Skin Deep: Settler Impressions of Aboriginal Women

Skin Deep: Settler Impressions of Aboriginal Women

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Liz Conor


Skin Deep looks at the preoccupations of European-Australians in their encounters with Aboriginal women and the tropes, types and perceptions that seeped into everyday settler-colonial thinking. Early erroneous and uninformed accounts of Aboriginal women and culture were repeated throughout various print forms and imagery, both in Australia and in Europe, with names, dates and locations erased so that individual women came to be as anonymised as 'gins' and 'lubras'. Liz Conor identifies and traces the various tropes used to typecast Aboriginal women, contributing to their lasting hold on the colonial imagination, even after conflicting records emerged.

The colonial archive itself, consisting largely of accounts by white men, is critiqued. Construction of Aboriginal women's gender and sexuality was a form of colonial control, and Conor shows how the industrialisation of print was critical to this control, emerging as it did alongside colonial expansion. For nearly all settlers, typecasting Aboriginal women through name-calling and repetition of tropes sufficed to evoke an understanding that was surface-based and half-knowing: only skin deep. 


Praise for Skin Deep:

There are few lasting works by historians that set out to change the future by recording the past. This book by Liz Conor is certainly one. It should be the “eye of the needle” through which every parliamentarian, commentator or teacher is threaded.



Skin Deep provides a valuable overview of the processes involved in creating types and the entrapments of reproducing knowledge ‘about’ rather than ‘with’ others. In doing so, Liz Conor contributes a vital tool to disrupt the vices by which ‘difference’ is used as a perpetuation of racialised views, where the complexity of interactions in encounters becomes reduced to superficial representations that are merely ‘skin deep’.



Conor takes a deeply personal approach to the material she interrogate, regularly acknowledging its distressing nature and effect on her. She pulls no punches with her writing… Skin Deep is a timely and important contribution to the literature on representations of race and gender in settler-colonial societies.


Some of the derisive and hurtful images appearing in Skin Deep are recognisable today: collectable novelty china or the painting of a naked young Aboriginal woman on black velvet (apparently still hanging in a Melbourne public bar). By returning these commonplace examples to their place within the longer history of settler culture, Conor sets out to dig deeper into their cruel logic. She uncovers a disturbing mix of shame, fear, and anxiety, as well as conflicted hopes and desires. This book is highly rec-ommended.



Book details

FORMAT: Paperback
EXTENT: 310 pages
SIZE: C-format, 234 x 153mm
ISBN: 9781742588070
CATEGORY: AboriginalAustralian StudiesGeneral Non-fictionLiz Conor,