Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

At the end of his novel, Keneally writes of the celebration surrounding the federation of Australia and asks, “And the other viciousness, the rape of primitives?” The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is about both “primitives,” the aborigines, and “rape” in its broadest terms: not only Farrell’s sodomizing of Harry Edwards, the aborigine prisoner, and the physical rape of aborigine women by white men whose sexual drive compensates for their guilt and inadequacy, but also the psychological rape of the aboriginal culture. In fact, physical rape becomes the symbol of psychological and cultural violation, as Keneally indicates when he terms the “white phallus” the “powerful demolisher of tribes.” Elsewhere in the novel, the tribal elders, who know “where the soul-stones of each man were hidden and how the stones could be distinguished,” are men who lend their wives to white men “for a suck from a brandy bottle.” In symbolic terms, the tribal ground, which is womb-shaped and related to initiation rites and “birth” from the Great Lizard, is desecrated and beyond repair. Jimmie tells McCreadie that the place is, appropriately, “all buggered an’ no help fer it.” (Elsewhere in the novel, Jimmie is told that there is too much Christianity in him, that it has “buggered” him.) Unfortunately for the aborigine, white society seems unwilling, as Neville’s unpublished letter states, “to accept the ambitious aborigine,” the man who...

(The entire section is 483 words.)