Geoff Rodoreda

The Seas of Carpentaria 

The sea is a threatening and destructive force as well as a source of cleansing and renewal in the storyworlds of Australian indigenous novelist Alexis Wright. It is both life giving and life taking. It refuses to be bordered beyond the shore, to be put in its place, to be managed by those who would see sea and land and sky as distinct geographical and cultural entities. The Aboriginal inhabitants of the northern Australian coastal region created by Wright in her landmark 2006 novel Carpentaria, read and relate to the sea as both friend and foe. They interact with sea and land alike as Country, as a living agent, as continually storied space. The protagonist of the novel, Normal Phantom, converses with the sea, buries the dead in it, and communes with its creatures. A rival of Normal’s, Joseph Midnight, possesses knowledge of the songs needed to navigate a boat across vast spaces of his watered Country, at night, to land it precisely at an appointed place and time on a distant shore. This paper examines the watery worlds of Carpentaria, a landmark postcolonial novel, as a revelation, for Western readers at least, of alternative ways of thinking about seas, wherein humans relate to them not as unfathomable material objects but as intimately known and storied places.