Rattling Spears: A history of indigenous Australian art
NewSouth, $59.99 hb, 296 pp, 9781780235905
This beautifully illustrated book explores the ways in which Indigenous Australians have responded to invasion through art. ‘Where colonists saw a gulf,’ writes art historian Ian McLean, ‘Aborigines saw bridges. They didn’t hesitate to be modern, but on their terms.’
The tension between old and new, tradition and modernity, is evoked in the image of the rattling spears in the title. Before battle, McLean explains, Aboriginal warriors would roll their spears against each other to create ‘a chilling sound that calls ancestors from their sleep’. The sound served to focus the powers of supernatural forces, but it was also ‘a strategic manoeuvre’ to assert authority in the fight. The art that appears in the pages of Rattling Spears is similarly potent: it keeps the past alive and makes claims upon the present.