Decolonising Categories: Learning from “Water” by Ellen van Neerven


  • Mylène Charon Université Cergy


Ellen van Neerven, futurism, bildungsroman, decolonial fiction


This essay offers a study of Yugambeh writer Ellen van Neerven’s short story “Water”. It will look at its creative use of a group of futuristic characters, who turn out to be Indigenous ancestral spirits. How do their long-debated identity question all sorts of categories, making them appear as socially-constructed and highlighting their material effects? Traits pertaining to the bildungsroman will be elucidated through an analysis of the main character whose quest for her Aboriginal identity finds an auxiliary in the spirits’ leader and an opponent in a representative of the government. The story unfolds as a political one of becoming-as-resistant against the latest form of segregation conducted in the name of national reconciliation. Drawing on the past, reflecting the present and imagining the future, at the intersection of Western and Indigenous worldviews, it challenges the literary genres and definitions of the real and the fiction. In its imagination of Indigenous futures, navigating between epistemologies, it may be called a work of Murri realism which draws a set of parallels to reflect on current postcolonising conditions.

Author Biography

Mylène Charon, Université Cergy

Mylène Charon is a French associate researcher at Héritages laboratory (CY Cergy Paris Université, the French National Centre for Scientific Research / CNRS and the French Ministry of Culture), currently living in Cergy, France. She has family with settler origins in nipaluna/Hobart, lutruwita/Tasmania, Australia. She teaches literature and arts history at an undergraduate level at Cergy-Paris University, France, where she also teaches French as a Foreign Language. Her doctoral thesis (2020) compares contemporary poetry and visual arts by First Nations Australian women authors and artists. It particularly looks at their representation of power relationships at the intersection of race and sex. 


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