboriginal ancestry. It was Mudrooroo’s (then Colin Johnson’s) Wild Cat Falling that in 1965 instituted the category of ‘Aboriginal literature’ in Australia, although this work was as much an incisive portrayal of Australian post-war youth subcultures as it was significant for its world-weary Aboriginal main character. Some time after the controversy broke out, Mudrooroo reflected that he had been ‘textualised’ into being as an Aborigine by Mary Durack, his patron, who had edited Wild Cat Falling into publishability and penned its preface. Mudrooroo’s ‘race’, he later perceived, had been ascribed to him and this fact was crucial in shaping the creation and reception of his first novel, and in setting the course for his literary career.

Mudrooroo’s is an extreme example, but his experience highlights the way that creative work cannot be dis-embedded from the mediating structures surrounding it. The publicity, the preface, the biography, the prizes (many Aboriginal writers are introduced to their readership through the David Unaiapon award, for example) – all of these make possible, or at least more likely, certain readings of the work and occlude other possible readings.

Birch’s specific approach to the negotiation of these questions has produced a strange effect: the Aboriginal themes of much of his literary work tend to be scarcely commented upon by his interviewers and critics. I am anxious not be misunderstood on these points: I am not suggesting that Tony Birch is ambivalent about his Aboriginality. Rather, he seems to me ambivalent about the pitfalls of public Aboriginality. But I think readings of his work are diminished when they skip over its Aboriginal themes. This is also a question of genre: Birch’s social realism does not draw on pre-colonial Aboriginal oral and mythic traditions in the way that, for example, Kim Scott and Alexis Wright do, directing critical attention to their literary works as contemporary Aboriginal cultural forms. What Birch’s fiction brings to light are Aboriginal characters’ negotiation of everyday, shared social worlds in which they are also constantly called into being, scrutinised, doubted, dissected and, as he put it in his poem ‘Half-caste’, ‘re-assembled / in gubbah discourse’.

*

Tony Birch, the bio runs,

was born in inner-city Melbourne, into a large family of Aboriginal, West Indian and Irish descent. His upbringing was challenging and difficult, and much of this is captured in his remarkable debut, the semi-autobiographical Shadowboxing.

The stories in Shadowboxing (2006) are all told from the perspective of a boy, Michael Byrne, growing up in working-class Fitzroy in the 1960s. Birch has described his first short story collection as being autobiographical in a psychological sense rather than ‘in a realist way’.

In an article about the genre of slum photography, Birch has analysed Fitzroy’s notoriety as an archetypical slum throughout the twentieth century, where material deprivation signalled moral degeneration within a modern city that was ‘staking claims to progress’. These moral anxieties and a movement for reform coalesced around the question of sub-standard housing in the post-war period. While photographs are commonly accorded the capacity to document and represent (‘capture’) the truth, Shadowboxing documents a far more complex, textured counter-truth. It is a testament to the positive meanings and the sociability that filled a world described and perceived by outsiders only as an ‘abyss’. The art of storytelling was central to the lives lived in this crowded suburb, where families lived cheek to jowl, and young men were schooled in the violence necessary to navigate the streets.

Masculine violence is a central theme of Shadowboxing and Blood. In Shadowboxing, it is sometimes principled, sometimes brutal and an instrument of domination; in Blood, the violence of Ray Crow is pathological. There is an interesting shift in The Promise to an exploration of much more vulnerable masculinities, a point to which I will return.

Birch has said that he grew up in a household without books, but that he loved the Fitzroy Public Library as a kid. Even at his most wayward, he ‘never went anywhere without a novel in my back pocket, with my twin habits as a teenager being reading and smoking, often in tandem’. He cites Barry Hines’ Kestral for a Knave (1968) as a major influence. This novel, set in northern Britain in the post-war period, tells a story about the working class poor that Birch found familiar:

I related very much to that central character … who is a kid … under siege from all sorts of authority figures, whether it be family, teachers, the welfare state — which is in some ways very repressive for poorer people.

