‘The Serpent’s Covenant’ by Alexis Wright

Eventually part of the Miles Franklin winning 2007 novel (is it a novel?) Carpentaria, ‘The Serpent’s Covenant’ is where Alexis Wright introduces us to Normal Phantom, the black Serpent, the Afghan brothers, the Southern mining executives—the characters, so real and alive, that inhabit her compelling and storm-swept imagination. For me, Alexis Wright is a writer with the greatest literary vision, a vision of a self-governing literature. Her work is utterly uncategorisable and dismantles the categories and values by which we appraise literature in the West. She speaks through silence, keeps time without the ‘ticking clock’ so central to Euroamerican temporality. It is in fact time—a radical notion of the way time passes in Indigenous life—rather the fact of its brevity, which defines the short story in the Aboriginal context.

First published in A Sea Change: Australian Writing and Photography, ed. Adam Shoemaker, Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, 1998; also collected in Australian Women’s Short Stories: An Oxford Anthology, OUP, 1999, and Skins: Contempoarary Indigenous Writing, Jukurrpa Books, 2000. It also forms part of Wright’s novel Carpentaria, Girmondo, 2006, which is where I read it