Postcolonial Fictions | Span | Reading Room | What'sNew | CRCC

SPAN
Journal of the South Pacific
Association for Commonwealth
Literature and Language Studies
Number 36 (1993)

Postcolonial Fictions

Edited by Michèle Drouart

A Dialogue Between Margins: Colin Johnson and Mudrooroo, Wild Cat Falling and Doin Wildcat

Justin MacGregor Most postcolonial reinscriptions of colonial texts enable dialogues between colonizer and colonized, between dominated and dominating. As Bakhtin noted, "language, for the individual consciousness, lies on the borderline between oneself and the other. The World of language is half someone else's" (293). Postcolonial reinscriptions or rewritings attempt to engage colonial novels in dialogue, to present colonial discourse with the other half of the world of language, to turn a colonial monologue into a postcolonial dialogue. The Australian Aboriginal writer Mudrooroo has decided to reinscribe, rewrite and engage one of his own novels in a postcolonial dialogue. In Doin Wildcat, Mudrooroo rewrites his first text, Wild Cat Falling (written when he was called Colin Johnson), in order to question colonial discourse. By examining both sides of the dialogue taking place between Johnson's and Mudrooroo's texts, by seeing these two names for the same author as representative of two distinct discourses, it is possible to see the development of an Aboriginal postcolonial perspective that questions language as mimetic representation, history as objective artifice, and that develops a Koori voice within the non-Koori construction of the novel.

Johnson's Wild Cat Falling is the first novel published by an Australian Aboriginal. The text seeks to express Aboriginal concerns using non-Aboriginal ideas of textuality and literature. Instead of looking back on this novel as a significant moment in Aboriginal literature, however, Mudrooroo - and I will represent him as an author distinct from Johnson - sees the text as an example of assimilation that reinforces colonial discourse and that does not successfully produce Aboriginality. In his critical text, Writing from the Fringe, Mudrooroo - as critic - rejects Johnson's novel for its lack of community concern, its "emphasis on the outsider," its adherence to traditional ideas of character development, and its many references to Beckett (Fringe 29). Beyond Mudrooroo's own criticisms, a postcolonial problematization of the text exposes the difficulties of allowing non-Aboriginal forewords to introduce Aboriginal texts, the ways in which colonial and novelistic discourses create centre-margin distinctions through the use of binary classifications, and the problems of applying a monolithic definition of Aboriginality to texts.

Given Mudrooroo's own concern with the political agenda inherent in non-Aboriginal forewords for Aboriginal texts (Fringe 20), it is necessary to begin an analysis of Wild Cat Falling with its foreword. Written by the non-Aboriginal writer Mary Durack, the foreword seeks to situate Johnson and his text for the reader. For Mudrooroo the "[a]uthor or writer is constructed" by such forewords, and "he or she...becomes[s] language in order to exist" (Fringe 137). While talking about Kevin Gilbert, Mudrooroo notes:

. . . [i]f the reader has not met the flesh and blood man, all that he or she may know about him, must be taken from the act of reading. Kevin Gilbert thus becomes a text for us to decipher as much as any other text. (Fringe 133)

Durack's forward translates Johnson into text, converts him into language so that he may be consumed by the reader. The nature of this conversion is, in Durack's case, highly problematic. While describing Johnson, she notes that he had "little of the familiar coloured boy's willing-to-please manner," that he possessed "the proud stance and sinuous carriage of the tall, tribal Aboriginal" (Durack 9), that his desire to matriculate "seemed well within his capabilities, for we soon realized that, from whatever odd combination of genes and circumstance, the boy was a natural intellectual" (Durack 10), and that "[h]e also had a sense of time and . . . began to seem - was it possible? - even dependable" (Durack 11). These descriptions seek to locate Johnson as an outsider who has made the transition to the inside, who is not really like other Aboriginals and who is thus acceptable; they are also written, quite clearly, for a predominantly white readership.

