PHD to Paris Savages: Katherine Johnson Shares the Journey From Research to Novel

PHD to Paris Savages: Katherine Johnson Shares the Journey From Research to Novel

Paris Savages was inspired by news of the discovery of the full-body plaster cast of a young Aboriginal man in a museum basement storage area in Lyon, France. The man was Bonangera (Boni/Bonny), who had journeyed to Europe in 1882–83 with a German engineer by the name of Louis Müller. Bonny travelled with two fellow Badtjala people: Dorondera/Borondera and Jurano/Jurono. There in Germany, France and Switzerland they were exhibited as ethnographic exhibits – they danced and sang, the men through boomerangs and climbed trees, only vaguely reminiscent of the giant satinays that grow on Fraser Island, K’gari, where the group were from.

In 2012 I travelled to Lyon and saw the cast of Bonny, which was a remarkable experience. In many ways, it was like travelling back in time, to the heights of colonisation and massacres in Queensland. What had brought this man to Europe? What was it like there for him? What did the human exhibitions, which some refer to as ‘human zoos’ say about the European people looking on, and the scientists who studied the visitors to Europe?

These questions lead to a Creative Writing PhD from which grew the novel, Paris Savages. Prior to starting, I contacted Dr Fiona Foley, a Badtjala artist and academic and discussed my proposed idea for the novel with her. I travelled to Hervey Bay and met Dr Foley to fact check some of the material in the book, and subsequently she agreed to read a draft. I am delighted that the published novel carries a quote from Dr Foley on the back cover, to contextualise the story from a Badtjala perspective. I also contacted Badtjala elder Glen Miller, who gave permission to quote from The Legends of Moonie Jarl, a book Dr Foley had recommended. It was important to me not to write from a Badtjala perspective in the novel, and to ensure that the Badtjala content was included respectfully. I also contacted the Korrawinga Aboriginal Corporation to check the Badtjala language used in the book, as I felt it was important to employ and recognise this language where appropriate.

I also travelled to Europe – to Germany and France – and followed in the footsteps of the Badtjala trio, visiting places such as Hagenbeck’s old Thierpark/Tierpark in Hamburg, the Berlin Panoptikum and waxworks site, and the Dresden Zoo. I saw other casts of Bonny and Dorondera in Dresden. I also visited the primary site of human exhibition in France, the Jardin d’Acclimatation, where it is likely the trio were shown, given Hagenbeck’s connections with the Jardin’s director, St Hilaire. It is not certain that members of the group went to Paris, but Bonny was certainly in Lyon, and I wanted the novel to touch on the key sites of ‘human zoos’ in Europe, for this was a form of mass entertainment in the late nineteenth century. Indeed, an exhibition in Paris in 2012 stated that 35,000 indigenous peoples from around the world were seen by a billion spectators in Europe and America from the nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century.  ‘Human zoos’ had lasting impacts on views of race, and many of the enduring stereotypes still need contesting. Importantly, my PhD and Paris Savages aims to shine a light on the silences in history, the fact that only one side of the story of human exhibition has been told, and that was a European perspective.

For more on the story of Bonny, Dorondera and Jurano, see the ABC AWAYE documentary that inspired the book.

About the author:

Katherine Johnson is the author of three previous novels: Pescador’s Wake (Fourth Estate, 2009), The Better Son (Ventura Press, 2016) and Matryoshka (Ventura Press, 2018). Her manuscripts have won Varuna Awards and Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Prizes. The Better Son was longlisted for both the Indie Book Awards and the Tasmania Book Prize. Katherine holds both arts and science degrees, has worked as a science journalist, and published feature articles for magazines including Good Weekend. Katherine lives in Tasmania with her husband and two children. She recently completed a PhD, which forms the basis of her latest novel, Paris Savages.

