how your first record is deep in my body
Your memory lives deep in my body
I’m still looking – don’t let ‘em tell you
that I ever forgot.
– Jeanine Leane 
What is it about the archives that ensnares us as blakfullas?
Jacques Derrida – in his dense and difficult manner – waxed poetic about it; of the desire to ‘return to the origin’, of the ‘archive fever’ . However, he acknowledges the power bound to it, and as a site of violence. The colonial archive in this country stands immovable as a monolith, while the subjects – the bodies, the lives – within are subjugated by the brute force.
The institution of the archive – despite its ability to masquerade as such when left critically unexamined – is not a neutral force. And the full brunt of that force will bear down if, as artist Jazz Money suggests, that institutional power is left unattended to.
I have a book that my mum gave me, the pages of which she had photocopied from the library archives and had bound together with those plastic binding combs. It is authored by Norman B. Tindale who titled it Growth of a People: Formation and Development of a Hybrid Aboriginal and White Stock on the Islands of Bass Strait, Tasmania, 1815–1949. Appendix C of the volume contains a list of all (Aboriginal) births from 1 February 1939 to 31 January 1949. I feel haunted by it; a crass laundry list of my family and community members that perversely reads like a show breeder’s pedigree. I despair at the abject surveillance of the colonial documenting and archiving practice. Paradoxically, I am drawn to the vital connections it provides to my more recent history. I oscillate between these poles, never quite finding a sense of stability. And nor should I, I think.
It is the work of writers and academics cited in Jazz Money’s Rodeo Baby! (in particular Jeanine Leane, Natalie Harkin and Alexis Wright) that led me to understand having a relationship to the archive and foster the resilience to hold myself and those under duress inside of it.
The sheer scale of the work was the first thing to engulf me, and it felt like standing at the foot of the archive itself. The collage of word and image is an expanse of haunted constellation. It felt like an accurate and experiential metaphor for broaching and entering into any research space.
The artist’s choice to present this work on fabric was the right one, I think. The tactility and the softness imbue a human element. As I stood beholding the work, the drapery softly shivered as passers-by created air currents – as though the work was breathing. It feels like the ghosts follow me.
But, like the sigh of the draping satin installation, an Aboriginal presence renders what the archive supposes it has fixed in place, and destabilises such a fixity completely.
There is versatility of textile. It can be folded to be made smaller; robust enough to shelter under; fragile enough to tear; it can be cut to a pattern, to become a new object entirely. The satin fabric of the work lends itself to a fluidity, when unmoored from its tethers to the gallery space to re-enter amorphousness as it wraps, it conceals, it clothes. It is a fragile shapeshifter, made from the integrity of minuscule warps and wefts. This is what we become as we bring the archive of the body to the fore, in opposition to the “cardboard prison” of the colonial archives. I truly found myself wrapped in this work, as it reflected back to me so many of my creative and academic preoccupations.
Jazz Money is clearly deeply aware of this continuum of creative colonial-archival inquiry. We are each writing into an already strong body of work – both creative and academic, and sometimes both at the same time – that illuminates the hidden recesses of archival memory. I want to emphasise and make visible that it is particularly blak women engaged in this practice of poetic archival response.
Money cites in their work Wiradjuri writer and academic Jeanine Leane’s essay on the archives and ‘gathering’. In this essay Leane says:
“What the archive conceals and obliterates are the people behind the paper filed away in cardboard boxes, stored in cold vaults in the basements of buildings. These places are the prisons of Aboriginal history that attempted to incarcerate our memories of blood and Country – just as the official state-operated prison system incarcerates our physical bodies – the dual imprisonment.” 
Leane’s collection of poetry Walk Back Over (2018), is a beautiful account of the fraught archival encounter.
Narungga writer and academic Natalie Harkin (also referenced in Money’s work) suggests that that a “spectropoetics” or “hauntology” evokes the dormancy of history to be reinvigorated through creative means as it demonstrates the past’s “haunting” as it “maintains influence on the present” . And it is true, in the sense that for us as blakfullas our live bodies carry the legacy in our blood. She goes on to say that “our family archives are like maps that haunt and guide us toward paths past-travelled and directions unknown [...] These records are our memories and likes; material, visceral, flesh and blood.”  The culmination of Harkin’s archival-poetic response can be found in Archival Poetics (2019).
Returning to my original provocation, what continues to draw us to the archives? As Eve Tuck so succinctly summarises, “desire is a refusal to trade in damage.”  I’m not certain this is the fever that Derrida wrote of, but to ward off despair, I must refuse the continuation of a deficit narrative, to exorcise such hauntings with my embodiment. We are continuing a long line creating futures through reinscribing.
I hope to have demonstrated the subjective and personal nature of the exercise (exorcise) to each individual point of contact. As Money suggests in their essay, it is a fraught encounter (and one that carries the risk of re-traumatisation for some). And while it really is an exhumation, still we work to repatriate (and rematriate) and honour the lives held within.
Alice Bellette is a proud Palawa descendant currently undertaking a PhD in literary studies. She co-created the limited-series podcast Welcome?, telling stories about colonised landscapes and the people who meet in them.
Her work has appeared in Griffith Review, Australian Poetry Journal and Cordite Poetry Review.
Learn more about the work and the artist
Learn more about the exhibition
You might also like
 Leane, Jeanine. ''Don’t let ‘em tell you' in Walk Back Over, Cordite Books (2018) p. 5
 See also the Archive Fever podcast.
 Leane, Jeanine. 'Cardboard incarceration'. Walk Back Over. Cordite Books (2018) p. 3
 Leane, Jeanine. 'Gathering: The Politics of Memory and Contemporary Aboriginal Women's Writing'. Antipodes, 31.2 (2017): 242–51
 Harkin, Natalie. 'The Poetics of (Re)Mapping Archives: Memory in the Blood', Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature: JASAL. vol. 14, no. 3 (2014) pp. 1–14
 Harkin, 2014
 Tuck, Eve, and C. Ree. 'A Glossary of Haunting'. Handbook of Autoethnography. Ed. Stacy Holman Jones, Tony E. Adams, and Carolyn Ellis: Left Coast, 2013. 639-58