This thesis grapples with the issue of "authority to speak" when Aboriginality is represented within the institution of literature. A poetics based on the notion of a personal experience of Aboriginality, as this experience is constructed in literary texts, is juxtaposed against a poststructuralist poetics in order to discover whether it is possible to translate one in terms of the other, and to investigate the adequacy of available idiom to articulate the experiences of indigenous Australians. The gulf between these two approaches illustrates a differential in which neither discursive position has a command of the other's idiom.
The thesis compares authority to transmit traditional Aboriginal culture with authorising procedures in the institution of literature, in order to discover whether traditional practices of assigning authority to speak can be applied to literary and critical representations of Aboriginality in the same way that they work in the context of the reception of oral performances. It concludes that traditional Aboriginal prohibitions and responsibilities for the transmission of information and writing function as quite distinct "societies of discourse"- hence the fierce debates when these two discursive regimes coincide in a political context of unequal relations of power. Yet Shoemaker and Narogin's literary histories reveal how discourses of literary criticism invoke "the other" from within regimes of Aboriginality, in the terms that serve them best, as a way of authorising their literary histories.
Critical debates about the right to represent Aboriginality can at the same time be understood as struggles either within or between disciplines. Doctrines of allegiance which govern the right to speak about Aboriginality are appropriated from the discourses of traditional Aboriginal cultural production by members of the institution of literary criticism in order to protect their own disciplines against the so-called "colonising" power of other disciplines.
Ruby Langford's and Glenyse Ward's stories enact a differend between experience and the institutions of the coloniser. These double-voiced utterances succeed in developing an idiom which explicates the differential displayed in naming oneself as required by the coloniser and, at the same time, finding ways of naming oneself that reconstitute one's universe. The contest over the status of these texts is only a symptom of the differential displayed in the contest over the naming and the status of the indigenous people of Australia.
Wildcat Falling and Doin Wildcat, Don't Take Your Love To Town and Real Deadly, and Wandering Girl and Unna You Fullas revise their predecessor, employing tropes and rhetorical strategies with increasing intensity and, in the process, find ways of developing an idiom which exemplifies, resists, and refuses the discursive restrictions of the coloniser's institutions.
"Aboriginality" can therefore be recognised as a play of difference, practised textually, which finds spaces for self-representation in tension against the constrictions of colonisation.