hello and welcome to spring (not spring)

Here we are, solidly a “week” into “Spring.” In Melbourne, this means there’s nothing different to last month; it’s max 13C, there’s winds and rain, and this afternoon the possibility of hail.

So now seems like a good reminder: Spring is an artificial concept imported and imposed upon the Australian landscape when those invaders should have been chatting to the Traditional Owners about the six (or seven, or two) seasons. (It goes without saying that it’s all about imperialism and racism that we don’t talk about this stuff even now, but comment if you wanna chat about it)

Being from Perth, Steph is about to focus on the six seasons of the Nyoongar people, with brief diversions into Wirrudjeri (Eastern) seasons.

We’ll start with a reminder that seasonal calendars don’t match up with the Gregorian calendar, because the Gregorian calendar is an artificial concept imported and imposed upon the Australian landscape, along with the completely illogical European seasons. And of course there are different seasons across the whole continent, but Steph is only talking to the ones she knows. Okay, good. Now:

Perth. The South-West, a huge chunk of the continent. The Nyoongar seasonal calendar is six seasons long, yes, perfect. They don’t match up with the Gregorian calendar, but approximately:

a circular seasonal map; in the centre is an image of australia, the next level is 'spring, summer, winter, autumn', the next level is birak, bunuru,djeran, makuru,djiba,kambarang

Continue reading “hello and welcome to spring (not spring)”

linkspam: extra special steph loves her football team edition

Adam Goodes’ Indigenous Allies Are Mad As Hell About The Way He Has Been Treated

Two West Coast supporters were evicted for racist behaviour and Goodes was continually booed throughout the match, prompting teammate Lewis Jetta to do an Aboriginal war dance after scoring a goal as a show of support for Goodes.

One of the ejected spectators yelled that Goodes should, “go back to the zoo.”

DAMN RIGHT THEY’RE MAD. WE SHOULD ALL BE MAD.

Adam Goodes standing in front of the Mabo flag

I laughed out loud at First Dog: Why do you boo Adam Goodes? Is it because … (a handy guide)

Adam Goodes ‘unAustralian’ says former Brisbane Roar goalkeeper

Former Brisbane Roar goalkeeper Griffin McMaster has weighed into the Adam Goodes racism controversy by suggesting the dual Brownlow medallist and former Australian of the Year should be deported.

I cry laughing every time I read this quote. Adam Goodes is an Indigenous Australian AFL player who was Australian of the Year. He is literally – like – there is no way to be more Australian in this country.

“Adam Goodes calls Australia Day invasion day,” McMaster wrote in a since-deleted tweet.

“Deport him.

“If you don’t like it leave.”

AN INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIAN AFL PLAYER WHO WAS AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR.

I

CANNOT

I’m probably actually going to be sick I’m so angry.

Booing Adam Goodes: are we even aware we’re racists? No, we’re dickheads.

I’d be happy to see every Indigenous player from now on perform the war dance every time they kick a goal. That would rub it in all our white faces until we truly got the message that you are part of this culture on your own terms and not on the terms that white society deems to be acceptable.

Richmond to wear Dreamtime AFL guernsey in support of Adam Goodes – yes, excellent, everyone do this.

We want to support Adam Goodes, who has been a wonderful ambassador for our game and his people.

White Australia is coming for you

Finally, in other non-racist news, Andrew Bolt has been busy posting clips of Martin Luther King speeches. He’s running a campaign against the ‘race war’ in the AFL, a war conducted, not by the booing fans, but by Adam Goodes, who seems to be singlehandedly oppressing all of Australia’s white football followers.

Yes, that’s right. You see, MLK had a dream that white children would, one day, be able to say whatever they damn well want – and that non-white people would sit there and take it.

Happily, here in Australia, that noble vision seems on the verge of coming true.

You can twitter around on #IStandWithAdam

Racism: win a prize for best dressed

It’s Naidoc Week! No Award promises to talk about things other than Naidoc Week this week, but first:

'SENIOR NT INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS BUREACRAT WEARS CONFEDERATE FLAG SHIRT TO DINNER, WINS PRIZE' headline at the NT News

In the Northern Territory, Senior indigenous affairs bureaucrat wears confederate flag to Beef Breeders dinner.

No Award, we considered going into the Confederate Flag for you since, as Australians, we don’t really know the ins and outs of USA history. But the NT News has actually given us all the information we require on the topic.

