Lies, Damned Lies by Claire G. Coleman
Noongar writer Claire G. Coleman blazed onto the local literary scene like a comet with her debut novel Terra Nullius in 2017. With its ingenious blend of historical and speculative fiction, it challenged many readers to rethink and reimagine the destructive and dystopian forces of colonialism. Coleman called it ‘an empathy bomb’, and the same could be said of her new collection of essays, Lies, Damned Lies – although here, the chief emotions conjured are fury and rage, which Coleman harnesses to tear down the pillars holding up the logic of settler colonialism.
The book is divided into three parts; the first, ‘Bones’, is the most directly personal. Essays in this section explore identity, belonging, Coleman’s family history, connection to Country, and the monstrous and the abject in the White imaginary. Many of these essays are exceptionally moving, particularly the ones that focus on Coleman’s father and grandfather, members of the ‘Hidden Generation’ who were forced to conceal their Noongar culture. Coleman and her father both grew up thinking their family was Fijian, and the vulnerability with which she recounts the unravelling of this lie is palpably raw and painful.
Parts two and three – ‘The colony’ and ‘Prepare for the end’ – interrogate the lies underpinning settler colonialism and how colonisation relates to apocalypse. In Coleman’s explanation, ‘settler colonialism’ aims to ‘replace the people who live on the land the colonisers desire with the settler population and its culture’. Coleman repeatedly reminds readers colonialism is not a discrete event that happened long ago, but an ongoing process that exists in the policies of this country, the discourse of our media and social media, and in all our minds. Here, Coleman wields her words as weapons, lining up foundation myths such as Cook’s arrival in Australia and the lie of terra nullius, and felling them one by one. Coleman argues the truth can be weaponised, just as ‘fake news’ and misinformation are, and Lies, Damned Lies operates as her rallying cry. Her arguments crackle with energy and personal conviction, although I imagine there will be readers who chafe at this, and others who might want the book to elaborate further. Frankly, I don’t think Coleman cares. As she notes: ‘My weapons are honed. They are aimed at your heart and soul.’