Reading Women: The Australian Episode, Part II
With Jaclyn Masters and Kendra Winchester
Reading Women is a weekly podcast where women discuss books by or about women. Each month features two episodes on the same theme—one highlighting a range of titles and one discussing two titles more in depth—and two author interviews with talented women writers.
This week, Jaclyn and Kendra continue the conversation contemporary Australian literature by discussing in depth into Claire G. Coleman’s novel Terra Nullius and Alice Pung’s memoir Her Father’s Daughter.
“My first thought was that I wished this book had been in my high school curriculum.”
Jaclyn Masters: I read Terra Nullius about this time last year. I went in not knowing much about it besides that it was an alternative Australian history, giving more agency to the Indigenous voice in Australian history. I’m glad I went in with that limited knowledge, because I was completely blown away, and it gave me so much to think about. My first thought was that I wished this book had been in my high school curriculum. I think it would’ve been fascinating to discuss in a classroom as you’re learning Australian history.
Kendra Winchester: I had never read anything about colonization in Australia at all. Going into this book, I’d heard it was science fiction-y, but I hadn’t heard much, which was good, because when more stuff happened, it totally blindsided me. I’d gone in thinking, oh, it’s historical fiction essentially. And then it’s not.
JM: That’s one of the real strengths of the book, that it’s not just a run of the mill traditional history. It’s so much more than that. And it’s engaging with what history means in a very present and relevant context to the way that Australians now are grappling with that same issue, which I thought was really clever. I am hopeful that this will prompt very interesting discussions when people read it.
“The kind of horrors and experiences that the characters depict, quite graphically, is something I don’t think Claire would have had to imagine too much.”
JM: These homes where the Natives are sent really do reflect so much of actual Australian history and the kind of horrors and experiences that the characters depict, quite graphically, is something I don’t think Claire would have had to imagine too much. I think that’s something that she’s drawing from actual history very accurately. And it’s an area that’s perhaps not voiced as much in traditional history books. Traditional Australian history texts really whitewash history and give a very one-sided view about how colonization happened. But what this does is interrogate those traditional notions of narrative and give more agency back to the Indigenous experience and really show how horrific and violent that was for people.
“Who we are as people isn’t just us.”
KW: Alice Pung is very skillful in the way she deals with a lot of difficult topics, just knowing this kind of human behavior exists. It’s extremely difficult to read about child soldiers and starvation and the horrors that people inflict upon each other. And she’s able to do it in a respectful way, in an honest way. This was her father’s experience, and it’s part of who she is.
There’s a lot about how who we are as people isn’t just us. We are carrying the weight of our family with us as we move forward in life. And understanding what that means for her is understanding where her parents came from and what they suffered through.