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The Longest Memory & Black Diggers

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Bernadette Tedesco

on 3 September 2018

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Transcript of The Longest Memory & Black Diggers

Fred D'Aguiar
Text type: novel (historical fiction)
13 chapters; intro. "Remembering", concl. "Forgetting" -> "The Longest Memory"
Chapter titles = character's names (their point of view in first person narration)
Different text genres
Mostly directed at the reader with few exceptions
Feb. 2, 1960 to Guyanese parents.
Aged 2-10 lived with grandmother in
(South America). Returned to England; worked as a psychiatric nurse.
1985 graduated from University of Kent, Canterbury, majoring in African and Caribbean studies.
1994 posted as a writer at Amherst College,
- it is at this time that he wrote TLM,
Now a Professor of English at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg.

The Longest Memory
Black Diggers


Central character?
I-narrator of frame and first chapter.
100 years old;
liked, well-respected and trusted.
Outlives his family.
Observer of everything.
Describes the 2 types of slaves.

Family: wife, two sons, one daughter.
Changing relationship with Whitechapel.
Fair slave holder <-> contradictive, hypocritical behavior/position towards slavery.
I-narrator, personal point of view.
Direct speech, direct addressee <-> blaming Sanders Junior.

Diary dating from Jan 12 1796- Nov 30 97
Strict, cruel overseer; lonely
Angry about the marriage of Whitechapel and Cook
House slave
I-narrator, personal point of view (inner monologue)
Torn between supporting or forbidding Chapel's and Lydia's secret meetings
I-narrator, personal POV
uses poems to narrate
"We speak from memory" (p. 62)
Depicts mother as a "fallen angel" with "smoked skin" (p. 56)
Unofficial protagonist
Status as white woman: obedience
I-narrator, personal POV
Present tense
Experiences many changes
Central theme memory: "Chapel, I want to say, all my memory is yours" (p. 90)
Fantasy of being together
Intertextuality: Paradise Lost, Faust, Faerie Queene (p. 97)
The Virginian
Editorial, dating from Dec 1809- June 1810
Addresses mainly white newspaper readership
Not addressing the reader but dead Whitechapel, talking to himself, giving orders
Grew up on plantation with slaves
Kills Chapel because he cannot lose face
Regrets killing Whitechapel's son, not his half-brother
The Longest Memory' not concerned with portraying slavery historically accurately - though it does draw on research
Purpose of this text is more about the
dilemma of trying to forget slavery
and the impossibility of doing so
"Memory is pain trying to resurrect itself" (LM, 138)
first-person narration alludes to classic slave narratives
BUT: differences to the old slave narratives is key to the authenticity of the characters
avoids refocusing only on the slave by employing different points of view
Results in a more complex picture of slavery
Evokes the idea of
multiple truths, not one single truth
Raises issues in a post-colonial context

Learn more about slavery in America
Tom Wright
Fred D'Aguiar
Tom Wright (Writer)
Straightforward title intended to be evocative 'Black Diggers', makes the purpose of the text instantly clear -> to bring attention to the role of Indigenous Australians before, during and after World War I; a role largely forgotten by the mainstream historical narrative.
Structured as a series of vignettes (a kind of theatrical montage), monologues and songs, mixed with some ongoing character threads.
A prominent linking device that connects these stories are names, dates and places, written in stark white paint against the black cyclorama at intervals throughout the show
Based on research that drew on a four-part definition of truth; personal, social, forensic and public
Uses humour and the 'larrikin Aussie spirit' to provide the audience relief from the heavy content, sometimes comic effect is created inadvertently
An overarching sense of dignity created by the camaraderie and egalitarianism found in the trenches “all faces looked brown in that mud”
This hope is unavoidably tainted by the aftermath of returning to an unchanged, uncaring and oppressive homeland.
Wesley Enoch (Director)
Enoch is an Australian Murri descent and artistic director of Queensland Theatre Company. He came up with the idea for the play in 2012. He conducted the bulk of the research for the play including letters, diary entries and oral histories. This included many contradictory experiences regarding enlisting, fighting and returning home.
Writing for theatre over twenty years.
Enoch gave Wright a ‘telephone book thickness of research’ for Black Diggers.
Wright brought his own strong sense of history to the project, whilst at the same time being aware of Indigenous oral history traditions. He said, "If you focus on just two or three narratives, you're already misrepresenting history”.
"It deliberately tries to be a patchwork quilt of the past, presenting a variety of short sharp scenes, as if the theatre itself is suffering from shellshock. It’s not trying to tear apart Australian myths about war. It is about putting black faces back into all our history."
Black Diggers: Challenging the ANZAC narrative
Dispossesion and Government Control - Aboriginal History
* VERY CONFRONTATIONAL VIEWING Genocide in Australia Exposed - Australian Aborigines Genocide
Learn more about Indigenous/White relations pre-WW2
In Black Diggers, nine actors explore the stories of indigenous soldiers, playing more than 100 characters that combine the experiences of World War I servicemen with fiction.
But no one story could sum up the range of experiences of Aboriginal diggers, says playwright Tom Wright
"If you focus on just two or three narratives, you're already misrepresenting history," Wright says.
All-male, all-indigenous ensemble of nine play all of the roles including white soldiers, publicans, German soldiers, and a mother.
Potential theatrical issues with this large, dispersed approach to the storytelling, that of racial ambiguity in the doubling of roles for each actor.
Compare & Contrast
Multiple points of view Episodic
multiple perspectives non-chronological
historical fiction

