The gift and the ethics of representing Aboriginality in Australian children's literature

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Abstract

This paper draws on theories of the gift to address the ethics of representing Aboriginality in Australian children's literature, which is a contentious debate that centres on who is eligible to tell Aboriginal stories and how the stories can be told. Considering the historical indebtedness in Australian racial relations, the paper suggests that children's books that incorporate reference to Aboriginal cultural elements constitute a metaphorical 'gift' exchange between Aboriginal custodians as the givers and writers as the recipients who are expected to 'return' such an intellectual gift through their books in an appropriate manner. In this view, the paper specifies the ethical issues confronted by non-Aboriginal writers for children, including Patricia Wrightson, Phillip Gwynne and Kate Constable, and examines the way in which the gift relationship sheds light on the question of how to avoid infringement of Aboriginal protocols without submitting to self-censorship. A caring gesture, underlining the relationship between self and others in gift exchanges, is identified to negotiate the writer's interests in Aboriginal stories with cultural sensitivity against unauthorised appropriation. The paper therefore argues that the morality of gift exchanges, which demands a balanced consideration of disparate interests in obligatory reciprocation, offers a possible solution to the dilemma of non-Aboriginal writers in the treatment of Aboriginal subject matter.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33–45
Number of pages13
JournalAustralian Aboriginal Studies
Volume2016
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016
Externally publishedYes

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