Evelyn Araluen’s Dropbear

Evelyn Araluen, Dropbear (University of Queensland Press 2021)

This is a formidable book. I’d heard Evelyn Araluen read some of its poems, which she always does with a slight, dangerous smile, and was looking forward to reading them. The smile is mostly still in evidence, but the danger doesn’t feel slight. What’s endangered is any hope of emerging with Australian settler colonialist assumptions intact, or at least untroubled. In the book’s generous notes, Araluen spells out her understanding

that the material and political reality of the colonial past which Indigenous peoples inherit is also a literary one. Our resistance, therefore, must also be literary.

(page 99)

What looks like an elegantly designed slim volume of poems is actually a piece of incendiary resistance to colonial attempts at genocide and erasure, from May Gibbs’s cute bush creatures to perfunctory or self-serving acknowledgements of country, by way of a whole gallery of settler-Australian poets and poetic tropes. There are rage-fuelled mash-ups taken from widely read, familiar texts; poems whose ideal readers have PhDs in critical theory or contemporary poetics; and longer prose poems that could just as easily be categorised as essays and short stories. There are poems that turn their gaze away from the colonisers and dwell on family and the natural world.

In her conversation with Tony Birch at the Sydney Writers’ Festival My blog post is at this link), Araluen said. ‘This is not a cancel culture book.’ And that’s an important point to make. ‘For the parents’, one of the longer pieces, is in part an expression of gratitude and appreciation for her parents who read May Gibbs to her and her siblings, which when she first ‘discovered theory’ she thought meant they were ‘losing to the settlers’:

While my siblings and I consumed those stories, we were
never taught to settle for them. My parents ever pretended 
these books could truly know country or culture or 
me – but they had both come from circumstances in which 
literacy and the access it affords was never a given. They just 
wanted me to be able to read.

The acts of resistance in this book are not rants against an easily demonised foe. They involve the poet’s own inner wrestles, and bring a finely tuned, disciplined intelligence to bear on issues that lie at the heart of Australian culture. The book isn’t an easy read, especially for old white men, but it’s not hostile. Speaking as an old white man I felt it as a bracing invitation and a forthright offer of guidance and even help.

Added later: There’s an excellent discussion of Dropbear by Jeanine Leane in Sydney Review of Books, at this link. Here’s a taste:

Dropbear is blunt, biting and beautifully crafted. Although it is those things, it is more than the sum of those things. It’s a radical and timely affront to the history, the myths, the gossip and the stereotypes that still confront us all as the Country’s First Peoples.

Dropbear is the tenth book I’ve read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021.

11 responses to “Evelyn Araluen’s Dropbear

  1. I heard the poet talking at the Margaret River Readers Writers Festival which had a digital option…
    She mentioned some of what you’ve said here, but there were four panellists plus the chair which is always too many IMO, no one gets more than 10 minutes or so and it’s just not long enough.

    2021 Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival: Indigenous storytelling

    I’m going to add your review to my Indigenous Reading List but I hope you will also contribute something for my forthcoming #IndigLitWeek in July!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree about panels, Lisa. It’s especially irksome when none of them gets to read, so audience members who aren’t familiar with their work are often left with not much of an idea of what kind of things they’ve written


      • When I’ve done panels, the best ones were when I was just ‘in conversation’ with one author. It means you can really dig deep with the questions, and you don’t have to worry about one or other of the panellists getting more than their fair share of the time. What the audience gets to hear is the author, with only occasional interventions in the form of a question that relates specifically to them and the book they have written.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, those are the ones I enjoy best, whether I’ve read the book or not. I also love being read to – The Big Read used to be my favourite event at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, but it’s been discontinued for reasons that escape me.


      • I suppose organisers do it because they think that the more authors they have, the more likely it is that it will appeal to a wider audience. I never had a full house at my three (Shokoofeh Azar, Lily Yulianti Farid and Roger McDonald) but those audiences were very appreciative.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been wondering about this book Jonathan. Will definitely add it to my growing collection now.


  3. I did a course with Evelyn and it was wonderful, so I am really looking forward to this. I’ve read the first few poems online, but I feel like I need the book in my hand (strange, I know)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Just discovered this post Jonathan. I’m looking forward to reading this book. Wish I had before its win last night.

    Re the panels at writers festivals, overall I agree with you and Lisa. Some multi-person panels can be pretty incoherent – as hoc – in terms of exploring something meaningful. The authors may have something in common but it’s loose and in these cases you tend not to get beyond the superficial. But there are some where the link is obvious – I’ve heard some memorable ones involving historical fiction for example – and the convenor has clear ideas about what they want to explore regarding whatever it is that links these authors. Then you can get some interesting and interplay of ideas and opposing points of view.

    Liked by 1 person

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