The Pioneers, Katharine Susannah Prichard

Australian Women Writers Gen 2 Week 13-19 Jan. 2019

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Lisa at ANZLitLovers has already put up a review for AWW Gen 2 Week. She makes some important points discussing the different ways this important first novel from KSP can be categorised.


c5b3363f5556b3f32f816ae4abb9da0e.jpg  ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

Bill is hosting AWW Gen 2 over at The Australian Legend, and The Pioneers is the book I promised to read for this important literary week in the Australian Literary calendar. Bill defines this second generation of Australian writing as the period between 1890 and 1918.  To my surprise I didn’t have a single book by a woman writer for that period, so I decided to chase up Katharine Susannah Prichard’s output for these years and found her debut novel The Pioneers. Read on …

 

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Best Reads 2018

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Armistice Day 1918, Martin Place, Sydney

I nearly forgot to do this, but I’m home, on holidays, I can do it now. That’ll make seven pending posts, so this week will look a bit busy, as will next week as we knock over Gen 2.

I’m impressed by the new releases I listed in Best Reads 2017, I’ve read nothing like that – quantity or quality – this year past. Three or four crime fiction on audiobook and that’s it. Elizabeth Tan’s Rubik was the best ‘new release’ I read but it’s actually 2017, and I squeezed in the marvellous Tracker before New Years but that’s 2017 too. The nearest I got is my current bedtime reading, AS Patrić’s The Butcherbird Stories (2018). Must do better! I’ve already read my first 2019, and written a review, which I’ll put up in a day or two (Sue/Whispering Gums lists her best of 2019 new releases here).

Here are my lists for 50, 100, 150 and 200 years ago drawn from Annals of Australian Literature, with just one review. I’ve read a few of them (4 or 5), and notably Frank Dalby Davidson’s, The White Thorntree (1968) which marks an important step between the 1950s and what we baby boomers regard as modernity.

1968

There were 25 novels published, the best of them (ie. the ones I recognise) –

Thea Astley, A Boat Load of Home Folk
Di Cilento, The Manipulator
Kenneth Cook, The Wine of God’s Anger
Frank Dalby Davidson, The White Thorntree
David Ireland, The Chantic Bird
Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock
Morris Lurie, The London Jungle Adventures of Charlie Hope
John Rowe, Count Your Dead (important anti-Vietnam War novel)
Christina Stead, The Puzzleheaded Girl (review: ANZLL)
Morris West, The Tower of Babel

In the Others category there were

Keith Dunstan, Wowsers which caused a bit of a stir
Kit Denton, A Walk Around my Cluttered Mind
Gwen Harwood, Poems vol.II
Dorothy Hewett, Windmill Country
Sumner Locke Elliott, Rusty Bugles
Colin Roderick, Suckled by a Wolf (I wonder what that’s about)
Gavin Souter, A Peculiar People: New Australia in Paraguay
Ian Turner, The Australian Dream

1918

44 books published, 11 more than the previous year, though one was in French, and including two immortal books for children.

May Gibbs, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie
Norman Lindsay, The Magic Pudding

Bernard Cronin, The Coastlanders
Ewart, Front Lines (can’t identify ‘Ewart’, the NLA credits Boyd Cable)
Doris Egerton Jones, The Year Between
Sydney de Loghe, One Crowded Hour
GG McCrae, John Rous
Donald MacLean, The Luck of the Gold Moidore
Margaret Marlowe, The Women Who Wait
Steele Rudd, Memoirs of Corporal Keeley
Mollie Skinner, Letters of a V.A.D.
Paul Wenz, Bonnes Gens de la Grande Guerres
Arthur Wright, Over the Odds
Arthur Wright, The Breed Holds Good
Arthur Wright, When Nuggets Glistened

CJ Dennis, Digger Smith
Mary Gilmore, The Passionate Heart
Henry Lawson, Selected Poems
Murdoch ed., The Oxford Book of Australian Verse

1868

Just six books! And Steele Rudd and Mary Fullerton were born.

Catherine Helen Spence, The Author’s Daughter
Richmond Thatcher, Mr Newcombe in Search of a Cattle Station

1818

One book, which is one more than the previous six years.

Thomas Wells, Michael Howe, the Last and Worst of the Bushrangers of Van Diemen’s Land (reprinted in 1966)

 

I know I don’t need to remind you of Australian Women Writers Gen 2 Week 13-19 Jan. 2018. In writing this post I see I have been overlooking Mollie Skinner – here with Letters of a V.A.D. (1918) – who co-wrote The Boy in the Bush with DH Lawrence.

Also, seeing the Chantic Bird (1968) reminds me that Lisa (ANZLitLovers) has persuaded me to have a David Ireland ‘year’. So over the course of 2019 I hope that by my own efforts and by some judicious sharing of yours, I can put up reviews for all his novels. I’ll commence a David Ireland page with a list of his works, and what reviews I can find, once Gen 2 Week is over.

 

Joy Hooton and Harry Heseltine, Annals of Australian Literature, 2nd Ed., OUP, Melbourne, 1992

AWW Gen 2 Week Reminder

Australian Women Writers Gen 2 Week 13-19 Jan. 2019

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Bertha Lawson by F. Rodway c.1913

Sue (Whispering Gums) asked me to remind her that AWW Gen 2 was coming up, so here you go Sue, you have one week. In one comment I think you said you had a Louise Mack to read, but I can’t find it (the comment) again. Michelle Scott Tucker has already sent me her guest post on Mary Grant Bruce’s Billabong books and I warn you all, she sets a high standard.

As a sort of introduction I have a post on Vance Palmer’s The Legend of the Nineties – sort of, because he barely mentions women at all – which I will put up this Friday, then I think I will put Michelle’s up on Sunday night. After that I will put up/link to posts as they come in. I am working on Miles Franklin’s Joseph Furphy for my main post, though I might try to read/review Louise Mack’s Teens as well.

Apart from these – off the top of my head – there will be posts on works by Rosa Praed, Miles Franklin, Henry Handel Richardson, Katharine Susannah Prichard, so it’s looking good! No Barbara Baynton though I’m open to being surprised, and between us we’ve done a fair bit on her in the past.

I’ve changed the image at the top of the AWW Gen 2 page to the portrait (above) of Henry and Bertha Lawson’s daughter, Bertha by Florence Aline Rodway (1881–1971) after I saw her mentioned by Palmer as being ‘encouraged’ by Archibald of the Bulletin. She was a portraitist of some repute and Art Gallery NSW has quite a few of her paintings. If you know of other women painters from this period I’d be interested to hear about them.

Please let me know when you have done a review, particularly if you think I might not otherwise see it, and I’ll share it or at least make sure it’s included in the end of week wrap and that it’s linked from the AWW Gen 2 page.

 

All the Lives We Never Lived, Anuradha Roy

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All the Lives We Never Lived (2018) is an Indian novel narrated by an old man recalling his boyhood in the 1930s, when his mother, frustrated by the restrictions of traditional Indian marriage, ran off to Bali. The old man is called Myshkin, the name given him by his grandfather, after the epileptic prince in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.

His mother ran off with the Russian-born German artist, Walter Spies – ran off with an ‘Englishman’ according to the townsfolk to whom all white men were ‘English’, or with her ‘German lover’ in many reviews, including the New York Times, though Roy is quite clear that Spies was gay.

Walter Spies (1895-1942) is a real person in this work of fiction, who lived and worked in Bali in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), was arrested in 1938 during a crackdown on homosexuals, and again when war broke out in Europe with the Dutch and the Germans on opposite sides, and who died in 1942 when the ship transporting detainees (ironically) to India was sunk by the Japanese. The community of Europeans to which Myshkin’s mother, Gayatri accompanies Spies was also ‘real’, and included Margaret Mead, “the musician Colin McPhee and his wife, anthropologist Jane Belo, the Swiss artist Theo Meier and the Austrian novelist Vicki Baum.” (wiki)

As an artistic sixteen year old, Gayatri had been taken to Bali by her father and had there met Spies on a raft in a lake and he had taken them up ..

