Book Review: Fiona Foley critically (re-)examines Queensland’s colonial past in Biting The Clouds

Biting The Clouds

Biting The Clouds is the latest book from visual artist, writer and academic Fiona Foley. Adapted from her doctoral thesis, Biting The Clouds, is a compelling critical examination and exhumation of Australia’s, specifically Queensland’s, colonial history from an Indigenous perspective. 

Foley is from the Wondunna clan of the Badtjala nation, and is a renowned visual artist both here in Australia and internationally. She is currently a Lecturer at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University. 

In Biting The Clouds, Foley uses the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act, 1897 as a prism through which to explore and critically examine the colonisation narrative of Australia, and Queensland, and to address the silences, errors and injustices which exist in the “accepted” history – a history which has long excluded Indigenous voices. 

Biting The Clouds is a compelling and provocative work. Whilst Foley hasn’t managed to completely break away from all the trappings of academic writing, it remains a wonderfully accessible read. Foley’s prose, in particular, is clear, persuasive and passionate. Importantly too, it is practically devoid of academic jargon, allowing for a larger potential readership. And this is a book that really deserves one. 

Biting The Clouds is an important work, and hopefully will end up being just one of many of its kind. By writing about, and examining, the colonial narrative from a Badtjala perspective, Foley is helping to fill an enforced gap in the narrative of the nation’s history. It provides a persuasive counter to the ‘accepted’ narrative of Australia’s colonial past; with Foley, in particular, unpacking colonial era ‘doublespeak’ to offer a truer account of the period. 

Foley is not new to the narratives and ideas she describes in Biting The Clouds. They have been running through her work as a visual artist for years. Indeed, one of the strengths of the text, is the inclusion of reproductions of Foley’s visual works alongside her prose. It not only offers a chance for readers to engage with Foley’s art, it also helps to express and reinforce the ideas, arguments and concepts that Foley is describing in her prose. It’s also a nice reminder that criticism and engagement can come through multiple forms of media. 

Well-written, engaging and brimming with insight and passion Biting The Clouds is a compelling and interesting read. Despite its Queensland focus, it is a text that provides an important contribution to a wider national conversation. 

Biting The Clouds


Fiona Foley’s Biting The Clouds is out now, published by University of Queensland Press. Grab a copy from Booktopia HERE.

Simon Clark

Books Editor. An admirer of songs and reader of books. Simon has a PhD in English and Comparative Literature. All errant apostrophes are his own.