Post-colonial settings
black/white dichotomies
early to mid 20th Century Australia during WW1.
Indigenous Australians and White Australians - history of denial i.e Terra Nulius and general lack of discussion/acknowledgement of past mistreatments
North America - Virginian slave plantation in the early 19th century
African Americans and White Americans - no denial but continued racial tension and country division (think American civil war - Union vs Confederate states)
Perhaps this context explains the serious sombre tone maintained
throughout the text - there is no hiding
from the shameful past, it is aknowledged
and therefore confronted in all its cruelty
Perhaps this context also explains the need
for humour throughout the text - there is an
embarrassment about our past, humour
allows us to divert our feelings of shame
as we struggle with the confronting truth we usually avoid acknowledging

* Humour is also a cultural thing - Australians don't like to take themselves too seriously.
In contrast, using humour when talking about slavery would be seen as very disrespectful for an American audience, especially for African-American readers.
spans over 100 years
generally consistent voice - indigenous
generally third person narration
uses songs to convey ideas, add drama
and depth and create pace
Short timeframe
Primarily 1st person narration with
mix of white and african-american
perspectives - each using different literary styles to give a different ‘voice’
- Explores how
, and conflict, can
be an equalizer, issues of race and
status will be forgotten
- Highlights many levels of racism
- The journey from innocence to experience
is one way

- highlight the barbaric nature of

- highlights the patriarchal nature of society
- explores the restrictions placed on many
due to their skin colour or gender
- highlights the long term impact of trauma

To explore the dilemma of trying to forget
slavery and the impossibility of doing so
Recognise the Indigenous Australians
who fought in World War I as part of the
mainstream historical narrative
Race, Equality and Discrimination
Both highlight how discrimination limits the ability of individuals to achieve in all areas of life
Both texts show those in positions of power who try have views that are more inclusive and promote equality, yet struggle to make direct changes due to the social pressures of the times
Both show characters who fight against the social structures that hold them in place, and who actively question the status quo, with limited successes.

TLM highlights the inequality and discrimination shown towards women as well as African Americans
BD shows how the Aboriginal Australian soldiers were mostly considered as equals when at war or in the army, yet

Trauma / Surviving Conflict
Belonging and Dual Identity

Youth, Aging and Change

an interesting article:

Loyalty, Duty and Obedience

Boulanger-Mashberg, Anica. Tom Wright's Black Diggers And Fred D'aguiar's The Longest Memory. 1st ed. Melbourne: Insight Publications, 2016.
'The Longest Memory' Prezi by Danny F. 2015.
The Longest Memory
Black Diggers
Compare Key Quotes
“Black Devil. . . with white eyes. . . last thing I see”
“They have Africans in Australia?”
“We don’t see the skin, we see the service”
“They painted my colour back the day I got off the boat"
“. . . and I’ll be here till everyone’s forgotten everything that has happened and the dirt goes back to being just dirt”
“Maybe the folks will be different, But the land stays the same”
“Thank God for the uniform and the chance to serve”
"I am in the show, I have got through the fence, I have seen what the grown-up world is like"
"I say my prayers like you told me"
"I don't want to remember. Memory hurts.
Like crying. But still and deep... "
"The word of a white man is worth that of how many slaves?"
"he was born and owned by another man, like his father before him and like his son would be born"
"Whitechapel...loyal beyond the requisition of duty"
"They may be inferior but they're people like us"
"They are, quite literally, not like us"
"You knew your place, old man. I liked you for that."
"It is the young, after all, who hold dominion over the future"
"Death has always been there. Death brings more sourness."

Dear viewer,

Both D'Aguiar and Wright include letters within their texts for similar purposes.

'The Virginian' letters and the 'Correspondence' letters both provide their authors with a level of distance. This frees them to feel brave enough to voice unpopular opinions, objections, public declarations and protests without the feel of immediate reprisal.

Historians have always valued letters as they give personal insights into historical events. They have a certain open, candid quality which contrasts with the highly conceptualized and cautiously calculated language of more 'official' documents. As historical fictions, it makes sense that this format would be appealing to Wright and D'Aguiar.

What do you think? What differences do you notice in the ways the authors used letters?


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