Even though Mudrooroo notes that Wild Cat Falling has been read by "many Aboriginals" (Beier 71), the foreword definitely attempts to explain the book for and to non-Aboriginals in a language that is marginalizing. Durack's discourse perpetuates the image of the "savage" Aboriginal: Johnson's intellect is "natural," he has tried to remove himself from the "shadow" of his native dilemma (Durack 7), he has a "proud stance," and a "hunger for knowledge" (Durack 10). Perhaps even more marginalizing for Aboriginals is the way that Durack seems to justify Johnson's novelistic achievement by downplaying his own Aboriginality. She writes that he is "part Aboriginal, though his features would not have betrayed him and his skin colour was no darker than that of a southern European" (Durack 7); and that his personality "showed little obvious trace of native blood" (Durack 9). Her descriptions of Johnson seek to explain how he is not really Aboriginal, that he is "like us," that he has been assimilated into Australian society and become - "was it possible? - dependable." Durack's binary discourse implies an absent "other": the Aboriginal as imagined by non-Aboriginals, which is used to define and shape Johnson; her comparisons centre non-Aboriginal conceptions of correct behaviour and marginalize Aboriginal ones. Johnson is found acceptable because he has traversed the gap between the two cultures and centred himself.

The centring of non-Aboriginal discourse is not restricted to descriptions of Johnson: his text is also located within the colonial tradition. Durack comments that the book is "important, both for its literary quality and as the first attempt by someone of Aboriginal blood to express himself in this form" (Durack 18). It is interesting that the novel's adherence to the rules of "literary tradition" is just as important to Durack as its historical and political significance as the first Aboriginal novel. Durack's message is clear: if the novel was not written "properly" it would not matter. As Chris Tiffin has pointed out, Durack's foreword makes Wild Cat Falling "part of the normal white literary consumption." Of her claims of Johnson's literary merit and quality, Tiffin says:

[They] reassuringly locate [the text] in a tradition of white writing, yet we are reminded that the author . . . [is a] novice . . . in this tradition whereas we are the experienced readers. The new, even though it is racial, cannot be very terrible. (158)

While Durack's foreword may have sought to welcome a new writer and close friend to the Australian literary establishment, its discourse marginalized Aboriginal expression in order to centre a non-Aboriginal one.

While it is impossible to discover what effect non-Aboriginal editing had on Wild Cat Falling, Johnson's letters to Durack, parts of which are reproduced in her foreword, reveal that his text was altered to conform to colonial standards of literature. One of Johnson's strategies that Durack opposed was his use of repetition; he replied "I will prune . . . but about the repetitions - Aboriginal poetry and songs are full of them and so are the French writers - the neo-realists" (Mudrooroo reprinted in Durack 15). Johnson wished to include an Aboriginal device in his novel and sought to justify its inclusion and centre it as an acceptable mode of expression by comparing Aboriginal repetition with that of the French writers. Eventually, however, he agreed that repetition may not work: "It does get boring except where skilfully used for some deliberate effect. But you know about muddled sentences - I dote on them, but I realise that no one else will" (Mudrooroo reprinted in Durack 16). Perhaps no one else will dote on his Aboriginal mode of expression and style because Johnson is envisioning a non-Aboriginal readership for his text. By removing the repetition found in Aboriginal songs and poetry and by organizing the text along non-Aboriginal paradigms of time and character development (Fringe 34), Johnson was removing part of his Aboriginality in order to centre his text.

The actual text of Wild Cat Falling traces the story of a young Aboriginal man, Wildcat, who has just been released from prison. The narrative shifts between a retrospect and the events of the two days he is out of prison, before concluding with Wildcat's arrest for attempted murder. While some of Mudrooroo's criticisms of Johnson's text are valid, Wild Cat Falling does challenge monocentric discourse and occasionally functions as a postcolonial text.

