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That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott

That Deadman Dance (2010)

by Kim Scott

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south-western Australia, early 1800s: english meet Aboriginal in a landscape difficult or part of home,. depending on your ethnicity. This is a story of mis-understandings, small at first, as the locals come to realise that no matter what they do, shiploads of white people will continue to arrive and squeeze them off their traditional lands.
The story grows slowly, seen through the eyes of both Aboriginal and european. There are no mass murders, ambushes, and so so on, as happened elsewhere; but the gradual erosion of native custodianship of the land and how to manage it.
In the end, this is a powerful tal;e, all the more for being understated. ( )
1 vote broughtonhouse | Mar 29, 2013 |
That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott is the book that many readers (and Australians in particular) have been waiting for, perhaps without even realising it. Many authors have attempted to describe early settlement in Australia, but their efforts remain primarily from the European perspective. Scott, on the other hand, as the son of an Aboriginal father and English mother, was able to authentically deliver from both perspectives.

Kim Scott is no stranger to fame. He is the first indigenous Australian author to ever win the Miles Franklin Award; the most prestigious Australian literary award, and not only once, but – twice. Benang: From the Heart was the first of Scott’s books to win the Miles Franklin Award along with the Western Australia Premier’s Books Award, in 2000.

Commentary for That Deadman Dance, by the Judging Panel, 2011 Miles Franklin Award:-
'A powerful and innovative fiction that shifts our sense of what an historical novel can achieve. ... That Deadman Dance tells the story of the rapid destruction of Noongar people and their traditions. At the same time, there is the enchanting possibility of the birth of a new world in the strange song, dance, ceremony and language that are produced by these encounters of very different peoples’.

Along with the Miles Franklin Award 2011, That Deadman Dance was also awarded:-
• the Australian Literary Society Gold Medal
• the Regional Commonwealth Literary Prize for Best Book
It was also shortlisted for the following:-
• the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction
• the WA Premier’s Book Award for Fiction
• and the Book Industry Award for Best Novel

While That Deadman Dance is a work of fiction, it was inspired by the authors (Noongar) ancestry and the history of the area in which he lives (Albany, Western Australia), which is also the setting of the book. Set in the first two decades of the nineteenth century, it is not only a story of early contact between indigenous Australians and European settlers, in that area of Western Australia, but it is a story told in the form of beautiful prose, through the character of a small Aboriginal boy, Bobby Wabalanginy.

The book is totally unique in its style and content. Bobby takes the reader on a journey of discovery into the way of life of the original inhabitants of Australia at the time of settlement; an edifying and thought provoking journey, which had history not dictated otherwise, could have given the reader even the smallest semblance of hope that the new arrivals would attempt to understand the way of Bobby’s people; their respect for the land, and their willingness to share it.

My favourite parts:-

‘Because you need to be inside the sound and the spirit of it, to live here properly. And how can that be, without we people who have been here for all time?’

‘We thought making friends was the best thing. We learned your words and songs and stories, [but] you didn't want to hear ours.’

Congratulations to Kim Scott for winning the 2011 Miles Franklin Award for That Deadman Dance, but more importantly I believe, for creating a piece of literature that not only has great historical value, but untold significance to all those seeking understanding and healing.

J M Lennox ( )
  Jan.Reid | Oct 25, 2012 |
A superb novel of the early interactions of whites and blacks on the southwestern coast of Australia.

In That Deadman Dance, Kim Scott interlaces the thoughts and actions of both British and Indigenous people. Descended in part from the Noongar people of the coast of southwestern Australia, Scott has read widely in the available documents of the tribe and the history of the area. In his novel, he looks not at the officials who led the colonization, but at the way individuals from both groups thought and acted over a period of 15 years as their relationships, which had initially been somewhat friendly, soured. Scott shows us the Noongar’s ingenuity and playfulness, their love of song and dance.