Over the next few weeks, he took Gayatri, her father and their friends to dance performances, concerts, to beaches, to painting schools … Different here, yet familiar. How strange that most of the people around her thought the whole of the Ramayana had taken place in Java and had no connection with India at all!

The story is told from three perspectives, Myshkin as an old man, a retired landscape gardener; Myshkin growing up; and Gayatri, ostensibly from stories she told Myshkin, and later and less satisfactorily, from a cache of letters whose existence Myshkin had been unaware of of. Although told by Myshkin, this is Gayatri’s story – of her rebellion against the carefully constrained freedoms allowed by her ‘tolerant’ husband.

On their return to India Gayatri’s father dies and her mother marries her off as quickly as possible.

What happened next was represented by my father as romance, and he loved retelling it, each time with new flourishes. My mother listened poker-faced, doodling with her fingers on her sari.

He was 33, a teacher, an Anglo-Indian from the north. She was 17, a well-off Bengali Hindu from Delhi, but flighty, artistic, fatherless. They married, moved in with his father in his combined junk shop/doctor’s surgery in a country town in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Spies, and I could not find this in his bio’s, visits India with a friend Beryl de Zoete, in 1937, seeks out Gayatri, and stays on, boarding nearby, befriending the whole family, taking Gayatri on excursions. One day Gayatri begs Myshkin to be home from school on time, but he is held up, and by the time he gets home the three are gone. Sailed to Bali. Myshkin and his mother write, letters arrive intermittently, but war intervenes and contact is lost.

The father is distraught, shamed, becomes even more involved in the anti-British Independence movement, spending some years in jail. Eventually he finds a single mother to marry and bully and over very many years Myshkin and his step-sister become friends. In the latter part of the novel, from her letters to a friend in India, we learn that Gayatri has become a respected artist in Bali, but has fallen into poverty with the war and Spies’ arrests – she was living separately from, but near him.

I have done some research. A little. And as far as I can see, this is a fiction based around a real community of Europeans on Bali. Reviewers in prestigious magazines can’t take the risk of making mistakes, but I can (or do) and have chosen not to read them too closely, so it is still possible that Gayatri is based on a famous Indian of whom I am unaware.

Now. Anuradha Roy. “One of India’s greatest living novelists” it says on the cover. I bought this thinking it was by Arundhati Roy, surprised that she should have a new novel to release so soon after The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, and it was some time before I discovered my mistake. Having read this, I prefer Arundhati whose writing is much grittier. Anuradha Roy, on the basis of All the Lives We Never Lived is solidly middle-class, less political.

Anuradha Roy (1967- ) has written four novels including this one, and they have all won or been shortlisted for various prizes. I’m not sure that’s enough to make her “one of the greatest living” etc., but neither is it to be sneezed at. All the Lives We Never Lived is a good maybe not excellent book, but worth reading, and despite the sometimes less than convincing old man narrator, an interesting, feminist account of Indian life, the difficulties of traditional marriage, and the end of the British Raj.

 

Anuradha Roy, All the Lives We Never Lived, MacLehose Press, London, 2018

 

Cake in the Hat Box, Arthur Upfield

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Coming out of Albury last trip, west along the Murray Valley Highway, which follows the river along the Victorian side, I stopped at Strathmerton to check my load and found myself opposite both an op shop and a patisserie. The combination was irresistible and I soon found myself with a cauliflower pie and another Western Australian Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte novel.

Cake in the Hat Box (1955) is set in the Kimberleys, in WA’s North West, rugged, tropical cattle grazing country. Unlike Mr Jelly’s Business (review) which is set in a real town where the author worked in the 1930s, the setting for this story is a fictional settlement, Agar’s Lagoon, maybe based on Durack which marks the turn-off from the ‘Great Northern Highway’, in those post WWII days a primitive dirt track, to the port of Wyndham.

I’ve only been to the very north of WA a couple of times – something I hope to rectify in the coming years – but the descriptions of country sound authentic and Upfield’s ADB entry says, “In 1948 he led a 5000-mile (8047 km) expedition through the Kimberleys, Western Australia, for the Australian Geographical Society.”