One of Mudrooroo's complaints about Wild Cat Falling is that the text follows "to a great extent the Metropolitan tradition with the hallmarks of character development. The unnamed character advanced into the arms of the police and the ending provided the hope that he might eventually settle down" (Fringe 34). While the character of Wildcat does "progress" through the novel - and thus follows Mudrooroo's definition of Metropolitan character development - I am not sure that this feature of the text denies its Aboriginality. While character development is not a necessary component of an Aboriginal text - or any other such postcolonial text - this does not mean that character development is somehow antithetical to such a text. As Mudrooroo has noted, "Aboriginal artists are socially committed" (Fringe 24) and there is no reason that such a commitment cannot lead to the production of a text in which a character develops in a manner that follows Mudrooroo's definition of the "Metropolitan tradition." In fact, given the desire to express Aboriginal concerns to as wide an audience as possible, it could even be argued that Wild Cat Falling is necessarily traditional, that it had to follow the majority culture's definition of the novel in order to be well received, and that a less traditional novel such as Doin Wildcat could not have been accepted without its precursor.

Another of Mudrooroo's retrospective criticisms of Wild Cat Falling is that it contained far too many references to the playwright Samuel Beckett (Fringe 29). While the inclusion of accepted Metropolitan writers undeniably privileges a European centre, the texts that Johnson uses in his novel have an interesting affinity with Aboriginal writing in English: all the texts he refers to are translations. In the university bookstore Wildcat comes across some of the books he read in prison: Crime and Punishment, War and Peace, and Anna Karenina; and he buys a copy of Beckett's Waiting for Godot which he refers to several times in his narrative. All of these books are written in a language other than English and have been translated: like the Aboriginal writer, these texts describe a non-English reality in English. While Johnson is privileging non-Aboriginal texts in his narrative, the texts he chooses contain many of the same problems as his text: how to include non-English perceptions in the English language and how to translate the signifier without losing the sign.

Mudrooroo's final criticism of Wild Cat Falling is that the heavy editing of the text by non-Aboriginals removed any traces of an Aboriginal 'english.' While the idiomatic style is undeniably homogenous - except for the minor ungrammaticalities allowed the old Aboriginal man near the end - the text does contain a postmodern awareness of the fallibility of representative language, an awareness that Johnson puts to political ends. Wildcat remembers his mother reassuring him that "[e]verything will be all right," but he knows that this is "[p]honey comfort. Has anything ever been all right?" (Falling 22). The mother's clichŽ, a representation of hope for the future, is unable to stand up to the realities of being a young Aboriginal in a non-Aboriginal society; everything will be all right, but for whom? When Wildcat's friends are talking about school he tells them:

"My mum says you've got to go [to school] or you can't get on." "Get on where?" asks the first boy.

"Search me," I say. (Falling 29)

The "standard clichŽs" (Falling 49) of discourse contain a political element: going to school helps an Aboriginal "get on" but only on the majority's terms. Johnson's awareness of the ambiguity of words allows for alternative interpretations and constructions of "reality."

Two other postcolonial concerns raised in the novel that Mudrooroo does not acknowledge in his later criticism are place and displacement. Wildcat is searching for a place in a society that insists on relegating him to a marginal subject position. He finds that after being placed in solitary confinement "the prison accepted me as I had never been accepted outside. I belonged" (Falling 32). Having been marginalized by non-Aboriginal discourse, Wildcat finds that his only place in the world is inside the physically marginalized institution of the prison. When his prison sentence is over, he exchanges "the grey uniform of belonging" for "citizen-of-the-world" clothes (Falling 32) but the exchange is an attempt to assimilate Wildcat, to displace his Aboriginal heritage and (re)place it with an Australian one: the majority society dresses Wildcat in its clothes of citizenship in the hope of converting the clothes' contents to an "acceptable," and thus non-Aboriginal, mode of behaviour. Wildcat is, however, unable to assimilate and he wanders over to the beach "looking for a place to myself" (Falling 48): instead of helping Wildcat to assimilate, the clothes end up marginalizing him by drawing attention to his position as a former prisoner.

Near the end of the novel, Wildcat rejects the non-Aboriginal discourse that has located him in a marginal position. As he flees from the police he recognizes how he accepted his marginality:

Told myself I didn't care any more. It didn't make much difference where I was - one place much like another - all dreary and all a drag. Prison a refuge of a sort where I was nearer belonging than anywhere. But now in these crazy two days I have felt the sun again and seen the sky and breathed the fresh, sweet air. Does it have to be over again so soon? (Falling 115)

Wildcat recognizes how the discourse that has marginalized him has also allowed him to accept his place on the fringes of society. He belongs in prison because that is where "his kind" is told they belong.

