This is the first time a collection of poetry has been eligible for the Stella Prize, making Araluen the first poet to win. The judges said the book was “breathtaking” and a “wild ride” turning the icons of Australia inside out: “Araluen’s brilliance sizzles when she goes on the attack against the kitsch and the cuddly: against Australia’s fantasy of its own racial and environmental innocence.”
Araluen said winning the Stella Prize was a dream come true. “There aren’t words to explain how thrilled I am.”
She said the poems in Dropbear are a direct response to the traditional Australian literary canon, including the children’s titles Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Dot and the Kangaroo and Blinky Bill.
“These works have erased Aboriginal embodied presence on Aboriginal land in favour of a settler-colonial nationalist trope that suggests the land is an extension of Britain and includes European ways of viewing the land,” she said.
“For example, Dot and the Kangaroo is about a little white girl who goes missing in the bush and in her adventures she has to avoid Aboriginal people who are represented as savages and dangerous forces in the landscape, before she can be returned to her white family and the homestead. This story was published and made into a film at the time when there was incredibly high rates of Aboriginal children being removed from their families. So I’m looking at how settler anxieties were used to speak over the lived experiences of Aboriginal people and communities, to silence a very legitimate concern with a very illegitimate fear-based approach to Aboriginal people and to the land.”
She said her poetic responses are very personal and offer a balance between humour and more pointed critique.
“There are some poems that are more silly and satirical and they attempt to address the tradition in a playful way,” she said. “Then there are poems which are understandably quite angry about the ongoing impacts of some of these ways of viewing the land. Some are very angry, and I’m not afraid of using the word angry.”
Araluen developed her poetry under the supervision of Dr Peter Minter in the English Department. She is also co-editor of the literary journal Overland and will be speaking at the Sydney Writers Festival on 19 and 20 May.