Representations of Agreement-Making in Australian Post-Mabo Fiction


  • Kieran Dolin University of Western Australia


It has been widely argued that a ‘culture of agreement making’ as an alternative to litigation in native title and other areas of political and legal activity emerged in Australia in the early 2000s (Langton and Palmer). This paper explores the ways in which this development has been taken up in post-Mabo fiction. It begins by surveying the debates around the possibilities and limitations of current frameworks of agreement-making, especially their ability to deliver “equitable outcomes for Indigenous parties” (Langton and Palmer 1), and the endemic inequality produced by settler colonialism. It then examines four novels which include agreements between white and Aboriginal characters in the light of these debates: Peter Goldsworthy’s Three Dog Night (2003), Jessica White’s Entitlement (2012), Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby (2013) and Kim Scott’s Taboo (2017). Three Dog Night highlights the politics of cross-cultural negotiation in a narrative marked by transgressive desire and the blurring of normative boundaries. In Entitlement an imaginative revisioning of the process of bargaining reverses the usual power imbalance between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal characters such that the former secure their ‘entitlements,’ making visible the presence of inequity in the contractual scene. Mullumbimby explores the conflict generated by native title litigation in Aboriginal communities, but also explores modes of resolving or pre-empting such discord through agreement. Taboo displaces a settler Australian desire for ‘reconciliation’ with a Noongar emphasis on ‘reconstitution’ (109), tracing the emergence of a tentative agreement-making project within a context of incremental acknowledgments of the traumatic effects of modern repetitions of colonial violence. In all four narratives a residue of unresolved conflict suggests a cautious, critical engagement with the ‘culture of agreement-making.’

Author Biography

Kieran Dolin, University of Western Australia

Kieran Dolin is a Senior Honorary Research Fellow in English and Literary Studies at the University of Western Australia. His main research interests are in the many connections between law and literature, particularly in Australia and in nineteenth-century Britain.