Related Articles

Podcast: Katherine Johnson PhD to Novel with Paris Savages

Podcast

21 January 2020

Podcast: Katherine Johnson PhD to Novel with Paris Savages

    Get the Conversation Started with Maggie's Going Nowhere by Rose Hartley

    News | Author Related

    7 January 2020

    Get the Conversation Started with Maggie's Going Nowhere by Rose Hartley

      The Collaborator Author, Diane Armstrong's Tips for Writing That Book This Year

      News | Author Related

      17 December 2019

      The Collaborator Author, Diane Armstrong's Tips for Writing That Book This Year

        You Don't Know Me Author, Sara Foster Shares her Summer Reading List

        News | Author Related

        17 December 2019

        You Don't Know Me Author, Sara Foster Shares her Summer Reading List

          The Model Wife Author, Tricia Stringer Shares her Summer Reading List

          News | Author Related

          17 December 2019

          The Model Wife Author, Tricia Stringer Shares her Summer Reading List

            The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker Author, Joanna Nell Ran Away to Sea... and then Wrote About it

            News | Author Related

            17 December 2019

            The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker Author, Joanna Nell Ran Away to Sea... and then Wrote About it

              You Don't Know Me Author Sara Foster tell us how True Crime Inspires

              News | Author Related

              17 December 2019

              You Don't Know Me Author Sara Foster tell us how True Crime Inspires

                The Good Woman of Renmark Author, Darry Fraser Shares Some Story Background

                News | Author Related

                17 December 2019

                The Good Woman of Renmark Author, Darry Fraser Shares Some Story Background

                  Shining Life Workbooks Author Leonie Dawson Tells Us the Steps to Having a Great 2020

                  News | Author Related

                  17 December 2019

                  Shining Life Workbooks Author Leonie Dawson Tells Us the Steps to Having a Great 2020

                    Paris Savages Author, Katherine Johnson tells us the Books she'll be Reading Over the Holidays

                    News | Author Related

                    17 December 2019

                    Paris Savages Author, Katherine Johnson tells us the Books she'll be Reading Over the Holidays

                      Synopsis

                      ‘This story has its genesis in fact, when three Fraser Island people were taken to Germany in 1882–83. The sole survivor was Bonangera (Boni/Bonny) whose life-size plaster cast remains at the Musée des Confluences, Lyon, France. The silencing that Badtjala people continue to endure in the localised historiography of place is ongoing.’ Dr Fiona Foley, Badtjala artist and academic Fraser Island, 1882. The population of the Badtjala people is in sharp decline following a run of brutal massacres. When German scientist Louis Müller offers to sail three Badtjala people – Bonny, Jurano and Dorondera – to Europe to perform to huge crowds, the proud and headstrong Bonny agrees, hoping to bring his people’s plight to the Queen of England.Accompanied by Müllers bright, grieving daughter, Hilda, the group begins their journey to belle-époque Europe to perfom in Hamburg, Berlin, Paris and eventually London. While crowds in Europe are enthusiastic to see the unique dances, singing, fights and pole climbing from the oldest culture in the world, the attention is relentless, and the fascination of scientists intrusive. When disaster strikes, Bonny must find a way to return home.A story of love, bravery, culture, and the fight against injustice, Paris Savages brings a little-known part of history to blazing life, from award-winning novelist Katherine Johnson.
                      Katherine Johnson
                      About the author

                      Katherine Johnson

                      Katherine Johnson is the author of three previous novels: Pescador’s Wake (Fourth Estate, 2009), The Better Son (Ventura Press, 2016) and Matryoshka (Ventura Press, 2018). Her manuscripts have won Varuna Awards and Tasmanian Premier's Literary Prizes. The Better Son was longlisted for both the Indie Book Awards and the Tasmania Book Prize. Katherine holds both arts and science degrees, has worked as a science journalist, and published feature articles for magazines including Good Weekend. Katherine lives in Tasmania with her husband and two children. She recently completed a PhD, which forms the basis of her latest novel, Paris Savages.Johnso

                      Books by Katherine Johnson

                      COMMENTS

                      Leave a Reply

                      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *