Re-Membering Colonialism: Tropes of Discovery in Settler-Society Texts

  • Clare Bradford University of Winnipeg


In lieu of an abstract, here is an excerpt from this article: A narrative pattern common in novels for children is a sequence of events involving a buried or concealed object whose discovery triggers a search for origins. Generally such narratives construct protagonists as young detectives, tracking when, by whom, and how these objects were hidden or buried. In former settler colonies such as Canada, the United States, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, sequences such as I have described are charged with added significances, since the objects discovered are commonly associated with Indigenous cultures, colonial histories, and relations between colonizers and colonized. Moreover, the discovery of buried items (weapons, personal effects, human remains) functions in narrative terms as a catalyst for personal growth on the part of protagonists, resulting in enhanced understanding of national and local histories and an appreciation of the meanings of the past for the present. In texts such as Felice Holman’s Real, New Zealand author Lorraine Orman’s Cross Tides, and two Australian texts, James Moloney’s Gracey and Gary Crew’s No Such Country, the uncovering of human remains brings to light colonial atrocities committed against Indigenous individuals and groups; while Andrea Spalding’s Finders Keepers and Welwyn Wilton Katz’s False Face broach questions concerning ownership of and responsibility for objects once produced and used by Indigenous people. Although these texts are by non-Indigenous authors, they often incorporate a pair of protagonists, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, whose friendship is tested by crosscultural negotiations over the discovery of objects from the past. Such narratives occur, for instance, in Finders Keepers and False Face, and in two New Zealand texts, Joanna Orwin’s Owl and Joan de Hamel’s Take the Long Path.