Ken Gelder
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The colonial Australian Gothic and the grave
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This chapter looks at colonial grave sites and – to a degree – the question of memorialisation in Australia. It begins by looking at unquiet, uncommemorated settler graves; ‘Fisher’s Ghost’ (1836) is an important early story here. The chapter then discusses the neglected shepherd’s grave and, by contrast, the most commemorative settler colonial poem of all, Charles Harpur’s ‘The Creek of the Four Graves’ (1845). It then looks at some Aboriginal massacre sites in colonial writing, beginning with ‘The Shepherd’s Grave’ (1874) about settler killings of Aboriginal people at a place later known as Murdering Flat. Colonial Australia is increasingly cast as a spiralling series of deathscapes, many of which remain unmemorialised. Two poems about the 1838 Myall Creek Massacre lead to a discussion of the ‘Aboriginal lament’, a ventriloquised witness account in the voice of an Indigenous massacre survivor. The Myall Creek memorial site opened in June 2000; it is understood here as a ‘site of memory’. Another ‘Aboriginal lament’, from 1876, leads to an account of settler grave robbing and the illegal trade in Aboriginal skulls and bones. In Henry Lawson’s story ‘The Bush Undertaker’ (1892), an old shepherd (who may have earlier participated in an Aboriginal massacre) digs up Aboriginal remains with the aim of participating in that trade. W. S. Walker’s ‘The Evil of Yelcomorn Creek’ (1898) folds grave-robbing into an expression of colonial extinction discourse and ‘weird’ spectral effects: where terra nullius turns into a ‘badland’. For Mark Fisher, the ‘weird’ conjoins things that ‘do not belong together’, which is precisely what colonial grave literature seems to do. The colonial grave never seems to be at rest; in some cases, its afterlife can reach into Australia today and demand recognition.

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