Remaking Contact in That Deadman Dance: Australian Reconciliation Politics, Noongar Welcoming Protocol, and Makarrata


  • Travis Franks Boston University


Australian literature, aboriginal literature, settler colonialism, reconciliation, contact narratives


In this article, I make the case for Noongar novelist Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance (2010) as an exemplar of Aboriginal-centered literary imaginings of reconciliation based primarily on adherence to traditional Laws rather than the state’s limited recognition of native title. I am particularly interested in how the novel decenters settler contact narratives through its depiction of Noongar welcoming protocols, thus affirming pre-national Aboriginal sovereignty. Furthermore, I contend that, through the novel’s culminating scene in which settlers fail to understand protagonist Bobby Wabalanginy’s ceremonial dance calling for justice through truth-telling and peace-making, Scott narrativizes the settler nation’s inability to understand or accept terms of apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation derived from Indigenous cultural and political beliefs. Thinking of That Deadman Dance not merely as historical fiction but as a novel about remaking contact draws attention to the all-too-frequently superficial performativity of settler-centric reconciliation politics and calls for narratives whose primary concern is not meditating on settler guilt and complicity.

Author Biography

Travis Franks, Boston University

Travis Franks is an Assistant Professor of Native American and Indigenous Literatures in the Department of English at Utah State University. He is currently working on a book manuscript titled Settler Nativism: Indigeneity and Diaspora in Narratives of Belonging, which compares contemporary literatures of the U.S. and Australia. His previous work appears in MELUS, Western American Literature, and elsewhere.