Batchelor NT

Journal: 045

20200327_193833

Tonight I’m in Batchelor NT, the old Rum Jungle, I think Mary Gaunt’s emponymous Kirkham was a miner here in the 1890s and was chased off by Aborigines. Tonight and for the next seven nights. I was going to stay in daughter Psyche’s spare room in Darwin but she has taken in a Catalonian refugee – who has sent her father, a pro-independence politician, a link to Homage to Catalonia which he apparently enjoyed. The Catalonians last time I heard were very much at odds with Madrid. Perhaps Emma, who lives just “around the corner”, can bring us up to date.

My customer put me up here last night and the mini skirted, champagne drinking proprietoress (my age) made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. No not that offer, cheap rates for a week’s stay AND parking for my truck.

Living and working mostly in the desert you forget how lush and alive the tropics are. Now I’m conscious of them the birds might drive me mad.

To continue on from my last post, I picked Lou up from Perth airport on Sunday night, installed him in my flat. Monday was his birthday. Millie and Ms 16, his niece, baked him a cake and brought it round. Sang happy birthday through the screen door. I’d been getting my truck and trailers serviced so I went round and collected them all, fueled up, hooked up and was on my way. When I left Lou was well into William Gibson but I made sure he had some Australian women to go on with (Lou, look on my shelves for Elizabeth Tan, Rubik, I forgot to get it out).

In the morning I found the site where I was to load. The address was ‘Greenough’ but was in fact 50 kms away on the other side of Walkaway (tiny spots on the map 400 km north of Perth but well known to me for various reasons not least the historic Geraldton to Walkaway railway line). Somehow we loaded 3 shipping containers, some frames and 2 piling rigs onto my three trailers and I was off, up the coast. Short of Carnarvon the first night. Past Port Hedland. Nearly up to Kununurra, the Ord River scheme and the NT Border. Like driving on Xmas Day, almost zero traffic. Though there was a queue of maybe 10 trucks when we were held up north of Hedland for a few hours while the police cleared a rollover, 7 people in it, code for ‘Aborigines’.

20200324_133606

The (first) NT roadblock was at Timber Creek 100 kms in, manned by police. And army, a chilling sight, though the army boys were mostly sitting round reading books. The policeman assigned to me was cheerful and helpful, sprayed the table and folders before he sat me down and got me to fill in a basic form. I volunteered that I would be self-isolating for 14 days at my daughter’s after unloading, but they weren’t prescriptive and I had the option of getting another load and moving on in the normal way. The next couple of roadblocks I was waved through – I think the internal roadblocks are to protect ‘communities’ ie. remote Aboriginal towns. Just on evening I pulled into Batchelor, found my way to the motel and had a welcome (!) shower, drink, airconditioned sleep.

This morning the project manager (for a new solar farm) was not happy about having an unisolated ‘foreigner’ on his site but no one else was working so he let me out of the truck to help with the unloading. By 9 or 10 I was back here, feeling strangely worn out, and for the first time in years have been napping on and off all day.

I have with me – in my work bag. I have another 20 odd books along the bottom of my storage lockers –

Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out
Melissa Lucashenko, Too Much Lip
Ngúgí Wa Thiong’o (Kenya), Wizard of the Crow

It will be interesting to see how much reading and writing I get done, more of the latter than the former probably. I feel this is very much an On the Beach situation, which I’ve re-read in the past few years, with central and western Australia the end of the world waiting for the cloud to arrive from China, USA, Italy, Spain, the (Australian) east coast. You guys are already hunkered down in ways that don’t seem quite real out here. And your reactions are quite varied. Sue is concentrating mostly on her parents. The women in my mother’s village seem little changed or concerned though obviously no longer meeting or going to church, an aunt though, just moved up one floor to ‘nursing’, is left almost entirely without exercise or stimulus. Lisa, amazingly, is posting fewer reviews, though plenty of events; Brona, Emma, home from work (I’m guessing) are steadfastly reading, reviewing; Kate too, maybe. Liz, I realise, has dropped off since her last running post; Melanie seems to be home, worried, pressing on. I am blessed to have made so many friends, more than I have briefly mentioned here. I hope you are all well. I hope we all survive.

