Stereotyping of Aborigines in early childhood fiction

  • Brenda Jean Read

    Student thesis: Other thesis - CDU

    Abstract

    INTRODUCTION ''
    Until the advent of film, radio and television, books in western or Iiterate countries, were among the most influential carriers of culture. While this influence has declined to some extent over the past ten years, it is still important, particularly in the use of reading materials in schools in children's formative years.

    All media tells us about 'others', our experience of this 'otherness' is secondhand. Books should also play a part in acquiring new and unique insights into the heritage of minority groups, their contributions to their own culture and to other segments of our society.

    Literature can become a mode of transformation. A child can become the characters of the books they read. They may become international heros such as Madame Curie, Louis Pasteur, Charles Lindberg or fantasy characters such as Winny the Poo or Dino the Dragon.

    From the first time a child is read to by an adult, to the actual time the child can read a book alone and absorb its content first hand, a strong personal relationship is built. The novelty value of reading a book for the first time alone, makes the content very important. They are memorable to the extent that many adults can recall the characters of their first reading books. (Milner 1975: Page 70) Most significantly this reading material gives access to another world, one of the first alternatives to the here-and-now daily life that the child has encountered. As books originate from teachers and parents, the child must often equate that world with the 'real' world of adults, which he is about to share.

    The book as a source of information and knowledge, has a particular mystique and an authenticity which differs from other cultural media. It is a means of communication which underpins our entire education system. This centrality is most evident in the priority we accord to 1 learning to read', the necessary condition for participation in nearly every aspect of education. Because of the emphasis we place on reading, the process of reading and the reading materials themselves have a halo of value surrounding them that simply is not attached to films or television.

    While even older children and adults may lack objectivity and critical faculty in judging the content of books, very young children have no such faculty. Given their first glimpse of a new reality that reading offers, they are likely to be very strongly influenced indeed by its content. Young children have less basis to discriminate between 'good' and 'bad' books, and they are therefore more vulnerable to the message of the book.

    The situation is circular. Society dictates the content and attitudes within books and the books serve to perpetuate the social attitudes from one generation to the next.

    One of the more important areas of attitude development in which written material plays a crucial role, is the development of attitudes to those who are ethnically different. Even where books do not actually determine children's racial attitudes, they are a highly significant additional source of confirmation of the racial values communicated to children by family, peer group or other institutions of society.

    In looking at the protrayal of racial minorities in children's literature it is soon evident that Aboriginal people are largely omitted. This is clearly not an accurate representation of the real world. In fact, it is arguable that children may conclude that Aboriginal people are not a sufficient group to warrant inclusion, which is patently not the case. (It is estimated from the 3o/6/81census that 29.089 Aboriginal people live in the Territory alone). There is also an element of devaluation which tends to be underlined by the kinds of portrayal of Aboriginal people that the child encounters when they are included. Until recent years Aboriginal people have been depicted in a more or less derogatory manner. An example can be seen in the work of Henry Lawson. Lawson made no attempt to hide his dislike. If in his works, Aborigines receive less vituperative and cynical comment than the Chinese, it is because, in their depleted and weakened numbers, they were seen as less of a danger than the irrespressible 'Celestials' whose hoards threatened, in Lawson's mind, to descend upon Australia from the north. They only received favourable comment from him when they measured up on his scale of 'white' values. (Monahan ; pers Comm)

    Further examples are:
    "A tribe of savages in the 'bush' near the coast of South West Australia, regarded as the most savage people of the antipodes. They consisted almost entirely of criminal aborigines and their offspring" (Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1957 ed. P.713).

    "The picture shows you that they are rather ugly, have dark skin and wear very few clothes. And they are not very clever..." I should not like to be the child of one of these people. Would you?" (Hornblow.E .1953 P138 - 142)

    "... The indians, as they were called in Australia had shown no signs of wanting to co-operate with the white man, and were so ignorant that they did not know that plants grew from seeds". "Like the animals of the country, they defied classification".

    ".... our 18th century colonists, the more educated of whom were looking for Rousseau's noble savage, could make little of these weird beings who rubbed white clay on their faces, stuck sticks through their nostrils and smelt of oil. (Fisher.J.1968 P20,29,30).

    ".... they wander about hunting".

    "They eat animals, grubs, fruit, fish anything".

    "In the middle and north of Australia live natives or Aboriginals
    who eat white ants". (Daniell 1958 P 34, 51)

    The forest and soil meant but little to Kooloona .... The thought
    had never entered his mind that he might grow plants or make cloth of their fibres to yield him clothing".
    (Department of Education, Queensland 1966 P5)

    "Like many Aborigines Graham loves to draw and use coloured crayons".

    "By the time they reached some gum trees Graham was hungry. The two boys found a few witchett^ grubs and ate them raw".

    "And now I'm thirsty again, said Graham. He scooped a hole in the sand and found water. All Aborigines can find water if they need it". (McArdle, B and Marks S., 1968 Pll,22)
    While contemporary authors are endeavouring to avoid this kind of portrayal the racial stereotypes devolving from our colonial past survive in the writing of children's classics which are still current in the society at large.

    This dissertation will discuss in more detail the manner and extent to which books affect racial attitudes. It will then specifically examine the role played in this by illustrations in books as well as the content of the actual text.

    "The picture shows you that they are rather ugly, have dark skin and wear very few clothes. And they are not very clever..." I should not like to be the child of one of these people. Would you?" (Hornblow.E .1953 P138 - 142)

    "... The indians, as they were called in Australia had shown no signs of wanting to co-operate with the white man, and were so ignorant that they did not know that plants grew from seeds". "Like the animals of the country, they defied classification".

    ".... our 18th century colonists, the more educated of whom were looking for Rousseau's noble savage, could make little of these weird beings who rubbed white clay on their faces, stuck sticks through their nostrils and smelt of oil. (Fisher.J.1968 P20,29,30).

    ".... they wander about hunting".

    "They eat animals, grubs, fruit, fish anything".

    "In the middle and north of Australia live natives or Aboriginals
    who eat white ants". (Daniell 1958 P 34, 51)

    The forest and soil MEAtf but little to Kooloona .... The thought had never entered his mind that he might grow plants or make cloth of their fibres to yield him clothing". (Department of Education, Queensland 1966 P5)

    "Like many Aborigines Graham loves to draw and use coloured crayons".

    "By the time they reached some gum trees Graham was hungry. The two boys found a few witchetty grubs and ate them raw".

    "And now I'm thirsty again, said Graham. He scooped a hole in the sand and found water. All Aborigines can find water if they need it". (McArdle, B and Marks S., 1968 Pll,22)
    While contemporary authors are endeavouring to avoid this kind of portrayal the racial stereotypes devolving from our colonial past survive in the writing of children's classics which are still current in the society at large.

    This dissertation will discuss in more detail the manner and extent to which books affect racial attitudes. It will then specifically examine the role played in this by illustrations in books as well as the content of the actual text.






    Date of Award1983
    Original languageEnglish

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