First published in 1979 and written by Mavis Thorpe Clarke, The Boy From Cumeroogunga: The Story of Sir Douglas Ralph Nicholls was produced as a companion piece to an earlier, equally comprehensive biographical volume titled Pastor Doug – The biography of the first Aborigine to be created a knight (1965).
Written so that it might appeal to a younger readership than the more scholarly approach of the authors’ previous work on the subject, The Boy From Cumeroogunga details the rise of Doug Nicholls, from poverty and life on Cumeroogunga Mission, to his role as a professional football player, an initially reluctant political figure and his transformation over time into a statesman of fine regard, a pastor and ultimately the first Aboriginal Australian to be knighted and to take office as a state governor (1976).
The book departs from the authors’ original offering on the subject in that this is Clarke’s first hand account of Nicholls, owing to a friendship that had developed over many years and is also the end result of countless hours spent researching Aboriginal archives and in correspondence with various sources. The result is a well-directed blend of history, personal recollection and conversation.
An enjoyable issue, the reader somewhat surprisingly benefits from the fact that the author was a noted and prolific writer of children’s books. The Boy From Cumeroogunga flows in a way that few biographical efforts ever do, making it the ideal vehicle for introducing younger readers to one of the key figures in Aboriginal history and politics.
Pastor Doug – The biography of the first Aborigine to be created a knight (1965)
Sir Doug Nicholls (Wikipedia entry)
Note: Alternate spellings for Cumeroogunga are commonly - Cummeragunja, Cumeragunja, Cumeroogunja etc.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Friday, October 12, 2007
Whilst there is a large volume of research written by academics on Aboriginal history, very few non-indigenous authors have ever exhibited more than the most rudimentary understanding of the many indigenous Australian cultures, customs or histories, without also offering some condescending commentary or leaps of faith that can be often entirely ungrounded. To Aboriginal people well versed in their individual cultures the fragmented views of such academics can often seem misplaced and in a number of cases diabolical to say the least.
Could Aboriginal Australia truly be such an undecipherable enigma? One might say yes, save for the fact that there are a small but growing number of non-indigenous authors who fly against convention and are able to present an insightful body of work without steam rolling over Aboriginal sensibilities and oral tradition.
One such author is Bain Attwood, whose growing list of titles includes The 1967 Referendum, or When Aborigines Didn't Get the Vote (1997), Frontier Conflict: The Australian Experience (2003) and Thinking Black: William Cooper and The Australian Aborigines' League (2004).
Each book offered by the author is a treasure trove of information and historical data from a diverse range of sources. Attwood’s 1999 effort The Struggle for Aboriginal Rights: A Documentary History, which is co-authored by Andrew Markus, is no exception. An outstanding and valuable research tool, the book presents the reader with a timeline for Aboriginal politics, ranging from the nineteenth century and into the present, with the major events and people of consequence each fleshed out with resources ranging from private letters, government records and telegrams to radio transcripts and newspaper extracts. For the inquiring mind or the serious student, The Struggle for Aboriginal Rights will stand on its own and be a tool that is referenced time and time again, but for the casual reader it is perhaps best considered a source book – to be read after being introduced to Attwood’s more accessible titles, which give the novice a smoother introduction to both Aboriginal history in general and the ensuing politics.
For those studying the Aboriginal politics and history of the early to mid twentieth century then I’d recommend that The Struggle for Aboriginal Rights: A Documentary History be read in conjunction with either, or both of:
Thinking Black: William Cooper and the Australian Aborigines' League - Bain Attwood (2004)
Vote Ferguson: Fighter for Aboriginal Freedom - Jack Horner (1974)
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Margaret Tucker's If Everyone Cared is a book that is both significant as a matter of national record, and of personal relevance to me, as it deals to some extent with my own family's history and struggles.
An autobiographical account, If Everyone Cared deals primarily with the methodology and ramifications of the Stolen Generations that were a result of government policy over much of the 20th Century in Australia, where by children were removed from their families and placed in camps where a higher degree of education and personal development was supposed to have taken place. Detailed within the book are Margaret Tucker's family life as a child, her education and then the heartache and pain caused by Margaret's forced removal from her mother, and her placement in a concentration camp at Cootamundra in southern NSW. As the book progresses it follows Margaret's new and somewhat torturous life as a servant, her interactions with the families that hire her and the continuing efforts of her mother Theresa Clements in petitioning the government for the return of her child.
There are few books that deal with the subject matter of the Stolen Generations, or that go as heavily into detail as Margaret Tucker's book does. The author examines the immediate and long term ramifications on the children in question and the families left behind, placing the events into a context that allows Margaret to make sense of her life and to forgive those that have committed wrongs against both Margaret and her family.
The book can be a trying experience, and one that has had a deep and lasting influence upon many of those who have read it - and with good reason. Tucker speaks from the heart and in a raw, unpolished manner, where only the basic facts and truths are placed before the reader. The struggle to survive when the odds are stacked against you is a universal theme that anyone with a caring heart can relate to, and it is that raw nature that allows the author to share her deepest and most personal tragedies and triumphs.
Whilst the standard of writing may not be exceptional, it's the subject matter and how openly the author has presented it that makes this a book worthy of anyone's time. It is one that should be part of the required reading list of any high school aged child in Australia, and would go a long way toward bettering relationships, tolerance and understanding in the many instances where it is currently found greatly lacking.
For further reading:
Altitude article - Jennifer Jones, University of Melbourne
Natonal Foundation for Australian Women - Biographical entry