20200328_111318

Covid-19

Journal: 044

Malawian

Covid-19. What else is there to write about?

There is no doubt in my mind that that moron in Washington is going to double the length of the coming world depression and double its severity. Up till this week I had assumed the Covid-19 epidemic would be the same as SARS – someone else’s problem. But it seems not. I can manage the illness, hopefully I would survive, I certainly don’t like the idea of dying breathless. My working life is a mixture of long periods of isolation, with daily instances of unhealthy propinquity (truckstops!). But the coming deep economic downtown will almost certainly do me in.

So far, work is holding up. You guys need stuff in your shops, though that’s not the sort of cartage I do. (Did you know the average age of Australian long distance truck drivers is very nearly 60. We might all drop dead at the same time, and then what will you do? It seems to me the only large cohort of new drivers is Indians, who are buying up trucks (and roadhouses) as did the Greeks, Italians and Yugoslavs before them, but not so much the Lebanese, Vietnamese, Chinese. Don’t know why, though the Chinese immigrants were probably affluent middle class).

Last week I got a load to Mt Beauty in NE Victoria – a cherry picker truck for a guy clearing damaged trees from bushfire areas. Unloaded Tues morning and headed into Melbourne looking forward to a day off, but instead was loaded and on my way without stopping, topped up In Adelaide and was home – a 7,500 km round trip – in a few hours under six days. Then, two phone calls/messages.

The organization Lou works for is as we speak evacuating him from Malawi, and he’s due here Sunday evening. Though in fact, he’s already missed his first connection, his taxi driver got lost he said. And even if he gets there I can’t imagine how chaotic the airport at Doha is going to be – I picture him stranded forever in a JG Ballard Concrete Island situation. Anyway, I’ve been shopping – Leeming IGA seemed perfectly normal except for the absent toilet paper and pasta – stocked up my freezer for him with meat and pizzas, got a (another!) carton of cheap grog, and some movies. He’s looking forward to making his way through my library during his obligatory fourteen days, though the books he’ll enjoy most are the same ones he devoured as a teenager. I’m planning to introduce him to Australian women’s dystopian fiction.

The other news was more prosaic. I have a road train load to Darwin, loading Tuesday, which will keep the wolves from the door for a little longer. If nothing goes wrong. I feel like it might.

I listened to three books this last trip: one a bog standard work of genre fiction, one a surprisingly innovative work of genre fiction, and one a work of genius, maybe genre fiction, which I am listening to for the third time. They were:

Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (2009,10)
Margaret Attwood, The Testaments (2019)
Karin Gillespie, Love Literary Style (2016)

The work of genius is 1Q84. I had a whole pile of mystery/thrillers with me but couldn’t bring myself to play them when I could listen to real writing. 1Q84 is enormous, 3 mp3’s or around 27 45 hours and with a not very large cast. Murakami seems to me with this book to have decided that anything he wanted to discuss, he would discuss at length, nothing is cut short. There are two parallel stories which gradually cease being separate: Aomame on her way to complete an assignment leaves her taxi stalled in an elevated motorway traffic jam and climbs down a fire escape to street level during which time the world changes, or she changes worlds, as she slowly comes to realise, from 1984 to 1Q84. Aomame’s assignments are to murder, subtly by a needle to a nerve in the back of the neck, men who are abusing their wives. As we proceed, Aomame’s sex life plays an important part, from a view of her knickers as she straddles the motorway safety rail, to experimentation with her girlfriend at school, to encounters at singles bars, where she hooks up with another young woman, a female police officer, who talks her into a drunken foursome, who becomes her friend and who eventually dies, strangled, during violent sex while handcuffed. Throughout, Aomame maintains her love for the boy who stood up for her in grade school, whom she has not seen since she was ten.