Sections of old Fitzroy were razed to make way for high-rise commission flats. It is in the story ‘The Bulldozer’ from Shadowboxing that Birch’s familiar theme of erasure resurfaces. ‘Some of us came home from school or work to discover that a neighbouring house was suddenly gone,’ says Michael. Homes became piles of rubble to be carted away, scrap metal ready to be sold off or nicked, and bonfires of bug-infested floorboards – ‘funeral pyres’ which burned bright, day and night. Birch lived through this period of demolition. In explaining the losses involved, he told an interviewer that his mother insisted Fitzroy residents were never romantic about the decrepit housing they lived in, but

they lost so much of their self, their sense of community, identity, physical, social landscape through the process of slum reclamation. So as my mum would often say, she got running water, but she lost her whole family to get it.

It is also in ‘The Bulldozer’ that the character Michael is ethnicised, significantly through the observations of outsiders. An idle worker associated with the task of demolition looks Michael over and asks:

What about you, kid. An Abo, an Indian, or a no-hoper? What are you? A bit of each, maybe?

He calls on a workmate rather than Michael to help find an answer to his derisory inquiry:

What do you reckon, Andy? This kid? Do you reckon he’s one of us or one of them? Hard to tell, hey? Maybe he just needs a good tubbing.

Michael makes no response. He leaves the scene soon after and the issue, too, is left behind.

Certainly, Shadowboxing suggests a commonality of working class experience, but it is naive to imagine that this means questions of race and of being racialised don’t matter. Michael is arrested in this moment under a kind of casually contemptuous and idly curious gaze. These wonderings suggest that Michael’s identity is multiple and indeterminate, but they also make clear that its immediate unavailability to this gaze poses a ‘problem’. The worker is troubled by the impossibility of reading Michael’s racial identity off his body. The conversation contains a sense of the possibility of being many things (‘a bit of each’), but is geared towards settling on an answer in which only stark singular possibilities are allowed for (‘us’ or ‘them’, which is a relation both of difference and of inequality). The workers wish to resolve this question. Significantly, the text refuses to satisfy their desire — a desire perhaps shared by readers who might recoil from the racism in the scene, but who might also wish to come to know Michael in terms of his ethnicity — is he an ‘Aboriginal character’ or is he not? Being Aboriginal, after all, matters.

After Shadowboxing, Birch published a second short story collection, Father’s Day (2009), followed by the novel Blood, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2012. Blood’s protagonist, Jesse, like Michael, is a character whose Aboriginality is a complex, ambiguous aspect of his identity, and one the text deliberately does not resolve or clarify. Both Michael and Jesse inhabit their indeterminate, messy identities, neither seeking to discover or recover any kind of Aboriginal cultural ‘essence’. Birch’s work shows us that Aboriginal characters might be working their way through dramas that do not have all that much to do with their Aboriginality, and that urban Aboriginal characters do not necessarily need to be set on a journey north to discover their cultural identity (although they might journey, as in the story ‘Distance’ in The Promise, to find their family). Birch’s characters remind us that Aboriginal lives are everywhere shared with the lives of people who are not Aboriginal; there are no discrete, bounded Aboriginal worlds.

Blood takes its title from a powerful scene early in the novel. Rachel has learned that Jesse is, technically, her half-brother. His skin is browner than hers; he has curly hair while hers is straight. Gwen has told her that Jesse’s dad was a ‘dirty boong’. Jesse explains in response that he has heard many stories about his parentage and he remains unsure, although we are led to believe he was likely Aboriginal. As far as Jesse is concerned, this is of less importance than their connection: ‘I don’t care. You’re my sister. All I got.’ To secure Rachel’s belief in them being wholly related, he nicks her thumb with a knife and they watch their blood mix together, sealing their bond as siblings.

A recurring fear for Jesse and Rachel is that they will be separated through the intervention of welfare. They only have each other; they are family. The use of images of blood, admixture, relatedness, family and the spectre of removal and separation take on very particular meanings if we read these scenes through the prism of Jesse’s ambiguous Aboriginality. Blood was, of course, central to the constant definition and redefinition of Aboriginality throughout colonial history. Debates about the genetic composition of Aboriginal people, expressed in terms of blood, were essential to racial thought and the project of ‘biological assimilation’. I am glossing a complex historiography here, but my point is to locate the profundity of this move on the part of Jesse, who would have been classified in some historical periods as ‘half-caste’. Jesse may have got his idea for this improvised ritual from television, but it means Jesse and Rachel will never again experience themselves as ‘half and half’.

