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January 2022

Another Day in the Colony

By Chelsea Watego (UQP) | Review by Monique Grbec

An invitation for Blackfullas to sit at Watego’s kitchen table, the intimate essays fill in the space between newspaper headlines to give agency, dignity and power.

Named after the Twitter hashtag that reinterprets the phrase ‘just another day in the office’ into a real-time description of the colonial violence routinely experienced by Blackfullas in this country, Another Day in the Colony is the highly anticipated first book by Munanjahli and South Sea Islander scholar Dr Chelsea Watego. An invitation for Blackfullas to sit at Watego’s kitchen table, the intimate essays fill in the space between the headlines to give agency, dignity and power in response to the shared experience of racism.

With and without bruises, racism is revealed everywhere. There’s the primary school role-play where the children are asked to portray pastoralists encountering ‘trouble-making Aborigines’. There is the haunted powerlessness she sees in her father’s eyes, the same look he has when he announces he has inoperable cancer. There’s police checks, warnings about the local RSL and a university defamation case where Watego is repeatedly called ‘Mizz’ instead of Dr.

When CCTV footage becomes evidence in a court case, we see Watego handcuffed while the white male perpetrator continues to swing his fists at her. With Watego in the police vehicle, the perpetrator shakes the hand of a security guard and walks away freely. At the police station, Watego is told that Murri Watch is not answering the phone but when the log is checked it shows no call was made. And the CCTV footage that would explain why her body was left covered in bruises? The footage has been erased. Just another day in the colony…

As well as personal testimony, Watego uses a blend of academic expertise and comic genius to forensically dissect the relationship between the violence, the compliance and the silence of colonial narrative. A particularly hilarious and, at the same time, markedly tragic example is her exposé of the 2016 novel Saltwater by Cathy McLennanExposing the book’s dense parade of dehumanising and often animalistic descriptions of Aboriginal characters, we are left in awe questioning how editors, a publisher, media outlets and numerous writer’s festivals embraced it.

This is the Australia that Blackfullas know. This place, as Watego describes, where ‘secrecy almost always serves the perpetrators interest rather than the victims, who often must watch on in silence as the unnamed perpetrators parade themselves to an unsuspecting public as caring and virtuous’. What we also know though, perfectly articulated by Larissa Behrendt, is that ‘the way Aboriginal people are constructed and the roles they play, reveal more about the motives of the person writing the story than the Aboriginal people in it.’ In Another Day in the Colony, Chelsea Watego usurps the motives of the colony, showing you exactly who and what an Aboriginal is capable of. This book is Deadly!

Review originally published by Kill Your Darlings. Another Day in the Colony available now at Readings.