Tengo is a writer and mathematics teacher, physically big and athletic, whose editor persuades him to rewrite a startling new work, naively written, Air Chrysalis, by a 17 year old girl, Fuka-Eri. Eri it turns out is dyslexic and has dictated this story of evil ‘little people’ taking over our world, seemingly from lived experience, to her foster sister.

As the stories converge it becomes clear that Tengo is the boy, now 30, who stood up for Aomame in third grade. Aomame is given the assignment of killing a cult leader who rapes little girls, who turns out to be Eri’s father. He acquiesces in his killing but predicts that the little people will ensure that either she or Tengo will die. Aomame chooses the path she hopes will protect Tengo. And so we go. This is a literary work with a strong story. What makes it literary, apart from the compelling writing, I struggle to express. I’ll have to think about it.


Milly and I go out to dinner. On the way I hear on the ABC that NT is closing its borders. That didn’t take long! I discuss by text with my customer throughout the meal the possibility of getting a permit. Milly on her phone is messaging with Lou. He’s back at Lilongwe Airport. By the time we finish eating he’s in Johannesburg with tickets to Dubai (he’s changed over to Emirates) and thence to Perth. Still arriving Sunday night.


Murukami in 1Q84 is writing about one social stratum in Tokyo, slightly outside mainstream society, he is writing about the connections between works, between 1Q84 and Orwell’s 1984, and between 1Q84 and (the fictional) Air Chrysalis, he is playing games with the intersection between Magic Realism and SF, and he is discussing the boundaries between love and sex. Am I happy with a guy writing so much about sex for women? No I’m not. Is there anything I can do about it? No.

I was looking forward to The Testaments, Attwood is a competent writer, if disingenuous about so much of her writing being standard SF. The most disappointing thing is that writers who embrace SF have taken it in new and challenging directions, while Atwood who imagines herself daring for just dipping her general fiction toe in SF waters, is left far behind (I didn’t know it was joint winner of the Man Booker. What a pile of crap!). I’m sure you all know the general story. The epilogue is a paper delivered centuries later at a Gilead symposium. The problem with audiobooks is that people giving boring speeches are really … boring! I didn’t make it to the end.

I’m struggling to recall Love Literary Style now except that I really enjoyed it. Earnest (unpublished) literary author meets untutored blonde bombshell who has accidentally written the outline for a major success. All the tropes of romantic fiction are interrogated as the two budding authors write and discuss writing. Read it. You’ll love it.


An hour ago, Lou had an eight hour flight ahead of him, a very quick changeover in Dubai, and then a similar length flight to Perth. The ABC NT border story (here) has not been updated.

Every Secret Thing, Marie Munkara

Brona’s AusReadingMonth Bingo, November 2019 – [NT]

8512761

If ever you felt complacent about our decision as whites to live in this country, then read Munkara, who sweeps complacency away by telling familiar stories about ‘good’ settlers and shiftless Blacks from the Black point of view.

Yes we’re here now, but every decision we’ve made – from the early days, during all the Stolen Generations years, through the 1950s and 60s, when I think this linked collection of stories is set, right up to today with the Intervention, the ongoing denial of proper Land Rights, systemic racism in the Police Forces, the diversion of ‘Aboriginal’ monies to bureaucracy and white businesses, policies deliberately aimed at making it impossible for Indigenous communities to be maintained on Country – serves our interests and harms theirs.

Marie Munkara is of Rembarranga, Tiwi and Chinese descent. Born in central Arnhem Land she was sent to Nguiu on the Tiwi Islands at about eighteen months, then down south by Catholic missionaries when she was three. She now lives in Darwin, where she is doing a PhD. Every Secret Thing (2009), which is about a presumably fictional Catholic mission in Arnhem Land, was her first novel.