In Jesse and Michael, Birch has created characters who, like him, must negotiate the vicissitudes of self-definition and interpellation. How are they to manage the tension between experiencing oneself as being wholly many things, a state of existence that tends only to find expression in the language of fragments, parts and halves? What might it mean to know one is Aboriginal, but for that to involve knowing not much more, because the history of colonialism or other events have interrupted any continuous sense of what it might mean? In creating characters who must grapple with all of this, Birch’s fiction makes a vital contribution to our understanding of these important issues. Moreover, these issues are all the more skillfully negotiated because of the very fact that they are frequently eclipsed by other kinds of issues, problems and events.

*

At Redfern I change trains, flying up the steep steps and past the police who mill about the concourse in the late afternoons. Birch has written of the riot that erupted at Redfern station after the death of T. J. Hickey in 2004. Seventeen-year-old Hickey died after falling from his bike and being impaled on a fence in the nearby Waterloo public housing estate. Many Redfern and Waterloo Aboriginal activists maintain that a police vehicle was in pursuit of Hickey at the time. The riot, which engulfed the train station, erupted as a result of tensions between Aboriginal residents and police in the wake of Hickey’s death.

Birch drew the title for his response – ‘Who gives a fuck about white society anymore?’ – from a quote by community activist Lyall Munro. He provided an uncompromising analysis of this violent event in relation to the forms of state violence everywhere ‘condoned’ in Australia, while Aboriginal violence is everywhere condemned. Elsewhere, on the subject of asylum seekers, Birch has urged, ‘We must transform the culture of Australian life by screaming to our politicians’.

Questions of violence, systemic and interpersonal, are threaded through many of Birch’s works. But no one is rioting or screaming in The Promise. The stories push the reader to wonder who, in this society, gives a fuck about these lives? Meanwhile, Birch’s characters wrap some more electrical tape around their beaten guitars and keep up with their ballads – even though their grog-ravaged voices have reduced their singing to a kind of wailing.

We are in the midst of an obsessing over the question of violent Aboriginal masculinities, a theme that surfaces periodically in Australian public life. The Promise exists as kind of counterpoint to this anxious focus. Many of the stories hinge on acts of everyday kindness. This kindness is undertaken by boys and men who have lived harsh lives, and from whom we might expect only violence in response to the structural violence that has made them. Instead, in ‘China’, Cal tucks a knitted red rug made in the prison tapestry shop under his arm – a present for his mother. In ‘Sticky Fingers’, a boy spends his tram money on a bag of mixed lollies and a Phantom comic for his hospitalised mate, and walks instead. In ‘After Rachel’, Stephen spontaneously offers his load of olives to the elderly Greek woman at the end of his street, and in return she brings him jars of olives pickled with slivers of red chilli, peppercorns and flakes of sea salt. In ‘The Money Shot’, Buster carefully breaks off the legs of chocolate teddy bear biscuits and offers them to his delighted baby girl. Both Jesse from Blood and Michael from Shadowboxing are tender characters who have known only neglect and violence, and yet manage somehow to become honourable, wise and caring. The Promise represents a further shift still, as themes of both family violence and street violence become peripheral, and a softness and homosociality are centred.

This shift sees Birch run the risk of sentimentalising the social conditions in which he sources his creative energy. But the question of sentimentality in The Promise is complex. Sentimental, somewhat hackneyed imagery appears in many the stories. Yet these offerings are carefully controlled. Just at the point they begin to drag on the narrative, the reader is returned almost cruelly to reality. The move is swiftly executed, although when it is not, for example in ‘The Lovers’, the fiction is marred by sentimental excess. Overall, however, the stories work to capture something of the very role of sentimentality in social life. The carefully controlled enjoining of the bathetic and the confronting is used to convey a sense of what it might take to soften life’s blows. The images, phrases and thoughts that become a part of the creation of the fictional world are of the kind that sustain the characters themselves, however tired and lacking in vigour those images, phrases and thoughts might seem. At their best, the stories are driven by this friction.