The murder at the centre of this novel is that of a policeman found dead in his Landrover on a remote road. His Aboriginal companion (‘black tracker’), Jackie Musgrave, who is missing, is the initial suspect. However, Boney believes that he is dead and explicitly leaves his murder to be discovered and punished by his fellows, the Musgrave mob who live to the south, in the desert. The Aborigines around Agar’s are of a different language group and ‘belong’ to the various stations – one of the principal characters says that her Aborigines are as much the property of the station as the cattle.

The AITSIS map (here) shows just how many language groups there are in the East Kimberley, and the book Two Sisters which I reviewed (here) some time ago gives an account of Aborigines, Walmajarri people, moving out of the desert, although a bit to the west of this story, and onto the stations.

I like Boney mysteries, and have listened to so many that I was unable to read this one without hearing the mellifluous Humphrey Bower in my head. However, as I have said before, Upfield is not free of the racism of his time, and that is particularly true of this story where the mainly white principal characters are interacting all the time with Aborigines.

Sam left the seaport of Wyndham on August 16th, his six-wheeler loaded with ten tons of stores for stations south of Agar’s Lagoon. For ten miles the track was almost level as it crossed the flats south of Wyndham, a ship sailing on a sea of grass as yellow and as tall as ripe wheat. Thereafter it proceeded up an ever-narrowing valley between flat-topped ranges sparsely covered with stunted scrub and armoured with red and grey granite. The ranges merged into a maze with walls a thousand feet high, and the surface of the track was of loose stone and slate, level at no place for more than ten feet.

Gotta love a good trucking quote! Later, an old station owner describes how he used a wagon drawn by 52 donkeys to get over the range. Sam discovers Constable Stenhouse who has been shot dead and reports the death in Agar’s, where fortuitously Boney has been held up on his way home from Broome to Queensland. Stenhouse, married to a local girl, had been a notorious wife beater:

‘Wife got knocked round a bit. She was only two hands high, and couldn’t take it. If she’d been my sister, Stenhouse would have been sitting dead in his jeep years ago.’

Though the speaker goes on:

‘Fair’s fair, I reckon. A good belting don’t do any woman any harm, but no woman is expected to take punches from a bloke like Stenhouse.’

In fact Stenhouse’s wife had died of her beatings some years earlier and now her brother, a cattleman, is the principal suspect for the murder of her husband. Boney does a tour of the neighbouring properties; the ‘Musgrave mob’, never seen except for their smoke signals, come looking for Jackie; we meet some interesting people, White and Black; and a conclusion is soon reached.

But to to return to my argument, the best you can say about Upfield’s views, here expressed by Boney, is “patronising”:

‘Those aborigines have many traits similar to dogs … They’re full of knowledge and helpful in their own country, and are nervous and suspicious when away from it. We feed them and clothe them and we bring them to understand enough of our language to communicate. They smoke our tobacco and ride our horses, many of them drive our cars and trucks, and are able to repair windmills and pumps.

‘Nevertheless, they retain their tribal customs and cling to inherited instincts and convictions. They are loyal to white men living for a long time in their own locality, and suspicious of all others… Be patient. A thousand years are as nothing in this timeless land, and when the last aboriginal sinks down to die, despite the veneer imposed on him by our civilization, he will be the same man as were his forebears ten thousand years ago.

After that, should you read it? My answer is a qualified yes.

The mystery is well done, with the right number of red herrings, and Boney is an engaging character. The landscape of the Kimberleys is spectacular and Upfield describes it well, as he does the male-dominated drinking culture. Ernestine Hill provides similar descriptions, a couple of decades earlier, in her travelogue, The Timeless Land, which no doubt Upfield had read, and she actually hitched a lift with (famous station owner) Michael Durack in this area. Northern Australia is still racist, in a mostly off-hand way (ie. murder is now frowned on, though there are still ‘deaths in custody’) so the depiction of White attitudes is not so wide of the mark. The description of Aboriginal activities is probably accurate, and to a large extent, sympathetic, but Upfield’s descriptions of Aboriginal motivations are inherently racist and should be discounted.

 

Arthur Upfield, Cake in the Hat Box, first pub. 1955. My edition (pictured) Pan Books, London, 2nd printing 1966.

An EOY Wrap

Journal: 025

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Christmas at Milly’s

This is one more end of year post than I ‘normally’ do, and I more or less wrapped up the end of my driving year in Season’s Greetings.  But thank you all for encouraging/putting up with my Journals. And here’s wishing you a prosperous 2019.

At the works Christmas party I spoke briefly to Dragan, but the trailers I’m planning to buy are away, Brisbane probably, so there’s no hurry on that score. I was just going to have one beer and leave, but Dragan’s mum got hold of me and made sure I sat down to salads, arancini and crumbed prawns – the others had roast lamb and pig on a spit.

My break has been busy ferrying family – Ms 15 to and from work,  children and sisters in law from the airport to Milly’s and so on, though Psyche is staying with me. I’ve already locked her out of both the toilet and the bathroom. I live on my own, I’m not used to doors being shut. We learnt in a hurry how to unsnib them from the outside! And then I locked her in the flat when I went out, rode my bike to Milly’s to retrieve the ute early Boxing Day morning, and deadlocked the screen door. Today we all went shopping forgetting she was out running and locked her out of Milly’s. She’s getting a complex.

Big family parties Tuesday AND Wednesday. Weight no longer under control.

Lou and Psyche are with us for another week then, big news!, Lou flies to Morocco, to Casablanca, for a teaching job in Rabat. I still can’t believe he cleaned his flat out in the few days between the end of the Victorian school year and flying to Perth overnight on the 23rd. Here and here are Michelle Scott Tucker’s marvellous photos from her work trip to Marrakech a couple of years ago. Lou’s initial contract is for 18 months and then I think he’s hoping to work with disadvantaged kids in East Africa. He has some paid flights home but I hope he uses at least the first summer holidays to jump over to Europe. Meanwhile I’m going to have to learn to Skype.

Up till now Lou has been my Mum’s only rello in Melbourne and being a good grandson, has trained out to lunch with her most Sundays. Now mum’s nearest family are B3 and all his lot, and our cousin Kay, in Bendigo, a couple of hours away. I’d better stick at interstate for a while longer and see if I can do more trips over there.

Having time on my hands today I copied the stats for the year’s reading onto a spreadsheet to reveal the following: –

208 books read: made up of 19 non-fiction, 43 Literature, 39 general fiction (mostly romance), 14 SF, and 93 crime/thriller/mystery; the all-important male/female writer split is nearly even, 105/103; countries of origin: Australia 43, USA 73, UK 55, Europe 26, Asia 9. That left 2 books I didn’t have a column for, sorry Canada! I tried also to analyse the year the books were written and came up with: 2010-18 114, 2000-2009 40, 1960-99 25, 1900-59 15, pre-1900 14. The median (most common) entry was Male, Crime, USA, 2010-18 which shows what the library buys, not what I’d read for choice. As I’ve said at other times I will use Project Gutenberg and if I’m really pushed, Audible to weight my reading (listening) back to classics, literature (and SF).

Finally, over the last week I published two posts on Tracker Tilmouth, the late Northern Territory Aboriginal activist. Sue and Lisa warned me you guys might be distracted! The following story highlights one of Tracker’s main complaints – that most money given to the NT for Aboriginal disadvantage ends up staying in Darwin.

The Territory has always made a convincing case for the disproportionate cash: the country’s worst life expectancy rates, poorest performing hospitals and schools, the worst health outcomes. But Indigenous groups routinely say the money rarely finds its way to the communities where it’s needed.

“We’re going to say we need [more money] because we have remote Aboriginal communities, then we’ll spend it on a water park,” [sacked NT Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ken] Vowles told Guardian Australia [24 Dec. 2018]

“It’s untenable, it’s disgusting. There’s a lot of anger out there. We have ripped off countrymen in the bush for many, many years to prop up the [Darwin] northern suburbs. The money not spent on Aboriginal communities is disgusting.”

I loved Alexis Wright’s Tracker, as I’ve been banging on since I started reading it. It will be one of the great biographies, up there with David Marr’s Patrick White and Brian Matthews’ Louisa.

Today (Thursday) I think Perth’s pre-xmas heatwave reached the Eastern states. It shouldn’t last long, it’s already considerably cooler here today. Time now to stretch out on the verandah and read a book.

Recent audiobooks

Joseph Conrad (M, Eng), Heart of Darkness (1899)
Josephine Wilson (F, Aust/WA), Extinctions (2016)
Camilla Lackberg (F, Swe), The Ice Princess (2009)
Carrie Fisher (F, USA), The Princess Diarist (2016)
Vikas Swarup (M, Ind), Q&A (Slumdog Millionaire) (2005)
Lee Child (M, USA), Never Go Back (2013)
Ann Lewis Hamilton (F, USA), Expecting (2014)

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel
Arthur Upfield, Cake in the Hat Box (1955)
Anuradha Roy, All the Lives We Never Lived (2017)

Books I gave for Xmas

Haruki Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase (1982)
Tricia Sullivan, Dreaming in Smoke (2018) SF
Morris Gleitzman, Help Around the House (2018)
Bill Condon & Dianne Bates, The Adventures of Jellybean (2018)
Sarah Krasnostein, The Trauma Cleaner (2017)
Ruby J Murray, The Biographer’s Lover (2018)
Iwaki Kei, Farewell, My Orange (2013)
AS Patric, The Butcherbird Stories (2018)
Kenta Shinohara, Astra Lost in Space (2016/2063) Manga

Tracker, Alexis Wright

Michael Winkler reviews 'Tracker: Stories of Tracker Tilmouth' by Alexis Wright

Tracker (2017) is Alexis Wright’s Stella Award winning ‘biography’ of Central Australian Aboriginal activist Tracker Tilmouth (1954-2015). Known during his childhood as Bruce, and officially as Leigh, he should now, I think, as a late Arrente man be called ‘Kwementyaye’ Tilmouth, but I will continue as his friend and biographer Wright does, with ‘Tracker’.

Tracker is a giant of a book, 620 pp, a collage of overlapping interviews and stories, told by Tracker himself with very occasional prompting from Wright, and by his friends and colleagues.


Tracker Tilmouth: My political education began at a very young age when Lois Bartram, the housemother of our cottage on Croker Island Mission, read … to my brother William and me … Cry, the Beloved Country.

I went to Croker when I was three or four years old, with my younger brothers [William and Patrick].

Lois Bartram: I went to Croker in 1956, and Bruce came in 1957. I was twenty-five … I had done general nursing training and mid and infant welfare.

My family and grandparents on both sides lived in Nullawil … in north-western Victoria, and were farmers in the area.

We heard at the beginning of the year that these three brothers were coming but then they didn’t come… I learnt years later when I met the boy’s Aunty Doreen that she and her husband had gone to court to gain custody.

The law that said children could be removed had just been changed. It had been repealed so that they could no longer be removed but the same bureaucrats were still in power, and they got around it by charging the kids with being neglected.

Patrick Tilmouth: Sister Bartram was a good lady. And a tiny lady, she was only tiny. She put the fear of God into all of us.


And so it goes on – these are only excerpts, each ‘story’ is generally two or three pages. The Arrente people are from the area around Alice Springs, but it was policy to send the children far enough that they could have no contact with their families, and so the boys went to Darwin, to the Retta Dixon, a “drafting yard” from whence children were distributed. Their five older half-siblings, “because their skin was fairer they were sent south.”

They were lucky with Lois Bartram, who loved and educated them, took them home with her on holidays (Tracker caused Nullawil’s first race riot during a game of cricket when he refused to be given out); and also with Croker Island where they were free to roam about and catch and ride the local ponies.

Tracker eventually does a bit of high school in Darwin, returns to Alice Springs, spends some years on a cattle station, meets his father, does a lot of hell-raising, begins to be involved with the Central Land Council, gets a degree (in Agricultural Science, I think, though he refers to himself as an economist) at Roseworthy in South Australia, lives and works with communities, particularly around Docker River on the WA border, and finally, with little fanfare, we find him assistant Director and then Director of the CLC. And from there he goes on to Indigenous politics, prawn farming, and advising on Aboriginal economic ventures.

Tracker’s story, which as you can imagine, does not proceed in straight lines, concerns his wide range of contacts through Indigenous, State and National politics, as well as of course all the actors in the Central Land area, and indeed throughout northern Australia; and his core belief that Aboriginals must achieve economic independence, and that all else is just gifts from their white masters.

So you have this assimilation process running at a hundred miles an hour, parallel to the dysfunction of Aboriginal communities. And they have to be kept dysfunctional because you do not want any models to evolve from the Aboriginal community. (p. 424)

Self-governance for Aboriginals is a myth. Property rights are a myth. The land is vested in the Commonwealth Government and indigenous people are permitted to live on it with conditions. Aboriginal bodies are invented, funded, appointed by Government. Government chooses from whom it will take advice – Tracker is very, very angry, and often very funny, about Black intellectuals, about the Dobsons, Marcia Langton, Warren Mundine; White people, failures down south, come to communities as workers, mechanics and end up Administrators; Black bureaucracies, the Northern Land Council in particular, follow the rules, “Stay between the lines”, collect their salaries, their constituency not communities but their paymasters, Government.

Tracker is a lifelong member of the Australian Labor Party, was certain to become a Senator, but was sabotaged, vilified by the man he was to succeed, Bob Collins, who subsequently suicided before he could face charges relating to sex with children. Nevertheless he is adamant that property rights for traditional owners, which logically flowed from Mabo, was hijacked by the Government acting for white interests, first by Paul Keating and then John Howard, that the Native Title Act confers nothing, no right to occupy, just the minimum of royalties from mining, soon squandered on salaries and fleets of white Toyotas.

Tracker led the CLC to buy up cattle properties in the NT, as there was a sunset provision in the Native Title Act which meant that up till a given date Native Title would be automatic on Aboriginal owned properties. His big success was Mistake Creek which has always been profitable, but his dream is horticulture based on the good soils and underground aquifers of much Aboriginal land.

Eventually, another case will make its way to the High Court, the Native Title Act will be thrown out and the original inhabitants will be granted full property rights to all unalienated land.

The next task is to find a model for community ownership. Tracker was greatly attracted to the Israeli Kibbutz Movement, both for their successes in desert agriculture and for their communal governance. The Governments’ policies divide and rule, deliberately causing divisions even within language groups. Abbott, at the time of writing still prime minister, in particular attempting to enforce a ‘white picket fence’, assimilationist, individual ownership model.

Tracker Tilmouth was a man bursting with ideas, and I have barely touched on them here, bursting with stories, riding racing camels, driving, camping, living in the bush, friends with everyone he met (maybe not Peter Garrett or Jenny Macklin), sitting on Bronwyn Bishop’s lap and asking her if she wanted to make babies (I will never get that out of my head!), driving major negotiations, Jabiluka, Century Zinc, telling the young Marandoo Yanner, a leader in the author’s own country at the bottom of the Gulf, that you don’t say you have sovereignty, you’re not given sovereignty, you take sovereignty, the sovereignty is yours and has 60,000 years of history.

If you’re serious about Reconciliation – and Reconciliation is just a token without Aboriginal property rights – then read this book.

 

Alexis Wright, Tracker, Giramondo, Sydney, 2017

see also:
My post, Tracker Tilmouth on … (here)
Lisa at ANZLL’s ‘thoughts’ (here) but – sorry Lisa! – don’t stop after 250 pages. This is a fascinating book from beginning to end. Not just the ‘life’; not just the format, story telling, which Wright has contributors discuss in the last hundred pages; but the knowledge of what worked and what didn’t, why so much of what we nice, liberal whites do is wasted, mired in bureaucracy, or runs headlong into racist government (every NT government) and dickheads like Malcolm ‘take your Statement from the Heart and shove it’ Turnbull; and whatever else you read, read p.499 on the community running Ali Curung Horticulture who kept the minutes of their meetings as an enormous ever-growing dreamtime mural.