“I don’t think he deliberately set out to be controversial, I just don’t think he really thought about it,” a person at the ball said.

“But the fact is in his position he needs to be a little more thoughtful about these things. He was a bit remiss not to consider it might offend people, especially so close to the Charleston massacre and the whole white supremacist thing over there.

“It’s quite a hot topic around town, too, with the vigilante group and the like.”

The flag was first flown by the pro-slavery Confederacy during the American Civil War, fought in large measure over the rights of land owners to keep black slaves.

It has since been displayed as a symbol of southern American pride, but has also been co-opted by white supremacist groups.

Most recently, Dylann Roof, who killed nine people in a racially motivated attack inside a historic black church in the United States’ city of Charleston this month, posed with the flag shortly before the massacre.

“THE FLAG WAS FIRST FLOWN BY THE PRO-SLAVERY CONFEDERACY” let me reiterate, the Confederate flag was flown initially to indicate a desire to retain slavery.

Australia.

MATE.

Of course, this history hardly unique to the US, and we have exactly our own Australian ways of commemorating the Australian refusal to view Indigenous Australians as people. We have universities and streets and statues commemorating Macquarie (who legislated that Indigenous people could be shot if they resisted “civilising”), and Batman (who was a bounty hunter of Aboriginal people in Tasmania before he stole Melbourne from people of the Kulin nation), just as examples.

(Not to mention that Australia’s “alternative” flag comes from the Eureka uprising, which was mostly about resisting unfair taxation, but was also about white miners banding together against the tax-paying Chinese miners.)

HOWEVER, we are (for once) talking about America, not Australia, and, guys, if you ever fell compelled to dress up as anything to do with another country, maybe, I dunno, hit up Google to make sure you’re not about to be horribly offensive.

No Award is usually prepared to extend the benefit of the doubt to people who aren’t aware of the context of particular international taboos — we only recently found out why it’s not cool to link watermelon and African Americans — but there’s been a lot of media coverage about the Confederate Flag in the last couple of weeks, even in Australia.  And it’s not unreasonable to expect a basic level of media literacy from a public figure.

(Also, why would you go to a 4th of July event wearing the flag of a people who literally tried to secede from the US?  In company with someone wearing a Union Jack?  Not to go too far down this derail path, but this choice was bad on many, many levels.  How did it win a prize?  What’s wrong with people?)

Indigenous stuff: Stop the forced closures and some links

This next rally has SNUCK UP UPON US but here we are!

Melbourne: Friday June 26, 3pm, steps of Flinders Street Station.

calltoaction

Why are we still protesting, still marching?

New facilities sit empty, go to waste

Multimillion-dollar buildings are sitting empty and underused in WA’s remote Aboriginal communities while traumatised children live in overcrowded houses and go without mental health services.

A new $12 million aged-care home in Warmun has been empty for six months, a multimillion-dollar elders centre in Kalumburu was fitted with two walk-in freezers that are never switched on and a community meeting centre in tiny Woolah was recently built next door to a medical clinic that is used just one day a fortnight.

WA Minister Tells Parliament He’s ‘Proud’ Of World-Beating Juvenile Jailing Rate

The WA Corrective Services minister says he is “proud” of the Barnett government’s record on juvenile detention, despite plans to toughen mandatory sentencing laws, which experts say will only lead to more Aboriginal children in jail.

Western Australia currently jails the highest proportion of Aboriginal men, women and children in the country. Aboriginal youth are 53 times more likely to be jailed than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

Loss of federal funds not to blame for remote Indigenous community closures, WA minister says

But the Government has since sought to separate the prospect of community closures from the loss of federal funding, insisting it was about improving health and social outcomes for Aboriginal people.

Police remove Heirisson Island Aboriginal protesters in dawn raid

More than 40 riot police carried out dawn raids on Heirisson Island on Thursday morning to dismantle an Aboriginal activists’ camp.

In a military-style operation, officers flanked by City of Perth rangers swept the camp site, taking down tents, dumping mattresses and belongings into bins in an attempt to move on protestors who had set up camp in response to the WA Government’s plans to close remote communities in the state’s north-west.

Because we have to. Join us, or protest online.

hashtag invisiblespeargate

Hey quokkas. How’s Tuesday going? Yeah, me too.

