Dancing in Shadows—Histories of Nyungar Performance

Shortlist year: 2019

Shortlist category: Australian history

Published by: UWA Publishing

Dancing in Shadows explores the power of Indigenous performance pitted against the forces of settler colonisation. Historian Anna Haebich documents how the Nyungar people of Western Australia strategically and courageously adapted their rich performance culture to survive the catastrophe that engulfed them, and generously share their culture, history and language in theatre.

About the author

 Anna Haebich

Anna Haebich

Anna Haebich is a multi-award-winning author with a passion for history that pushes into new territories. She is best known for her challenging and compassionate Aboriginal histories, For Their Own Good and Broken Circles, which are classics in the field, but she also writes about women and crime, popular culture, visual arts and the environment. Her career combines university teaching, research, curatorship, creative writing and art practice. Anna is currently a John Curtin Distinguished Professor at Curtin University. Formerly she was foundation Director of the Centre for Public Culture and Ideas and Orbicom UNESCO Chair at Griffith University.

Judges’ comments

Anna Haebich is one of our nation's great interpreters of our collective Indigenous and Australian settler histories. She personifies the spirit of reconciliation, ethical research, commitment, and generosity. Dancing in Shadows is a tour de force, as it presents a wonderfully nuanced history of Nyungar performative responses to European invasion, incursions, dispossession, and various other interactions. Haebich shows us how these exchanges are neither linear nor one way and how Indigenous and newcomers influenced each other. The Nyungar performances are read as a form of entrepreneurship, not merely an adaptation of traditional cultural expression to new circumstances, but rather including the incorporation of European culture, assimilated and appropriated. The performances and in particular the dances were tailored for a new audience; they were statements about identity, culture, and economic empowerment. Dancing in Shadows illustrates why music is now so important to contemporary life and performance for Indigenous people.