Munkara doesn’t appear to give out her age, and I haven’t yet read her biographical Of Ashes and Rivers that Run to the Sea (2016). But it would be sad if she were the Marigold in these stories, stolen from loving parents, sent away as a baby to be bought up Catholic and trained for service, constantly beaten and raped by her employers, who finally returns to her family only to find she doesn’t fit in.

Over a series of linked and sequential stories we become familiar with the ‘Mission Mob’, the Catholic priests and nuns bringing civilisation and Christianity to ignorant savages; and the Bush Mob, the Indigenous Arnhem Land community who after millennia of relaxed, well fed lives, must be brought to eat flour and sugar instead of fresh meat and bush tucker, to wear clothes in the tropics, and of course to accept the Catholics’ strange pantheon of saints, virgins, spirits and gods instead of their own.

In an allegory for white settlement everywhere, over the lifetime of one generation, the Bush Mob goes from self-sufficiency to despair, disease and dependence. In the end, Pwomiga, one of the senior men, paints himself white and commits suicide to prove there is no life after death –

So began the slow downwards spiral of despair. It wasn’t long before Jerrengkerritirti with his unruly teeth joined Pwomiga because he didn’t want to be in that place any more. And young Seth not long after that. Then the grog came and the winding path of good intentions became a straight bitumen four-laned highway that led even deeper into a world of self-destruction and hopelessness that no-one knew how to fix.

But don’t get me wrong, this is at times a laugh out loud funny book. Munkara is at a loss to explain how these idiots, the Mission Mob, can plonk themselves down in the midst of a happy community, their assertions of superiority accepted or at least tolerated, using their authority to make everyone miserable. But she shows over and over just how ridiculous, how hypocritical they are.

Throughout, there is a surfeit of often good natured sex. The young men and women are at it all the time, two sisters seduce a priest, the priests put the hard word word on the nuns, priests of course take what they want, from girls and from boys, two boys wear their mothers’ dresses and take it wherever they can get it, there is an epidemic of overeating evidenced by the swelling of young womens’ tummies.

In a central series of stories, Caleb seeks a wife. A couple in a nearby mob have an unruly daughter, Juta, pregnant to the boss’s daughter’s fiance. Caleb marries Juta and his family adore their light skinned daughter, Tapalinga.

The mission have responded to the rash of mixed race births by seizing all the babies and sending them to an island mission, the Garden of Eden, to be ‘educated’. Tapalinga, too is taken, reappearing some years later as Marigold, in service since she was seven, flogged and unpaid, “lucky to have the boss fuck her because she was a diseased piece of rubbish that no-one else would want”. The Bishop had told her her mother was “on the streets” and couldn’t support her, but another girl recognizes her and tells her how to find her family. That girl falls into prostitution and dies but Marigold makes her way home only to find that Juta has closed that part of heart to cauterise the pain.

Munkara brings up one or two characters at a time and tells a funny story about them, until you feel you know them all well. But all the time, the Bush Mob is declining, accepting cast off clothes, surrendering their kids to the mission, giving up old ways. It’s a funny book and a sad book, but above all, an essential book.

 

Marie Munkara, Every Secret Thing, UQP, Brisbane, 2009

see also:
My review of Munkara’s A Most Peculiar Act (here)

On Monday (19/11/2019) Jess White wrote that her work on the Wardandi Massacre (my review) has been included in the updated ‘Colonial Frontier Massacres in Australia 1788-1930’ map (here). Research for the map “reveals that at least around 8400 people were killed during 311 massacres that took place between 1788 and 1930. About 97 per cent of those killed were First Nations men, women and children. Stage 3 of the digital map project added 41 massacre sites in WA and 9 more in the NT.”

An EOY Wrap

Journal: 025

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, table and indoor
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.

