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That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott
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That Deadman Dance (2010)

by Kim Scott

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1371287,614 (3.64)1 / 57

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This was an excellent book. I found it as a result of reading a book of short stories by Australian writers. One of the stories that really impressed me was "Asleep" by this author. At the back of the book the description of the author said that he had won the Miles Franklin Award for his second book, Benang. I wasn't able to find that book in my library but I did find this one. Then I learned that it had also won the Miles Franklin Award.

It spans the time from 1826 to 1844 which is not such a long period of time but for the aboriginal Noongar of Western Australia everything changed. A small garrison of soldiers came to a natural harbour on the coast and established a village that they called King George Town. The garrison doctor, Dr. Cross, realized that the land they were on belonged to the aboriginals and wanted to have friendly relations with them. A few of the young men were quick to learn some English and also quick to learn tasks from the whites. One young boy in particular, Bobby Wabalanginy, became a favourite of the doctor. When Bobby's parents died of a coughing disease (probably TB brought by the whites) Dr. Cross started to teach him to read and write in English. If Dr. Cross had lived he perhaps would have been able to change the course of relations between the two races but he also died of the coughing disease. As Bobby grew up he became a mediator between the whites and the Noongar. Being just a "blackfella" though he was ignored most times.

A book is mentioned as having made the rounds of the white community, The Last of the Mohicans. Although I have not read this book I suspect that the author is drawing a parallel between the relationships between whites and natives in North America and the interaction described in this book. Seems that the example of North America did nothing to change the way things developed in Australia.

Highly recommended. ( )
  gypsysmom | Aug 11, 2015 |
The narrator is a young Noongar boy named Bobby Wabalanginy. He acts as both narrator and the creator of myth. The story moves in a slow and dreamlike fashion, which led me to do a little reading about Dreaming stories. Dreaming stories pass on important knowledge, cultural values and belief systems to later generations. This particular tale could be seen as an explanation of the time before the white men came and how the people changed and the time after came to be.
Part 1 begins like a myth of the coming of the white men: Once upon a time there was a captain on a wide sea, a rough and windswept sea, and his good barque was pitched and tossed something cruel. Later in the book, Bobby Wabalanginy tells the white men who came to his home how they made friends and shared and how more white men came and things changed. He tells them 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.
The protocols for social behavior are also part of Dreaming stories. As things change and the white men increasingly divide the people into "whitefellas" and "blackfellas", Bobby attempts to exert the protocol he knows on his relations with the white people he has known most of his life. He seems to believe he can defend the rights and honor of his people and remain friends with the white men. He soon learns this is impossible, and chooses his people. He suffers for it, but it is his choice and he owns it.
This is one of the few books I've read that shows mainly positive interactions between the white settlers and the aboriginal people. Which makes the contrast of the last few chapters all the more stark and distressing.
The prose is beautiful, the characters, especially Bobby, are well developed, and it is easy to see how this book was an award winner.

When Bobby Wabalanginy told the story, perhaps more than his own lifetime later, nearly all his listeners knew of books and of the language in them. But not, as we do, that you can dive deep into a book and not know just how deep until you return gasping to the surface, and are surprised at yourself, your new and so very sensitive skin. As if you're someone else altogether, some new self trying on the words.

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?
( )
  nittnut | Jun 17, 2015 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (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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