When he meets his Aboriginal relative in the bush, Wildcat is finally offered an alternative discourse that centres him by denying the homogenizing nature of colonial discourse. Wildcat recognizes the old man who his mother said was "dangerous" and when the old man reveals that they are related, Wildcat understands that "it was just this tribal relative idea of his that worried mom" because "that side of my heritage must be kept from me at all costs. I must live white and learn to think with a white man's mind" (Falling 119). The majority discourse compels Wildcat's mother to "inadvertently collaborate . . . with the government's avowed policy of assimilation" (Nelson 338) by making an Aboriginal past unacceptable; by collaborating, Wildcat's mother displaced her own sense of belonging and relegated her son to a marginalized subject position in order to keep her son at home. To centre the old man's Aboriginal discourse, Johnson includes Aboriginal language without translation: the old man "begins to sing again, softly, like the humming of a bee, then the words shape on his lips and he breaks off" (Falling 122). The inclusion of Aboriginal language reveals that different but equally viable interpretations of "reality" exist and that any prescriptive interpretation of "reality" is socially determined. Even though Wildcat does not speak an Aboriginal language, he feels as though he recognizes the song and the old man tells him

"It belong your country."

"I haven't got a country . . . I don't belong anywhere."

"You can't lose it. " (Falling 123)

Wildcat and Aboriginal discourse are centred by this exchange and it is the non-Aboriginal reader who is left outside the experience: we cannot understand the old man's song and we, not Wildcat, are now the people who do not belong, who are displaced. When Wildcat leaves the old man's camp, he discovers that, under the land, there is "the beat of a pulse, the old man's song. It could not carry this far, but he has sung it into my mind for as long as I have left to live" (Falling 125). Instead of existing within a marginalizing discourse, Wildcat has discovered the possibility of (re)placing himself in the centre, of denying monolithic interpretations of "reality."

Despite this possibility for celebrating difference, however, Mudrooroo believes that Johnson's novel concludes by affirming the dominant discourse of the majority society. While Chris Tiffin is correct in noting that Johnson's "use of an Aboriginal myth as one of the two poles of reference in the novel [i]s . . . a ground-breaking strategy for it forced the two poles to be seen in conjunction," Mudrooroo would dispute his claim that "the Aboriginal one . . . emerge[s] as dominant" (165). At the end of the novel, Wildcat rejects the possibility of suicide or shooting his way to freedom and decides to surrender to the police. As he is arrested he sees something in the policeman's eyes that he had not expected to see: "Is it possible there is a hint of humanity in this man's eyes? And why now when I have done the worst thing in my life?" (Falling 127). Mudrooroo believes that Wildcat's surrender rejects his earlier observations about the judicial system and the law (Bennet and Lockwood 33-7): that both are designed "so chaps like me can't help breaking [the law] whatever we do" (Falling 52), that prison made him pay a debt to a society when he "never owed it a thing" (Falling 21), that says "don't-do-it-again . . . which means 'See you tomorrow mate' " (Falling 40), and that reform of either system is never "up to them. Only to us, the outcast relics in the outskirt camps" (Falling 54). While Wildcat has questioned the structure of the majority society and the discourse that shapes it for most of the novel, Mudrooroo believes that the final scene provides "the hope that he might eventually settle down, or be assimilated into the wider Australian society" (Fringe 34). It is not surprising that, when writing the film script ten years later, Mudrooroo would change the ending to condemn the judicial system in a more overt manner and that, twenty-five years later, he would (re)write Wildcat's story without such an assimilating and conciliatory conclusion. I believe, however, that Johnson's ending is more complicated than Mudrooroo believes; Wildcat surrenders because he needs to go back to society, to rejoin his Aboriginal community, and the forgiveness in the policeman's eyes indicates that cross-cultural communication is possible. While this liberal humanism can be abused, can force assimilation, can place the burden for change on "them," it can also be the means for valuing difference and creating a relationship between cultures by having both sides part of the process of reconciliation: change may not be up to "them" but it must include "them."