Anyway so it’s been four days since Adam Goodes, Indigenous Australian AFL player, celebrated a goal he kicked during the Indigenous Round by doing a bit of a dance taught to him by the Under 16 Flying Boomerangs. An Indigenous Australian celebrating his achievements during the Indigenous Round by acknowledging young Indigenous Australians, as it were. Which was then greeted with boos, and racism. Sounds about right to me.

Aamer Rahman’s post at New Matilda, Aamer Rahman On What Adam Goodes’ Invisible Spear Shows Us, is probably my favourite response so far. He gives great, incisive summary:

Dermott Brereton, who has openly admitted to systematically using racial slurs against Black players, was quick to defend the crowd. Surely the people booing Goodes “…couldn’t all be racist? He might not be liked by that many people.” Brereton also offered some deep cultural insights: “To actually run at somebody in a war dance… it actually signifies ‘I want to be violent against you,’” he said, with all the conviction and authority of someone who may have read a book about a thing once. “I didn’t like it. No good could come from it.”

I’ll show you a bloody violence against you, you tosser. Dermott Brereton has always been a wanker. One of my other favourite responses is also from Aamer: tweet Racism in Australia is everywhere and it’s terrifying, and the knowledge that there are people in Australia who don’t consider this racism makes me really angry.

Other things: Indigenous when he’s winning, at Overland, by Morgan Godfrey.

Waleed Aly speaking some good stuff (video). F

irst Dog on the Moon: Thanks a Lot, Racists. Now I can’t boo Adam Goodes.

Adam Goodes’ twitter, if you want to tell him he’s all right.

The Flying Boomerangs share their war cry (note: Steph hasn’t watched this yet cos she’s at work).

Also this is a reminder that Indigenous voices are always welcome on No Award, and any attempts to silence them will always be met with sternness and disapproval. They way to fuck with racism is always to yell and point at it.

a selfish rabble

It makes Steph really happy that the selfish rabble of Australians and people around the rest of the world exists. We’re condemning the forced closure of remote communities. May 1 was an international day of protest and action. I was at the Melbourne protest, and we shut down Melbourne during peak hour on a Football Friday.

I got into fights with white men. Exclusively white men, which tells you a lot. Their arguments essentially devolved into two key elements. “You’re losing your audience. You gotta let people get home.” Mad chookas to the chick behind me who followed up my argument, after he got stuck on ‘you gotta let people get home,’ with “People are losing their homes, mate.”

“Peaceful protest does nothing. You have to fight their militia with a militia. You have to militarise.” Also, I note, a white man.

Police look on as protesters stage a sit down protest outside of Flinders Street Station. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Police look on as protesters stage a sit down protest outside of Flinders Street Station. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

It was crowded, and we blocked traffic. It was definitely an inconvenience.

Someone from WAR read out what Bolt had written; that it’d be great if we’d done it on a quieter street, making less inconvenience. Which completely misses the point.

I’d like to note, though, that every time someone yelled ‘make room’ for a person with assistive mobility tech, we made room for that person to get through to Flinders Street; often that way was led by a protester clearing space for them.

I loved the guy from Country West of Melbourne who said, “Let me read you something my Great Grandmother wrote me. ‘ALWAYS WAS, ALWAYS WILL BE, ABORIGINAL LAND.'”

There was a passion and a power and a vibe, and please keep on.

There’s a reason why I continue being part of this selfish rabble. It’s not at all to be selfish – surely it is easy to see that this is not selfishness, but selflessness. I am a latecomer to this land – born on stolen land in the 80s, to latecomers to the land. We have plenty of unviable communities remotely, rurally; and at least Indigenous Communities have a cultural connection, have a continuing relationship to the land, and aren’t built on stolen promises and stolen lives and stolen children. If I can fight for my right to vote, or to be allowed to work in this country, both things people had to fight for decades ago for me to do them now, I can damn well fight for the right of Indigenous Australians to live on the land that wasn’t stolen from them.

Some links:

The live blog from The Guardian

At Buzzfeed

At the ABC

A piece on the latest raid at Heirisson Island from a NZ station

You can find more stuff at #sosblakaustralia and by following @sosblakaustralia

intersectional is more than a three-letter country

As Australians, as non-white people who aren’t from the USA, as activists, we have got to talk about the USA dominance of the internet, and our social justice conversations.

