'Black Out: Classicising First Nation Peoples in Australia and New Zealand' - Ancient World Seminar

Theatre C, Old Arts

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Gijs Tol

gijs.tol@unimelb.edu.au

Marguerite Johnson (University of Newcastle)

The colonization of both New Zealand and Australia in the 1800s was recorded in numerous publications based on the original journals of explorers, naval captains and crew members. Written details of the voyages, the explorations of the lands of New Zealand and Australia, and the processes of colonization were accompanied by illustrations of flora, fauna and maps, as well as descriptions of Aboriginal and Maori peoples recorded in the fieldnotes of scientists and natural history artists who were also members of the crew. These volumes were immensely popular and catered to the British and European fascination with so-called recently ‘discovered’ lands and peoples.

This presentation examines the illustrations in one major publication and two artists’ field illustrations with a methodological eye to Classical Reception Studies; namely, the representations of First Nations people with recourse to ancient Mediterranean sculpture. This use of Classicism is evident in two engravings from the monograph of John Hunter (1737-1821) published in 1793; the watercolour, ‘A Native Wounded while asleep’ (c. 1788-1797) by the ‘Port Jackson Painter’, which occupies the main discussion; and a pen and wash, ‘New Zealand War Canoe bidding defiance to the Ship’ (1770) by Sydney Parkinson (c. 1745-1771).

This trend for Classicism that marked much of the literature, philosophy and art of the Enlightenment produced what I term the ‘Black Out’ of indigeneity and cultural authenticity in the formal accounts of colonization. Elsewhere (Johnson 2014), I have discussed the employment of Neo-Classicism in colonial accounts of Australian Aboriginals, including the motivations behind its function as a narrative device, as well responses to it, and the implications for both contemporary and post-colonial audiences. In this presentation, I wish to emphasize an absence of indigeneity and cultural authenticity – a ‘black out’ – which resulted from colonial mimesis in the form of Classicism that rendered Maori and Aboriginal bodies as antiquities in the established Mediterranean style. This Classicizing of indigenous bodies show First Nations people of the Pacific as imagined, anonymous bodies – hybrids – related to but ultimately different from the body as a site of racial difference, and ultimately part of the confused and competing nascent theories of race during the Eighteenth Century.

Reference: Johnson, M. (2014), ‘Indigeneity and Classical Reception in The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay’, Classical Receptions Journal 6 (3): 402–25