Read more...http://wp.me/p24OK2-nP
  mdbrady | Aug 25, 2012 |
Puts some of our (Australian) history in prospective, how we whites have totally missed so much, how the Aboriginals see our invasion of there land.
Yes I know its Fiction but it is inspired by history. See Author's note pp 397-400. ( )
  Bikebear | Jul 3, 2012 |
A truly magnificent piece of myth-making. That Deadman Dance is about early contact between the Australian Aborigines (the Noongar tribe) and the white colonists in southern Western Australia, who are there to harvest the whales each season. It is flexible and fluid with time, with reality, and with nature; and hence comes across as a remarkably polished modern Dreamtime myth. Myths are constantly being retold by the people they belong to - tweaking and changing the stories to suit different situations, or just as people think of a better ending. To me, Bobby Wabalanginy's refashioning of the stories he knew was creating myths of what was actually happening to him and his people and country.

It is also a remarkably hopeful and a positive portrait of early contact, which is a refreshing change from most literature of this ilk. The whites and the blacks work well together, building the community, hunting the whales, sharing their knowledge. Well, at least while the whales last.

"We thought making friends was the best thing, and never knew that when we took your flour and sugar and tea and blankets that we'd lose everything of ours. We learned your words and songs and stories, and never knew you didn't want to hear ours."

And, of course, the predations of disease take their own toll, on both blacks and whites.

This was a very challenging read, jumping about in time all over the place, touches of the Dreamtime to some of it, what felt like contradictory passages (but may have just been an effect of the jumbled timeline), and beautiful and clear descriptions of the traditional dances and music of the Noongar people. It's more a patchwork of vignettes about the same characters from different viewpoints and with a random timeline than a coherent linear tale. But it was well worth the effort, giving me good insights into Aboriginal culture, especially music and dance. Which considering it's a written book, is quite an achievement.

And Bobby was a great character, well worth getting to know. He's a wonderful creation, and while not the only fascinating and multi-faceted character in the book, he definitely carried the story.

"Bobby sang one short phrase. Christine tried to repeat it, but her mouth was stone and wood, her tongue cloth. Close together, face to face like this, music continued to spill from Bobby's lips and tongue and bright teeth and then from feathers and sharp beaks, too, as the magpies joined in, their songs merging, swelling, buoying them all." ( )
  wookiebender | Nov 29, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
"Scott, who won both Australia's Victorian Prize for Literature and his second Miles Franklin Literary Award for this work, deserves notice from a broader international audience. This well-written, insightful novel will be enjoyed by readers interested in Australian historical fiction, indigenous literature, and postcolonial fiction in general."
added by Christa_Josh | editLibrary Journal, Gwen Vredevoogd (Nov 1, 2011)

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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Big-hearted, moving and richly rewarding, That Deadman Dance is set in the first decades of the 19th century in the area around what is now Albany, Western Australia. In playful, musical prose, the book explores the early contact between the Aboriginal Noongar people and the first European settlers.

The novel's hero is a young Noongar man named Bobby Wabalanginy. Clever, resourceful and eager to please, Bobby befriends the new arrivals, joining them hunting whales, tilling the land, exploring the hinterland and establishing the fledgling colony. He is even welcomed into a prosperous local white family where he falls for the daughter, Christine, a beautiful young woman who sees no harm in a liaison with a native.

But slowly – by design and by accident – things begin to change. Not everyone is happy with how the colony is developing. Stock mysteriously start to disappear; crops are destroyed; there are "accidents" and injuries on both sides. As the Europeans impose ever stricter rules and regulations in order to keep the peace, Bobby's Elders decide they must respond in kind. A friend to everyone, Bobby is forced to take sides: he must choose between the old world and the new, his ancestors and his new friends. Inexorably, he is drawn into a series of events that will forever change not just the colony but the future of Australia...
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Aust'n. This is a novel from a different time in which relationships between colonists and indigenous people were friendly and each was curious about the other's culture. Set in early 19th-century Western Australia, the novel is based roughly on historical accounts, some of which involve Scott's own ancestors. It depicts contact among Aboriginal people, the Noongar, and British colonists and American whalers. The central character is a Noongar youth, Bobby Wabalanginy, who warmly embraces the settlers and their ways but ultimately has to choose between them and his own people as the coastal colony grows. The nuanced characterization and intriguing style of writing are pleasures.… (more)

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