Over at North Coast Musings, there’s a quick snapshot of some of the terrible things that @ebswearspink, @stringstory and @upulie had to deal with over the weekend, some of it from African American activists, including claims that Indigenous Australians only have a voice because of African American culture.

Which

NOPE

NOPE

NOPE.

Many years ago, darling wonderful Chally wrote Dear USians on the Internet (yes, it’s on Feministe), about US centricity in social justice and how problematic is. Literally the first comment is a complaint about this letter!

Because we can’t ever have social justice that isn’t informed by the USA, I guess.

The thing is this:

Our Australian injustices cannot be righted through a paradigm that fits the USA.

The injustices that plague the USA do not necessarily translate outside of the USA.

We can exchange thoughts and techniques but we cannot

we cannot

match perfectly, or even imperfectly.

Liz has her own reasons for being my partner in yelling here on No Award, but this was my moment:

An act called the Jackson Jive performed on Hey Hey It’s Saturday. They performed in blackface, and it was bullshit. There was debate whether it was intentionally racist or just clueless, and one theory was from the name: that their name was ‘Jackson Jive’, it was postulated, was an intentional reference to shucking and jiving, an element of minstrelsy, and therefore intentionally racist. I was decried by a USAmerican person when I pointed out our history of blackface didn’t include quite so much minstrelsy, and the shucking and jiving thing isn’t as known here. Australia’s Blak history is different from any other country’s. Just like our experiences of colonialism, racism, and imperialism are different.

[Liz notes: Minstrelsy in Australia started out with US minstrel acts touring Australia, and then Australian performers began to mimic them.  I could make a remark about Iggy Azalea, but I haven’t had nearly enough tea.]

[Liz’s moment was the controversy about the KFC ad in which a lone Australian white guy finds himself surrounded by Indians at the cricket, and makes friends by sharing his KFC.  Racist in the sense of playing on fears of brown people?  Yes, although obviously there is also the fear of being surrounded by supporters of a rival team.  Playing into stereotypes about African Americans and fried chicken?  Uh, no.]

But apparently we can’t have racial experiences that are different from those experienced in the USA.

To make something about someone else’s racial history is to ignore our own very real issues, and means the discussions we have are limited and restricted. If I’m going to educate anybody, it’s going to be the people in communities here in Australia. We shouldn’t need to expend our energy fighting those who are supposed to be our community, our allies in oppression, whose experiences are similar but not the same.

Indigenous Australians may be light-skinned, and if they are it is often a product of the imperialism and genocide of our Australian history. But sure, let’s call an Indigenous Australian white, like that’s not loaded, like A.O. Neville, “Protector of Aborigines” from 1936 – 1940, didn’t endorse “biological absorption” of Aboriginal Australians, like we don’t have the Stolen Generation.

And we know light-skinned privilege exists, I live it (as a light-skinned Azn), but ugh, gross. Gross.  The entire concept of “white passing” is dangerous and hurtful in the context of Indigenous Australians.  That’s what the whole Eatock v Bolt case was about.

This is not to deny that often the language and work done by USAcentric and USA-based activists doesn’t assist us in our work and in our activism and in our fights. There are lots of great USA-based voices that help out.  But that doesn’t mean their concepts are universally applicable.

When our language is different from theirs and they yell at us for it, don’t lose hope.

And when our frame of reference is different from theirs and they call us wrong, and racist, and too white, yell back.

Come here to No Award, if you have to. I will always yell with you.

Maybe what we need is a primer for well-meaning USAmericans. It’ll be about Indigenous Australians being classed as fauna, The White Australia Policy, slavery in Queensland, and I’m tired just thinking about it. Bags not me.

Here read some things: Luke Pearson on ‘When It’s OK to be ‘Part Aboriginal‘; Defining Aboriginality in Australia; Anita Heiss’ book Am I Black Enough For You?  (If African-American – and other POC – people knew they were doing what Andrew Bolt has done to Indigenous Australians, would that disgust them? I hope so.)

And on the Invasion Day weekend! Ugh.

invasion day needs a linkspam

You may know it as Survival Day, or a public holiday for celebrating a genocide.

Nakkiah Lui writes at the Guardian: Australia Day is a time for mourning, not celebration.

Eugenia Flynn at Crikey: Friend or Foe of Indigenous Culture? Jessica Mauboy as Australia Day Poster Girl.

