I’m stepping right back into the cultural appropriation hole here.
I wanted yesterday’s review of Kate Thompson’s book to be about the book. Not whether she should be allowed to write about the Aboriginal people of Australia. Which, of course, she should be.
According to Kate it was hard to find a willing publisher, as they were most likely worried about cultural appropriation. So she published the book herself.
Now, as far as I know, Kate is English, living in Ireland. Over the years she has treated us to some first rate children’s books, mostly set in Ireland, and involving the, ahem, fairies. I didn’t hear anyone complaining. Or at least, not about Kate’s lack of Irish fairy-ness.
Some other favourites of mine among Kate’s books are about children switching to become animals; squirrels, rats. That kind of thing. Call me a cynic, but I doubt she’s spent all that long as a squirrel.
Kate has spent quite a lot of time in Australia in recent years, which presumably explains both why she wanted to write Provenance, and why she did it so competently. It’s not done from the point of view of an Aboriginal person. It’s about a slightly confused, but well-meaning, outsider Englishman. I can’t help but feel that this makes it all right.
Over the Bookwitch years I have read a number of Australian YA and children’s fiction. Great stuff, but primarily the ‘same’ as if those stories had been set somewhere else. By which I mean a teenager is a teenager, and their school issues are just that. Yes, there is an Australian flavour to these books, but not overwhelmingly so. They are as authentic as they need to be.
And let’s not go into the Scottish ferret-cum-human hero Hamish in Ebony McKenna’s books set in a non-existent small European country. I don’t care what Ebony’s experience of ferret-ness is; the books are great fun.
In fact, what Provenance made me think of more than anything was Nevil Shute’s Australian novels. I hasten to add that I have no idea what current pc thoughts are on Mr Shute. I enjoyed his books 40-50 years ago, and that’s good enough for me. He was also English, but I still feel he gave a good account of the country, if not necessarily its native people.
It’s that hot and dusty country I found myself in when reading Provenance. And if you’re going to feel shame over something, this is not it.
The Aboriginal art that plays such an important part of the book made me think back to what Offspring did at school. We have more than one lot of ‘Aboriginal’ art in some folder here. Maybe it was wrong of the art teacher to teach them about this. I don’t think so, but I’m sure some would.
Besides, if we are to become more knowledgeable about the Aboriginal situation, someone has to tell us. Provenance did this pretty well. Yes, seen through the yes of the outsider, but that is also a valid view.