Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book focuses on an Australian Aboriginal woman character named Oblivia, who emerges after a ten-year period of a trauma-induced ‘sleep’ in the ‘deep underground bowel of a giant eucalyptus tree’ where she writes ‘stanzas in ancient symbols’ (7). The setting of the novel is an imagined future of cataclysmic climate change, as well as an unresolved and ongoing settler past and present, in which First Nations people experience pervasive mental and affective colonization. Oblivia and other occupants of the polluted Northern Australian swamp where she lives, desire survival and connection with their ancestral lands.The novel’s narrative is inextricably bound up with images and texts pertaining to colonial pasts and also indigenous forms of storytelling. The swans who come to the swamp as refugees of climate change, exist as intertextual entities. This talk examines the extent to which the swans in the novel and Oblivia’s relationship with them dramatize questions around the ravages of settler colonialism and environmental crisis.
Lucy Neave is conducting research for a book: Crisis, Kinship and the Animal in Twenty-First Century Literature (working title). She is the author of a series of papers on the representation of animals in contemporary literature, and a novel, Who We Were (Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2013), as well as short fiction. In spring 2019, she is a visiting scholar in the New York University department of English and Comparative Literature. She teaches creative writing and literary studies at the Australian National University.