Professor Gillian Whitlock
School of English, Media Studies & Art History
University of Queensland
The refugee child: From the archive to the page
This paper will begin in the archives of asylum seeker letters, photographs and artifacts sent from Nauru in the course of the Pacific Solution 2002-7. It will consider the images, narratives and traces of children in detention at Nauru, and the ways that their spectral presence in the archive relates to the careful containment of images and narratives of refugees, and their ongoing dehumanization as asylum seekers and objects of fear in the Australian mass media. It will then move on to consider how the presence of refugees and associated issues of immigration and displacement is taken up in contemporary Australian’s children’s literature with a view to considering how the particular dynamics of literature for and about children opens some spaces for engagement with fear and dehumanization of refugees, and possibilities for recognition of the face of the other.
Gillian Whitlock is a Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Queensland working on the archives of asylum seeker letters that are held in the Fryer library. This is the focus of a larger project that is interested in life narrative and human rights, and questions of how autobiographical stories are told, and when and why, and what work they do. Her most recent book, Soft Weapons. Autobiography in Transit (Chicago 2007) is a study of how life narratives of all kinds (testimony, graphic autobiography, memoir, new media forms such as blogs) was a potent yet flawed means of cross-cultural engagement and pursuit of human rights in the so-called ‘war on terror’ in the wake of 9/11. She is currently writing a book that takes up these issues over a larger period of time, Postcolonialism and Life Narrative.