Going Against the Flow: The Secret River and Colonialism’s Structuring Oppositions

Anouk Lang


In its retelling of the narrative of colonial settlement in Australia, Kate Grenville’s The Secret River (2005) resonates with debates over Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations in contemporary Australia, as its representational strategies can be seen as undermining the kinds of metaphysical oppositions identified by theorists such as Benita Parry, Frantz Fanon and Homi Bhabha as crucial to the structuring of colonialism’s discursive field. The question I take up in this essay is how successful Grenville’s novel is in “repossessing the signifying function appropriated by colonialist representation” that Parry identifies as a necessary, yet insufficient, strategy for laying bare the rhetorical underpinning of the colonial enterprise. How successful is the novel in reconfiguring these signifying relations even as it relies on them to retell a mythic narrative of nation-building? And what does this analytic framework reveal about the blindnesses and omissions of canonical postcolonial criticism with respect to settler-invader contexts?


The Secret River; Kate Grenville; Benita Parry; indigeneity

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