open access


It is tempting to consider that trauma studies, in view of its insistence that “the history of a trauma, in its inherent belatedness, can only take place through the listening of another” —with the result that “we are implicated in each other’s traumas” (Caruth)— may offer a reclamatory purchase on the flip side of Australian history. Yet my impression is that trauma theory does not travel easily to the settler colonies, where there is a risk that it might be called upon to perform the service of allowing the beneficiaries of conquest to masquerade as its victims. Trauma studies does flourish within cultures that have a stake in investing the experience of suffering with the value of moral capital. In Australia, such gesturing towards the dividends of suffering can never be wholly divorced from the felt (il)legitimacy of the settlers’ occupation of stolen territories. The notion of “trauma envy” (Mowitt) indexes the structure of feeling that seeks a wound to legitimate itself morally, in keeping with the unchanging agenda of neo-colonial identity politics. My essay attempts not to lose sight of this ethical quandary when examining the slippages which occur in specific discursive instances in contemporary Australia. Keywords: Trauma studies, settler envy, settler colonies, Australian culture, reconciliation.