The most richly and fully evoked worlds in The Promise return to the historical setting of Shadowboxing. ‘The Toecutters’ is a beautiful portrait of a friendship at a particular a moment in the history of Australia’s urban working class: just as the huge post-war suburban boom is underway and before post-Fordist restructuring began. We are returned to 1960s inner-city working class neighbourhoods that are destined be bulldozed, but where the banks of the river, its swimming holes and its secrets are still claimed by two boys’ imaginations and their adventures. The shit-talking of Joe and Red in this story is quite delightful, and Pa’s tales of Melbourne’s urban underworld are wild. Here Birch offers a sense of these characters’ creative skill in making fabulous stories out of ordinary events. These are the ‘fabulations’ anthropologist Gillian Cowlishaw has described, writing of life in the country town of Bourke. When the police retrieve a car body spewing water from its windows from deep in the river, I felt I betrayed Joe and Red in hoping that the car, dangling like a white-pointer on the end of the line, would be the one in which Charlie plunged to his death in Shadowboxing. It was not to be, and we all stood disappointed, however briefly.

In ‘Sticky Fingers’, too, this time and place is attended to in satisfying detail. Birch takes great pleasure in sketching these funny street-wise adolescents: the skillful, fiercely competitive marble players of Melbourne’s inner city housing estates, whose lives are permeated with the moralising discourses and interventions of the welfare state, but who make the marble championship designed to keep them out of trouble their own. Unlike Jesse in Blood, the marble players of ‘Sticky Fingers’ – Bunga, Fatman, Scratch – are positioned within a dense social world, one in which humour, friendships, family, fisticuffs and poverty combine to give everyday life its meaning.

‘The Ghost of Hank Williams’ is the standout story in this collection. In Sammy and Curtis — blackfellas, drinkers, the both of them — we have two very finely written characters. Through humour and pathos the story allows imaginative access to states of being that are so often pathologised or patronised. Curtis has his ‘life-style’: he belts out country and western numbers in the morning and spends the afternoons talking, drinking and fantasising under the big Moreton Bays. But Sammy’s liver has had it, and disturbing, inexplicable events transpire. Neither character’s commitment to his life-style is evaluated. Sammy is not to be redeemed; Curtis is never pitied. Both are warm. In the early morning, a nervous Sammy makes his way to the train station with hopes for his future. A young fella passes him by, ‘like I was invisible’. ‘None of us can see what’s not there.’ But perhaps Tony Birch can? In The Promise, Birch’s object is to dignify these kinds of lives in the act of writing about them. The characters are introduced on their own terms. Our attention is carefully directed towards the minutiae of their strategies for maintaining self-respect. When Sammy goes in search of a new life, he travels in a cotton shirt picked up from St Vinnie’s and his boots are carefully polished. With cooking oil.

References

Tony Birch, ‘Nothing Has Changed: The Making and Unmaking of Koori Culture,’ Meanjin, 51:2(1992).
⎯ ‘Half-caste’, Australian Historical Studies, 100:25 (1993).
⎯ ‘Come See the Giant Koala: Inscription and Landscape in Western Victoria’, Meanjin 58:3 (1999).
⎯ ‘The Last Refuge of the Un-Australian,’ UTS Review, 7:1 (2001).
⎯ ‘Meetings with Simon,’ Postcolonial Studies, 7:2 (2004).
⎯ ‘Who Gives a Fuck About White Society Anymore? A response to the Redfern riot,’ Overland,175 (2004).
⎯ ‘These children have been born in an abyss: Slum Photography in a Melbourne Suburb,’ Australian Historical Studies, 123 (2004).
⎯ ‘Death is Forgotten in Victory: Colonial Landscapes and Narratives of Emptiness’, Object Lessons: Archaeology and Heritage in Australia, edited by T. Ireland and J. Lydon (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2005).
Shadowboxing (Scribe, 2006).
Father’s Day (Hunter, 2009).
‘Interview with Ramona Koval,’ Radio National (March 2006).
Blood (University of Queensland Press, 2011).
⎯ ‘The trouble with history’, Australian History Now, edited by Anna Clark and Paul Ashton (NewSouth, 2013).
Gillian Cowlishaw, Blackfellas, Whitefellas and the Hidden Injuries of Race (Blackwell, 2004).
Barry Hines, A Kestrel for a Knave (Penguin, 1968).
Annalisa Oboe (editor), Mongrel Signatures: Reflections on the Work of Mudrooroo (Rodopi, 2003).