More than lust in the dust: M.C. William Willshire’s writings and frontier journey as a demonstration of traditional culture

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Boyack, Neil Anthony (2020) More than lust in the dust: M.C. William Willshire’s writings and frontier journey as a demonstration of traditional culture. Research Master thesis, Victoria University.


My research investigates and analyses the four published works (between 1888-1896) of South Australian Policeman, Mounted Constable William Willshire (1852-1925). This Masters by Research thesis project will include a theoretical exegesis, based on the written works of Mounted Constable William Willshire, as well as a creative, fiction component based on Willshire’s life, his writings and history. Previous research on this colonial character almost exclusively focuses on Willshire the rogue policeman, the murderer, however there is little understanding of the role Willshire played as an early contact figure, observer of Aboriginal people, or novice anthropologist; nor is there clarity around his relationships with the Aboriginal men, women, and the clans he worked and fraternised with. I have focussed my research and energy on the cultural information Willshire compiled in written form, in conjunction with structures connected with Aboriginal Law, traditional culture, kinship and Country. Through these filters I evidence and speculate on the traditional roles and responsibilities Willshire adopted, the new technology and materialism that came with him, as well as the need for Aboriginal colleagues to culturally respond to the presence of Willshire, the stranger, the policeman, the male, the writer. It is vital to acknowledge that Willshire learned culture and language on-Country as an initial black-white contact point and in somewhat reciprocal relationships, over significant periods of time and on datelines that predate anthropologists Walter Baldwin-Spencer, Frank Gillen and Carl Strehlow. Using Willshire’s texts as a central focus I explore other actors and enablers connected to Aboriginal cultures and Country common to Willshire within the study timeframe. Taking note of Willshire’s haphazard methodologies in approaching the collection of anthropological information and storytelling I will enquire into his contemporaneous influences, and the overarching frameworks that manifested in his attitudes to the Aboriginal and political world he enters as a policeman. This will support a sense of environment and dimension belonging to the study period, as well a sense of public thought and understanding about Aboriginal people in a time where Social Darwinism was as much an enabler for a brutal colonisation as it was an influencer of government policy, fuelling grass roots racial stereotyping that is still pervasive. I provide three likely, public, literary figures of the study period and compare their written work, their impact, and their influence on Willshire and mainstream culture. It will also be important to explore the operation and behaviour of early Australian anthropologists such as Baldwin-Spencer, Gillen and Strehlow. These men were peers and fellow Central Australian community members at one time or another with Willshire. They had relationships within Aboriginal clans and cultures well known to Willshire. The trends, themes, and narratives in Australian literature and writing, in the lead-up to and during the study period are also important factors in shaping this timeline, as they assist in fuelling Willshire’s fantasies of becoming a writer, a legend, a man of importance, and this mindset accompanies Willshire throughout his adventures, journeys and relationships with Aboriginal women. The creative exegesis element of my thesis will allow me to explore and speculate on the mental state of characters, their actions, dreams, experiences, motivations, and emotions as they respond to, and exert, the pressures of invasion and radical cultural change. Importantly the fiction element of the project adds another creative process to the breadth of the thesis. As a white writer and researcher, I am sensitive to my place in the ongoing life of a modern colonial society. At no time will I be assuming an Aboriginal standpoint. Willshire will be the vessel for the fiction, yet the Willshire character remains a strong conduit to and from Aboriginal actors, as well as an imposing, deadly symbol of settler colonial society. Whilst based on historical fact, and on Willshire’s rambling writings, I note the variables and fallibilities involved in fictional speculation such as interpretation and assumption. These are counterbalanced however with a detailed historical archive that demands respect for Indigenous epistemology, and documented frontier lives. The complexities at the heart of this fictional element revolve around defining and rebuilding the relationships between Willshire and his Aboriginal colleagues; and reimagining and applying them in a way that engages, and weaves a strong narrative about an important period on the Aboriginal timeline.

Item type Thesis (Research Master thesis)
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1904 Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Historical > FOR Classification > 2103 Historical Studies
Current > Division/Research > Moondani Balluk
Keywords Mounted Constable William Willshire; exegesis; creative project; fiction; The Abattoir at Night
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