Billy Griffiths reviews 'Rattling Spears: A history of indigenous Australian' art by Ian McLean

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.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Published in November 2016, no. 386

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to comments@australianbookreview.com.au. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.