In Doin Wildcat: A Novel Koori Script, Mudrooroo picks up the story of Wildcat twenty-three years after Johnson's Wild Cat Falling. Instead of being the next chapter of Wildcat's story, however, Doin Wildcat is a reinscription that uses the earlier text as a site where Mudrooroo can (re)claim his Aboriginality and create a postcolonial Aboriginal discourse. Wild Cat Falling is transliterated into the first half of a dialogue begun by Colin Johnson that Mudrooroo replies to over two decades later.

Before beginning the actual story of Doin Wildcat, Mudrooroo challenges colonial definitions of the novel. He begins by calling his text A Novel Koori Script, and this definition of his work draws attention to his own Aboriginal heritage and posits a challenge to monolithic definitions of texts as either one thing or another. Mudrooroo is proposing that his appropriation of the novel will create a necessarily new form because he is Aboriginal and the novel is not. In a letter Johnson sent to Mary Durack while he was working on his first text, Johnson defended his appropriation of existential philosophy in his writing by pointing out that his conclusions would necessarily differ from those of the French neo-realists because "I am young and Australian and most of them are old and European and therefore my findings must be different" (Mudrooroo reprinted in Durack 15). Mudrooroo's definition of his latest novel makes a very similar claim: his experience as an Aboriginal will alter the traditional definition of the novel and will make it, in essence, something new, something different, a "novel Koori script." Mudrooroo also challenges the concept of a writer working in "isolation, bourgeois isolation, as an individual" ("Discussion" 31) by stating that Doin Wildcat is "[a]s constructed by Mudrooroo Narogin.1 If Aboriginal culture perceives "the artist not as an isolated individual, alienated from his or her society" (Fringe 24), then, like a traditional story-teller, Mudrooroo is intertextually constructing his story out of his community and not just out of his own imagination.

In Mudrooroo's rein(script)ion of his first novel, Wildcat returns to the prison where he served his sentence for the attempted murder of the policeman that ended Wild Cat Falling. He has returned to the now defunct prison to help Al Wrothberg, "the biggest an whitest director/producer we've ever seen . . . make a filim based on me book" (Doin 3). The narrator is in the interesting position of having written a book and then a script before ending up on the set of the movie watching an actor play himself. He is metafictively able to watch himself as a young man as he imagined himself while still being his older self: standing off-camera becomes an interesting metaphor for his self-conscious plight as he becomes marginalized and centred at the same time, off and on camera simultaneously. This geographic marginality and centrality is a metaphor for the Aboriginal writer's position in Australian society; s/he is of a different culture from that of the majority, and thus marginal, but s/he uses the majority, and is thus centralist, artifact of a novel for expression. This marginality can, however, lift "the medium of diverse experience to a new angle of possibility" and provide Wildcat with "an angle of creative capacity" (Harris 13) in which to question the narrative process and to explore Aboriginal expression.

Perhaps the most obvious change from Wild Cat Falling to Doin Wildcat is in the language of (re)presentation. In the first text, Johnson's writing followed the dictates of Standard English, but in Mudrooroo's rein(script)ion he creates a place for Aboriginal english. Wildcat's narrative voice takes on the idiomatic qualities of speech in order to simulate the Aboriginal oral tradition. Letters are dropped from the ends and beginnings of words and are occasionally added to words that sound as though they should have additional letters. The effect is to centre Aboriginal english, to provide a site in which Aboriginal people can "speak and think without the censoring presence of mainstream linguistic and aesthetic forms" (Healy 53). While Mudrooroo may be free of mainstream linguistic censoring, however, there is no doubt that his style is diligently edited to simulate the idiomatic qualities of speech. As Stephen Muecke noted in his introduction to Paddy Roe's oral narratives, Gularabulu, "[t]he simple act of writing down stories . . . inevitably involves departures from Aboriginal narrative style" (v). While Muecke was concerned with editing Roe's stories so that they would be fit for public consumption, Mudrooroo is still confronted with the problem facing any transcription of oral narratives to the written word: "it is inevitably a declension from the narrative as act" (Krupat 117). Regardless of the declension that Mudrooroo's idiomatic style may have from real idiomatic voices - words as they are spoken - his style still questions the centrality of Standard English and offers an alternative english; Mudrooroo's style questions monolithic interpretations of "reality" by providing an Aboriginal perspective on the "reality" that is constructed by the discourse of his text.

