Written in response to:
I thank Paul Carter for his acute, sensitive and elegant reading of Battarbee and Namatjira. It is, as he says, a curious book; but I do not think that is a result of incuriosity on the part of its author. My overwhelming impression, when I began to research the subject, was of the weight of interpretation that had been placed upon the lives and works of these two men. It was as if they were being forced to mean, before they could be. You can accurately date the period of the writing of any of the biographical texts about Namatjira by identifying the theoretical assumptions behind them. These were often occluded, and they largely concerned matters that might be called political. Obfuscation of the lives, in the service of what the lives signified, was the prevailing drift.
It was in response to this somehow relentless, certainly unthinking, accretion of ideology that I decided to write, in so far as such a thing is possible, a documentary history. The massive scaffolding of myth that Carter identifies in the genesis of the story-telling is not an invention of mine but a re-statement of information that may be found in the public record. Story-telling has its own theoretical presumptions, of course – what to include, what to leave out, whether or not to comment upon the recoveries possible or desirable from the records. I mostly decided not to comment. I didn’t want to add another, perhaps spurious, layer to the accretion. This decision may be interrogated in its turn and, in Paul’s essay, it has been. I just want to add that the absences and the silences he finds in my book are not inadvertent, nor an indication of a lack of curiosity; they are intentional.