Public historians work with the explosive content of contested histories when they research collaboratively at community level, where class, cultural, and racial divides intersect. The naïve optimism of the 1970s, which held that oral history methodologies would allow a transparent and unmediated path for minority voices to be heard, has been rightly challenged. In Australia, Indigenous historians rejected the underlying racism of much Anglo-authored work, producing a rich flowering of Indigenous-authored narratives as they reclaimed the right to tell their own stories. Yet the realities of "in-real-life" activism and community work continue to be cross-cultural and multi-racial. How then can the narratives of such cross-cultural experience be written? This essay reviews one collaboration, the life story of Isabel Flick, Indigenous activist and educator, as Isabel co-authored it with Heather Goodall, white Australian academic and activist. Drawing on the work of Michael Frisch and Linda Tuhawai Smith, Goodall argues that the tensions in the process opened up many questions, and perhaps suggested some answers, about the dilemmas of doing and retelling cross-cultural work.
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