With a new language to allow for a different perspective on textually constructed "reality," Mudrooroo can allow his narrator to look back on his first novel and provide a new presentation of events. Wildcat recalls the scene from his first book in which he threw a bucket of tea on a guard and admits that "I wrote im into the story an done there what I should've done to im in reality" (Doin 14). As Wildcat looks at his cell he thinks to himself:

It's not the right peter, but then what is the right peter for what never appened, though it appened in the book an'll appen in the filim. Any cell'll do for that tea bucket thing, that wish thing. (Doin 19)

In "fact," the bucket of tea was never poured on the guard. Even though his first novel adopted a neo-realist discourse and followed realist conventions of mimetic language, the teathrowing event never occurred. The "fact" of Doin Wildcat is that Wild Cat Falling is a fiction (McGaw 109). Such a revelation draws attention to the constructed nature of any narrative, literary or historical, and allows Mudrooroo to question any text that claims to access history objectively; Mudrooroo's narrator changes Johnson's narrator's scene for personal reasons and a historical narrator is no less influenced and interpellated by socially determined forces.

Ironically, in his new text Wildcat claims "what we did do [to the guard] was better" and he proceeds to (re)present the minor rebellion that he and his friends took against the guard (Doin 15). But why did Wildcat not tell the "real" story in his first novel? If the rebellion was better why did he tell a fictional story of tea-throwing? Because Wild Cat Falling was an alienated novel of existential discourse and Wildcat had to act alone against the guard. Though what the prisoners "did do was better," they were acting as a community and Wildcat's novelistic discourse at that time did not allow for him to act with others, in a community. The Aboriginal youth was outside of society in the first novel and his actions reflected that fact; over two decades later Wildcat wishes to reclaim his Aboriginality, and his first act is to reveal that the community he is seeking has always existed and that it was only hidden and marginalized by the discourse of the majority that he adopted in his first text. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Mudrooroo's (re)writing of his first novel is the way that he questions the forces that interpellated his own novelistic production. After filming the last scene of the movie version of Wild Cat Falling, the actor who plays Wildcat, Ernie, comes over to the author and complains about the ending of the film: "ee says ee's sorry. Sorry for what they done to im, that's a joke that is?" (Doin 112). While the concept of the author questioning his own motives is definitely postmodern, Mudrooroo uses the idea to allow him to explain his own motivations for ending the book the way he did and, in the process, to problematize the political forces interpellating writers. Wildcat tells Ernie that his prison sentence was structured so that he had to prove that he was reformed in order to be set free:

[t]hat book was me ticket to the outside, bradda. It ad to please em, so the endin was an appy one for em. Little Jacky so sorry for shootin the policeman - well, Jacky wa sorry cause ee was in Freo [prison] for an eternity an a day. (Doin 113)

Wildcat's Aboriginal novel was not written to express his own Aboriginality but to facilitate his release from prison and was thus altered to conform to non-Aboriginal standards of what he should write. While Johnson did not write Wild Cat Falling for the same reasons that Wildcat did, Mudrooroo is aware that Johnson was no less interpellated by non-Aboriginal standards of English and textuality; Johnson's original manuscript was edited and altered to conform to a homogenizing standard applied by colonial discourse. While Johnson was not in a literal jail when he wrote his first book, he was no less a prisoner of novelistic discourse: he also had a "jury" of readers to please. Wildcat looks back on the ending of his first book and asks, "I ad to end the book like that, didn't I? Well, I did, didn't I?" (Doin 113) but there is no (pre)scriptive answer to his, or Mudrooroo's, question. However, by revealing the forces behind the ending of his first book, by returning to the ending as a site of conflict between discourses, Mudrooroo is able to reclaim that ending as an example of the marginalizing discourse that his new book is seeking to question.

