Timmah Ball reviews “Dropbear” by Evelyn Araluen


by Evelyn Araluen
ISBN 978070226318

Reviewed by TIMMAH BALL

Dropbear: writing as an act of defiance 

when my body is mine i will tell them
with belly&bones
do not touch this prefix
or let you hands burn black
with your unsettlement
there are no metaphors here
-decolonial poetics (avant gubba)

Multiple modes and literary disciplines weave through Evelyn Araleun’s first collection Dropbear, shifting between poetry, prose, micro-fiction and essay seamlessly. The taut threads are a reflection of her interdisciplinary work where writing and social justice intersect. There are no metaphors instead resistance is displayed through her piercingly accurate understanding of the flawed settler nation we inhabit. As she describes in the collections notes ‘our resistance, therefore must also be literary’ an acknowledgment that the social, environmental and political change being sought must also engage with the literary culture we inherited such as May Gibbs problematic Australian classic Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. A much loved children’s book series where the bush is represented through terra nullius. As a scholar, poet, teacher, activist, editor, essayist and fiction writer Araleun resists and defies imposed colonialism, which is most fiercely embodied through Dropbear. The collection speaks back to defunct systems and shows that Aboriginal Sovereignty is crystalline. As she writes: 

when I own my tongue I will sing
with throat&finger
for I will be
where I am for

Each stanza in Decolonial poetics (avant gubba) speaks back to white Australia’s dictatorial approach to fixing ‘the Blak problem’ (aka closing the gap) be it through the Avant-garde or government policy which views Aboriginal people through a deficit lens.  The biting tone unsettles the settler writer and wider Australian consciousness whose literary interests in decolonization and institutional preoccupations with reconciliation are hollow. As Araleun writes at the end of the poem:

and when you are dead,
you can have poems

The incredulous construction of Australia is further revealed in other poems (PYRO, Acknowledgement of Cuntery and Index Australis), which illuminate the chronic power imbalances, where the perpetrator seeks recognition for resolving the damage they covertly maintain. She writes: 


  • PYRO

in the age of entitlement
in the Decolonial Dundee
and well may we say, we will decide
who and how
well may we be not lectured and well
may we do it slow
Index Australis 

I would like to wear your flag
On shirt and tote and Facebook filter
Acknowledgement of Cuntery

These poems capture both mainstream and literary preoccupations with Blak rights, climate change and social inequity whereby non-Indigenous writers, policy makers and activists reveal ‘truths’ which are already known, extracting uncomfortable histories and admissions of guilt unaware that this doesn’t undo ongoing complicity. Or as Araluen cheekily laments it is easy to change your social media profile mirroring the latest cause or wear a t-shirt with the flag of oppressed peoples. In a strange social milieu progress is accessorized and often reads more like passing trends as Aussi icons are decolonized and every white girl is writing a book about the anthropocene to grieve. In this era outrage and discomfort is omnipresent and people acknowledge country but radical change still feels distant. Dropbear asks that we don’t let this distract us but instead remain cognitive of its trickery. 

Araluen’s writing emerges from an extraordinary body of work by Blak women and non-binary writers, which re-asserts Sovereignty by dispelling settler myths. Given the literary canon preceding this and the structural whiteness that persists this is important. As Araluen concedes in her Sydney Review of Books essay Snuggle Pot and Cuddlepie in the Ghost Gum a precursor to this collection:

The entanglement of complexes which have, since invasion, structured settler responses to, and representations of Aboriginal land and its custodians, ruptures at its most readable in Australian poetics…… If Aboriginal presence is considered in such work, it is a representation predominantly concerned with symbols of atavistic inconvenience to the colonial project, charged with psychic significance in the symbolic evocation of a ghostly spectre haunting land lost to Aboriginal people, but which ultimately clears space for the discovery and cultivation of that land by the appropriate settler.

Like Alison Whittaker’s Blakwork, Ellen Van Neerven’s Throat, Jeanine Leane’s Walk Back Over, Natalie Harkin’s Archival Poetics, Kirli Saunder’s Kindred, Charmaine Papertalk Green’s Nganajungu Yagu and more recent publications such as Ambelin Kwaymullina’s Living on Stolen Land and Elfie Shiosakis’s Homecoming Araluen fortifies a Blak literary position which defies First Nations erasure and ridicule epidemic in settler Australian poetics. Stylistically she achieves this with subtle lyricism, humor, intertextual reframing of settler texts and a beguiling sense of sadness and hope for a decolonial future. There is great power in displaying work that defies clear categorization or stereotyping as protest poetry. Something that has often characterized Blak writers pejoratively within the wider literary industry suggesting that we have no more to say or are incapable of expressing our survival with nuance and depth. By contrast her work remains transformative and radical but without the troupes a white reader may expect. In the introduction to Shapes of Native Nonfiction the Cowlitz writer Elissa Washuta asserts that ‘Native writers don’t shy away from experimenting with form in order to explore the painful and the violent. However, they refuse a voyeuristic obsession with tragedy as the ultimate contribution of Native literatures to the broader field.’

Dropbear realises this with astonishing precision and power. Pain is evident but it ruminates with a critical awareness, which refuses to excite a non-Indigenous reader. Araluen is aware of these voyeuristic tendencies, which both fetishize and manipulate Aboriginal voices and decolonial agendas but also maintains a sense of urgency and demand to address this nations’ flaws. She writes:

I’ve read the work done to demonstrate how this literature triangulates our elimination against the archipelago where you move to your innocence. But no-one’s ever asked you how we are both colonized by and inheritors of these words. J asks- what is a world, and what does it mean to end it? I want to know what it means to lose the world you’re still standing in.
-To the Poets

These questions linger throughout Dropbear reaffirming that there is no clear answer to the horrors we have inherited but instead a need to confront the messy and the painful with honesty and criticality if we are to find resolve. Araluen is starting conversations that are needed while engaging with the fervent Blak activism driving change. In this way she writes for us and refuses the settler gaze in literature while reminding the white reader to recognize their responsibility. In Colonial Horror, Blak Mediocrity and Mumblecore: A conversation between Alison Whittaker and Nayuka Gorrie Whittaker explains how:

‘There’s not much that unifies blak women and non-binary mob writing except for the drive behind it. I am always surprised by the innovation and genius in blak literature, and it happens as much in the writing of blak literature as it does in the reading of blak literature by mob. It’s networked. It’s plural. It can, when we make it, work like kinship.’

Dropbear enters into this kinship where our words carry power and strengthen communities both in the writing and the reading. Araluen’s critical mind moves between writing, activism and community organising, which elevates her textual output beyond a literary vacuum. Dropbear will be read and praised by the white literary canon but her words hold space within wider public discourses led by Blak thinkers and activists. It’s networked and offers resilience to the Blak readership she writes for.  


1.Evelyn Araluen, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie in the Ghost Gum, Sydney Review of Books, 2019
2. Ellisa Washuta ad Theresa Warburton, Shapes of Native Nonfiction: Collected essays by cotemporary writers, University of Washington Press, 2019


TIMMAH BALL is a nonfiction writer, researcher and creative practitioner of Ballardong Noongar heritage. She is the editor for First Nations writing at The Westerly Magazine.