Review Blog

Sep 16 2020

Country, kin and culture by Claire Smith

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Wakefield Press, 2020. ISBN: 9781862545755.
(Age: Senior secondary/Adult) Highly recommended. Dr Claire Smith writes that slowly over the years since 1990, after many visits in a research capacity, she and her husband and son have become a small part of the extended community of the Barunga-Wulgularr people of the Northern Territory. Encouraged by elders to write a history of the group, her book acknowledges the input of Phyllis Wiynjorroc, Petrer Manabaru and Jimmy Wesan.
In telling the story of the Barunga-Wulgularr, Smith has had by necessity to document the many policy changes that applied to Aboriginal people across Australia, and so her book becomes a documentation of the long history of government impact on Aboriginal lives, from colonial violence to the policies of protectionism and then assimilation, the cruelty now known as the Stolen Generations, to the contemporary movement towards self-determination and reconciliation.
The thing that is so refreshing about this book is that it is not just another history book about Australian Aboriginals, it is a book that includes their voice and their stories, sharing their experience, so that readers may begin to understand just how intrusive government control has been and how devastating the consequences for people's lives. That intrusion, that lack of respect, continues today despite the findings and recommendations of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Strait Islander Children from their Families, and the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Aboriginal socio-economic disadvantage continues.
I found Smith's thoughtful examination of the role of alcohol in Aboriginal social life, and her inclusion of Aboriginal comment on it, to be a particularly insightful approach that dispels stereotypical views.
Smith writes that despite all that has gone before, a distinctly Indigenous world view has survived. The culture of the Barunga-Wulgularr has adapted to include respected elders of other groups in their society following the government dispersal of people from their lands; they have developed a unique language, Kriol, to communicate between groups; and they have embraced art as a way of sharing without revealing the secret knowledge within ceremonial painting. Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal systems of knowledge have endured; that's something to celebrate.
Themes: Aboriginal history, Aboriginal culture, Dispossession, Discrimination, Stolen Generations, Survival.
Helen Eddy

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