Australia! I don’t know very much about it!
Back in February a local writing friend sent me a link for a steampunk story call. The woman who is editing the anthology wants stories from the Victorian period set in almost any place but England or the States. She has a specific list of location wishes. We’re not in any way obligated to fulfill those wishes, she just wanted to point out areas which aren’t typically covered by people writing in the steampunk genre. I took a gander at the list and decided that it would be fun to set something in Australia and it would give me cause to do some reading and learn more about the area in general.
My basic starting premise was to deal with a young woman who had been born into one of the native groups (my reading suggests different attitudes towards whether using the term aboriginal is currently culturally correct) and then had been ‘rescued’ by some of the European settlers and raised by them. The story itself was to pick up when she learns some of the truths about who she is exactly and denounces her white family to leave and find her true home. (Ostensibly to touch on the idea that no home is really ‘true’, because I saw Garden State one too many times or something.) Over all the story would be kind of an adventure and she’d pick up a lady sidekick who she may or may not develop feelings for. Anyway, I felt like all of this would be a good way to break down the themes of colonialism, race, gender, and sexuality.
The problem I continue to run into is that I really know very, very little about Australia, and while I’ve done some reading, it’s hard for me to get a good feel of the place during that period. I think it’s simply that I haven’t been steeped in it throughout my life the way I’ve been steeped in period work from the US, Canada, the UK, France, and even Japan, so it’s just not as comfortable. Also, as a denizen of the internet, I’m extremely wary of committing the very issues I’m trying to write about. I don’t want to fetishize her native background and I don’t want to be too disparaging about either the native peoples or the European settlers. I feel a bit like I’ve taken my usual old tightrope and moved it from the skyscrapers over New York to Niagra Falls and the change in view below is throwing off my comfort in performing the feat.
So the question becomes, do I get an Australian tutor to teach me about their perspective on the issues of the time period, or do I simply give in to my fears and change the setting? I know I could come up with something interesting set in Germany, say, that wouldn’t leave me with this many uncertainties. But then, it might not cover the themes I want to cover. It certainly couldn’t cover them in the same way. (Unless there were Roma in Germany at the time. Although, that wouldn’t have as much to do with colonialism in particular.)
We have to query the story before we can send it in, so this worrying might all be for not if she doesn’t except the query, but that just makes me want to choose the right mixture of setting and issues all the more.
Anyone out there want to give some informal history lessons?