The day I don’t feel Australian? That would be Australia Day. Chelsea Bond over at The Conversation.

Glen LeLievre - Nothing But Bush
Glen LeLievre – Nothing But Bush

Over the weekend there was some shit going down in the #DearWhitePeople tag, with a whole heap of American (including African-American) policing of Australian Indigenous identities. (It is still pretty anger-making in there, and it sucks for @ebswearspink) I hope that there will be some write ups or something, but it’s not something Steph feels qualified to talk about (though an aside: this is in large part why No Award exists. Because we hate being forced to work through a USA social justice paradigm).

If you’re in Melbourne, Steph is going to some Invasion Day stuff:

There’s a smoking ceremony in the Tianjin Gardens at 10, and then a rally and march from 10:30 from Parliament house, because January 26 is a day of mourning and resistance. This rally is a resistance to colonialism and genocide.

Following that, there’s a festival in Treasury Gardens – Share the Spirit. It’s a festival to celebrate indigenous Australian culture and tradition.

Steph says: There’s rallies all over the country. Please go to one. We are living on indigenous land. I grew up on Noongar land, and I’m living on Wurudgeri land. My personal ancestors might not have had anything to do with the genocides of years past, but by staying silent I contribute to everything that continues. It is the very least I can do.

miss universe australia and asking permission

Australia, I have some news.

Miss Universe Australia’s National Costume this year was inspired by an “Aboriginal Dreaming sunset”:

Aboriginal Dreaming Sunset.

I was stunned to discover this costume, designed by Victorian designer Caitlin Holstock, an ‘indigenous inspired sunset,’ was granted permission from an elder of the Wurundgeri people.

Tegan Martin, Miss Australia, said “I really, really love this design and I think its [sic] so awesome that we are representing the first people in our country.”

And:

The winning design, which was decided on by the public and Sunrise viewers, featured an ochre-coloured bodice and a long open-front skirt embellished with Aboriginal prints and clay beading.

Holstock, an emerging Victorian designer, was granted permission from the Wurundjeri clan to showcase the prints, originally painted by its last traditional elder William Barak in the 1800s.

“I wanted to bring this design back to Australia’s original roots, and I really drew inspiration from that,” Holstock said.

No Award, this is not at all where I expected this post to go. (I thought I’d link to Genevieve’s annual post and then go on a ramble about cultural appropriation) Don’t get me wrong, it’s still kind of ugly and awkward, but it’s not offensive and culturally appropriative, and includes respect and acknowledgement of our first peoples, and it’s also a little fun. I would like to know what granted permission means in this case, though. Did elder Murrundindi also approve the execution of the dress itself? Or just the use of the original painting (I’m struggling to work out which piece it is) as a print? But this is a great way to interact with Dreamtime things, rather than just stealing stuff and calling it appreciation. This is so unexpected. Australia, I’m momentarily proud of you.

Hold your breath, though. This weekend is Survival Day, so there’s a post for that soon, and we’ll go back to being disappointed in being Australians again.

book review: the songlines, by bruce chatwin

Here is 1800 words about a book that Stephanie hated! The only thing that saved it being thrown across the train in disgust was that it was a library book, and she has her lines. (Plus Liz would probably tell her off)

The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin, 1987.

The Songlines is a book about discovery. It’s a travelogue and an adventure and an exploration. It’s fiction. It’s autobiography.

It’s a pretentious pile of racist drivel.

It’s beautifully written. There are some excellent turns of phrase, and it’s got a lovely style, but ultimately it’s about an English man, who believes we’re all nomads, coming to Australia and insisting on creating analogies for literally every element of the lives of the indigenous Australians that he meets. ‘It’d be like America and Russia agreeing to swap their own internal politics-’ he says, of a kin exchange between two different countries.

In chapter 2 he compares Indigenous Australians to Coyotito (a coyote) from Ernest Thompson Seton’s Lives of the Hunted.

Yet Coyotito grew up smart and, one morning, after shamming dead, she bolted for the wild: there to teach a new generation of coyotes the art of avoiding men.

I cannot now pierce together the train of associations that led me to connect Coyotito’s bid for freedom with the Australian Aboriginals’ ‘Walkabout.’ Yet somehow I picked up an image of those ‘tame’ Blackfellows who, one day, would be working happily on a cattle-station: the next, without a word of warning and for no good reason, would up sticks and vanish into the blue.