While Mudrooroo questions the forces leading to the production of his first text, he deals ambiguously with the commodification of Wildcat's story, with the forces producing his rein(script)ion. After Wildcat has exposed the problems and misinformation that dominate his first text - and thus the film - one of the Aboriginal actresses tells him that this movie is " [t]he really first Aboriginal film script and film" (Doin 118). The film - and the original novel - exist within the majority discourse by affirming the position of Aboriginals on the margins of society and to someone inside that discourse it is a "really" Aboriginal film. Wildcat's new text, the book of the "filim," emerges as a counter-discourse to the film's interpretation of Aboriginality; while the film may reinforce the colonial vision of Aboriginals, the discourse of Doin Wildcat counters that homogenizing vision; Colin Johnson may have, to some degree, marginalized Aboriginals but Mudrooroo will try to avoid a similar rein(script)ion.

As Renee and Wildcat walk over to the river after leaving the final party, Wildcat tells her about the Snake, an Aboriginal totemic and mythological figure. When he asks her if she knows about it she replies, "Yes, there was a series on television called that" (Doin 120). Mudrooroo's ambiguous message seems to be that, despite the commodification of Aboriginal culture for films, television and novels, such a process allows an Aboriginal perspective to be passed on to the majority society. While Al's film may reinforce the dominant discourse - and may make a profit for him, a non-Aboriginal - it will also open non-Aboriginal discourse a little and perhaps allow non-Aboriginals to access other Aboriginal texts such as Wildcat's new book.

Though Doin Wildcat privileges Aboriginal discourse and an Aboriginal perspective, Mudrooroo's desire to centre one half of a binary equation at the expense of the "other" perpetuates the problems of such classification. As William McGaw has noted, Doin Wildcat is a counter discourse to Wild Cat Falling: "Narogin against Johnson; emancipated narrator against curtailed narrator; Koori perspective against European existentialist perspective, and, significantly, Koori English against Received English" (110). However, inverting a hierarchy does not liberate the subordinate equation as much as it repeats the processes of exclusion and marginalization. Mudrooroo is acting "against" various elements of discourse by excluding those elements: he believes that an Aboriginal writer must use Koori English and nothing else. Mudrooroo's counter-discourse does not leave room for the inclusion of difference so that an Aboriginal writer can use Koori and/or Received English. Mudrooroo's inversion of Johnson's text homogenizes Aboriginal discourse and denies the possibility of heterogeneity of language, expression and culture.

The most obvious exclusion that accompanies Mudrooroo's text, however, is not language, but the discourse of women. The text's language decays into a misogynistic form of expression and his perspective often becomes purely "phallic" (Dakin 261). Mudrooroo's concern with a postcolonial Koori perspective subsumes the voice of women in his text and they become mere objects for his gaze: he proves how young he was when he first went to prison by saying "I adn't even ad a woman then" (Doin 5); he sees Renee as a garden and hopes "maybe I can become the gardener" (Doin 7); he says that Clarissa is "on some feminist kick . . . Yuh know, touched by the white wand of progress" (Doin 8); he recounts the story of his friend Ralph who wants to find a "fine sheila . . . take out her insides and make them her outsides" (Doin 22); he admits that he tells romantic stories to women because they "love feelin that us men appreciate em for more than they are worth" (Doin 34); and he (re)presents Kevin's joke in which a woman's rape is a vehicle for a punch line (Doin 80-1). Wildcat tries to justify his (ab)use of women by saying:

None of us [in prison] knew what decency was; none of us knew what love was either. All we knew an wanted was fuckin. A woman was nuthin but a fuck, though somethin to be leery of too. Feel em, fuck em an forget em was what we learnt, or else they got to yuh, an that was the end of it. (Doin 23)

While the earlier Wildcat may seek to justify his past actions with this revelation, the older Wildcat cannot make a similar claim; if he is able to recognize how it was not decent to think of women as objects then why is he still seeing them this way? He claims that he did not know what "decency" was but has this situation changed? He is not reinscribing patriarchal ideology in a manner that serves to emphasize the need for changing that ideology: his gaze "eye-fucks" the women in his film just as the guards once did him (Doin 16), regardless of his admission of his past indecency towards women.

Also, Wildcat's story about a prison friend who "went queer" marginalizes homosexuals: going "queer meant ee was lost to us . . . in jail within a jail . . . They ad lost the right to be considered male, ad lost the right to mateship" (Doin 71). Wildcat's discourse creates a jail for women and homosexuals within the jail constructed by imperial discourse for Aboriginals; just as Mudrooroo's literary theory excludes some Aboriginal writers such as Sally Morgan for not writing "black" texts (Fringe 163), so does his novel exclude different perspectives of reality. Mudrooroo's text subsumes women and homosexuals the way that Aboriginals were and are subsumed by colonial discourse; his attempt at a Koori perspective is one which allows neither for alternative Koori perspectives nor for female Koori perspectives. His text may have postcolonial elements but it does not do so to celebrate difference; instead, Mudrooroo's text creates a homogenizing definition of Aboriginality that denies heterogeneity. His inversion of the centre-margin distinctions of colonial discourse draws him "into the vortex" of the Manichean Allegory (JanMohamed 82).

The dialogue between Doin Wildcat and Wild Cat Falling is as interesting as it is problematic. While Mudrooroo identifies many of the problems with Johnson's book and addresses them in a postcolonial manner in his most recent text, the end result of the dialogue is one that denies the celebration and liberation of difference. Doin Wildcat contains many postcolonial devices: ungrammaticalities that threaten language as mimetic representation; a reinscription of the past that challenges texts that claim to be objective histories and that exposes the subjectively determined nature of history; and a style that finds a place for a Koori voice. But these devices simply "other" Wild Cat Falling and different Koori perspectives. In an interview, Mudrooroo once said:

You can't be a revolutionary in Australia. Most people are reformist, even the so called Left - so they deserve what they get. People think that the system can be made perfect by tinkering with its innards. That its imperfections reside in the parts and not in the whole. (Beier 73)

Doin Wildcat tinkers and changes the parts, replaces one monolithic interpretation of the novel with an/Other. But it fails to liberate the whole to allow the difference that Mudrooroo is trying to include.

Queen's University


Works Cited

Bakhtin, M. M. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Ed. Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas Press, 1981.

Beier, Ulli. "The Aboriginal Novelist Who Found Buddha." Quadrant 29.9 (1985): 69-75.

Bennett, Bruce and Lockwood, Laurie. "Colin Johnson: An Interview." Westerly 3 (1975): 33-7.

Dakin, Helen. "New Aboriginal Writing." Southerly 49 (1989): 260-2.

Durack, Mary. "Foreword." Wild Cat Falling. Mudrooroo. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966: 7-19.

Harris, Wilson. "In the Name of Liberty." Third Text 11 (1990): 7-15.

Healy, Jack. "Aboriginal Writing Strives for a New 'Koori' Script." Antipodes 4.1 (1990): 52-4.

JanMohamed, Abdul R. "The Economy of Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial Difference in Colonialist Literature." "Race," Writing, and Difference. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1986: 78-106.

Krupat, Arnold. "An Approach to Native American Texts." Critical Essays on Native American Literature. Ed. Andrew Wiget. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1985: 116-131.

McGaw, William. "Review: Doin Wildcat." SPAN 27 (1988): 108-11.

Muecke, Stephen. "Introduction." gularabulu: Stories from the West Kimberley. Paddy Roe. Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre, 1983: i-ix.

Mudrooroo. "Discussion." Aboriginal Writing Today. Eds. Jack Davis and Bob Hodge. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1985: 30-3.

- - . Doin Wildcat: A Novel Koori Script. Melbourne: Hyland House, 1988.

- - . Wild Cat Falling. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966.

- - . Writing From the Fringe: A Study of Modern Aboriginal Literature. Melbourne: Hyland House, 1990.

Nelson, Emmanuel S. "Connecting with the Dreamtime." Southerly 46.3 (1986): 337-43.

Tiffin, Chris. "Look to the New-Found Dreaming: Identity and Technique in Australian Aboriginal Writing." Journal of Commonwealth Literature 20 (1985): 156-70.

1 Mudrooroo published Doin Wildcat as Mudrooroo Narogin, but has, since then, chosen to identify himself as Mudrooroo.


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