That Deadman Dance
Judges’ Formal Comments:‘Kaya.
Writing such a word, Bobby Wabalanginy couldn’t help but smile. Nobody had done writ that before, he thought. Nobody ever writ hello or yes that way!’
This is the beginning of Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance, a powerful and innovative fiction that shifts our sense of what an historical novel can achieve. Its language is shaped by the encounter of Noongar and Australian English, producing new writing and speech.
Its central character occupies both indigenous and settler worlds, and yet is contained by neither. Its narration of the early contact of British colonisers, American whalers and the indigenous Noongar people on the south coast of Western Australia in the early nineteenth century is both historical and magical. We see and feel the hardship, tragedies and aspirations of the settlement, and at the same time we are transported into the mystical and spiritual life worlds of Wabalanginy and his people.
That Deadman’s Dance is alive in the spaces between these two worlds as they collide and collaborate. It tells the story of the rapid destruction of Noongar people and their traditions. At the same time, there is the enchanting possibility of the birth of a new world in the strange song, dance, ceremony and language that are produced by these encounters of very different peoples.