Billy Blue and “Billy Skywonkie”: representing intra-colonial blackness and inter-raciality in nineteenth-century Australia

Osborne, Deirdre. 2018. 'Billy Blue and “Billy Skywonkie”: representing intra-colonial blackness and inter-raciality in nineteenth-century Australia'. In: Settler Social Identities: Rational Recreation in the Long Nineteenth Century. University College Dublin, Ireland 25 July 2018. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

In Decolonising Solidarity (2015), Clare Land notes how the terms Indigenous and nonIndigenous ‘can be twinned with the structural categories “colonized” and “colonizer”, yet not with the racial categories “black” and “white”’ as a fundamental structuring principle in decolonising methodology. This paper explores an instance of intra-colonial mobility of people who are not ethnically white-settler (Anglo-Saxon). Prior to 1837, the construction of race across the British Empire’s colonies could mean freedom or enslavement. The paper examines the significance of Australia as location in determining socio-racial status through the proximities of ‘race readings’ in cultural representations, in this case, through two ‘Billies’. (William) Billy Blue (1767?-1834) a man of African descent who fought in the American War of Independence, and, after Britain’s defeat, fled to London (to avoid enslavement) and was transported to Australia. A subject of over 30 Australian newspaper articles, Blue’s obituary notably precedes an article detailing a slave uprising in Trinidad – confirming how racial identity in one colony represents entirely different prospects in another – one where Indigenous people’s dispossession and white settler genocidal actions are the backdrop to any nonIndigenous ‘Black’ inhabitant’s life. I read the pre-Abolitionist period newspaper articles about Blue alongside Barbara Baynton’s ‘Billy Skywonkie’, a much-neglected short story in Bush Studies (1903). Baynton represents racial indeterminacy to narratively focalise outback Queensland’s inter-racial and gendered truths in depictions of working-class sociability. I explore how race as (re)marked by a different set of life possibilities, draws attention to the non-monolithic and adaptive contexts of Britain’s imperial enterprise.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Race, Australia, Billy Blue (1767?-1834), Barbara Baynton

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature
Theatre and Performance (TAP)


25 July 2018Accepted

Event Location:

University College Dublin, Ireland

Date range:

25 July 2018

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Date Deposited:

09 Jan 2019 14:22

Last Modified:

09 Jan 2019 14:54


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