A Most Peculiar Act, Marie Munkara

22665525

For all their differences in approach, A Most Peculiar Act and Two Sisters (review here), both from Magabala Books in Broome, may be read as two sides of the same coin. They are written by confident, Indigenous women; they are set in the north, in respectively Darwin and the Kimberley; and they deal with the displacement of traditional peoples onto the periphery of white communities.

The principal difference is that whereas the Walmajarri people moved to an area where they could gain employment, the peoples portrayed in Munkara’s satire are herded into camps, in conditions of poverty and dependency, their every action governed by the NT Aboriginal Ordinances Act of 1918 (the ‘Most Peculiar Act’ of the title) and by the ways the police and the officers of the Chief Protector’s department chose to enforce it.

We know from the writings of Kim Scott and Doris Pilkington, for instance, that the situation, especially for women and children of mixed parentage, was no better in Western Australia, but that is not an aspect highlighted in Two Sisters, whereas it is the whole point of A Most Peculiar Act.

Resident Judge writes in her perceptive review of Munkara’s memoir,  Of Ashes and Rivers that Run to the Sea (2016): “The narrative voice is simple and feels to me as if it belongs to a younger writer. Munkara is fifty-six, but sounds almost adolescent.  This is not high literature by any means.” Munkara’s voice is simple, direct and street-smart, and to my mind reminiscent of another indigenous* author, Mudrooroo/Colin Johnson.

A Most Peculiar Act is set in 1942-3, but the war plays no part except that the (re-imagined) bombing of Darwin by the Japanese on 19 Feb. 1943 brings the book to a close. The principal characters are all caricatures: Horrid Hump the incompetent doctor/medical administrator made Chief Protector of Aboriginals where “he wouldn’t be able to bugger up a situation that was already buggered”; Ralphie, a patrol officer subject to “ailments brought on by drinking and whoring”; 16 yo Sugar, presumably the young woman pictured on the cover, whose “features were perpetually scrunched up in a scowl that left you wondering if she were in pain or if she were about to commit an act of extreme danger or lunacy”; Drew, a buxom woman, mistakenly employed as a patrol officer, whose “demeanour belied the right-wing red-necked racist that lurked within”.

To the extent there is a plot, and not just a series of funny situations whose subversive intent is to highlight the ongoing racism of the administration of indigenous affairs in the NT, Sugar gets pregnant (to Ralphie), has twins, leaves one of them behind in the hospital, returns to live in the Camp with her community, is segregated off into the Pound (for ‘coloured’ girls) and has her remaining baby stolen, becomes a servant for the lesbian wife of NT’s most senior public servant, the Administrator, and in the final pages, leads the wife and some of her friends to the relative safety of caves in the beachside cliffs when a party is broken up by Japanese bombing.

Ralphie loses his job, attempts to live with the indigenous communities in the Camp, gets leprosy and observes the bombing from the safety of the leper colony on the other side of Darwin Harbour; while Drew initiates a series of disasters and becomes the, willing, object of the Administrator’s affections.

Just one quote. Munkara was apparently herself one of the stolen generation and this is how she describes it:

‘I know the mothers are really grateful to us for finding homes for their children but as primitives they just can’t express it like we do’, said the Superintendent [of the Pound] recalling the traumatic scenes that he’d witnessed of native mothers being relieved of their offspring.

All my life I have regarded the Territory as a place of adventure and romance, but at every turn in this book Munkara rubs our noses in the indignities, the humiliations, the deprivations that indigenous people have endured under what was and in many ways remains, apartheid in all but name. If ever we needed a reminder of why indigenous stories should be written by indigenous writers then this was it.

 

Marie Munkara, A Most Peculiar Act, Magabala Books, Broome, 2014

Lisa at ANZLL’s review (here)


*Colin Johnson’s heritage as an indigenous person is contested, but he was brought up as dark-skinned person in an indigenous community in WA’s south-west and is accepted, by Kim Scott for instance, as a contributor to modern indigenous literature.