Bruce keeps comparing Indigenous Australians to fauna. Chapter 12, Flynn (an Indigenous man whose country is never stated, but who is a part of the Boongaree Council) describes allegiances and ‘totemic clans.’ “What this boils down to,” Bruce says:

hesitantly, ‘is something quite similar to birdsong. Birds also sing their territorial boundaries.’

Arkady, who had been listening with his forehead on his kneecaps, looked up and shot me a glance, ‘I was wondering when you’d rumble to that one.’

Here Arkady, a non-Indigenous Australian of Russian descent from Adelaide, who has lived for some time in and around the Northern Territory and serves as Bruce’s guide on this particular exploration, practically gives Bruce permission to describe Indigenous Australian songlines in this fashion, as if Indigenous Australians weren’t legally categorised as fauna until 1967.

Chapter 14, he writes “I was not drunk – yet – but had not been nearly so drunk in ages. I got out a yellow pad and began to write.” The audience is left with most of a blank page and upon turning finds

IN THE BEGINNING…

“In the beginning the Earth was an infinite and murky plain, separated from the sky and from the grey salt sea and smothered in shadowy twilight.” This page contains Old Man Kangaroo and Sky-dwellers and Ancestor and Cockatoo Man and Witchetty Grub Man and Bandicoot Man.

Here, drunk on the liquor condescendingly denied to indigenous people in the town and on his own privilege, Bruce begins to construct what he sees as his own story, coherent within a Dreaming (any Dreaming), as if this is a thing he has permission to do.

He writes the exchange of work between Old Stan Tjakamarra, a Pintupi elder who paints, Enid Lacey, a patronising older White Australian, and two American tourists. And he writes it like a con, coy and roundabout and in jokes and a triumphant ‘rrumpff’ of an Eftpos machine as Arkady comments ‘some nerve,’ without commenting if he talks about Stan, Mrs Lacey, or the demanding tourists. He tells of stopping off in Katherine, where an area was a designated National Park but a ‘loophole’ found by lawyers meant that the land was being claimed ‘back for the blacks,’ causing ‘ill-feeling’ in the town. In the men’s room of a pub in Katherine, a ‘black whore’ offers herself to Bruce, and in the time it takes for him to piss after rejecting her, she’s “attached herself to a stringy little man on a bar-stool.”

The 2012 edition begins with an introduction by Rory Stewart; perhaps a poor beginning, with Stewart mentioning that Bruce never portrays ‘Aborigines’ (in 2012!) as either ‘tragic victims or noble savages,’ but goes on to say that ‘he portrays them as almost unknowable;’ as if by saying that he avoids categorising and stereotyping Indigenous Australians means he doesn’t stereotype them.

Aborigines are often reluctant to trust outsiders, their secret songs are in archaic forms of obscure languages, and the traditional belief systems that underlie them are hard to grasp, categorize, or convey…It is difficult to know what exactly one is talking about here. But Bruce is confident that he does.

This view, both a reiteration of the audience (not Indigenous) and that Bruce is able to talk about it, remains unchallenged through the introduction.

Bruce is not just disrespectful and racist towards Indigenous Australians. Oh, no, quokkas. This beautifully written tome, interwoven with his adventures in other places and other times, with the lessons he’s learnt, is speckled with the disrespect he’s shown other people, too.

The picture I pieced together – true or false I can’t begin to say – was of a ‘scientific’ experiment at which an Aboriginal had sung his Dreaming, a Catholic monk had sung the Gregorian Chant, a Tibetan lama had sung his mantras, and an African had sung whatever.

Not even a fauna comparison for the African person earlier described only as “a black one, a fat one;” they sing a ‘whatever’.

In his series of self-reflective, pretentious notebook scribblings, Bruce notes of a Quashgai woman, perched upon a black horse: “She was also suckling a baby. Her breasts were festooned with necklaces, of gold coins and amulets. Like most nomad women, she wore her wealth. What, then, are a nomad baby’s first impressions of this world? A swaying nipple and a shower of gold.”

[Note that here, he probably means Qashqai, a peoples living across regions in Iran]

‘Alone and amid the nations’, masters of the raid, avid for increase yet disgusted by possessions, driven by the fantasy of all travellers to pine for a stable home – no people but the Jews have ever felt more keenly the moral ambiguities of settlement. Their God is a projection of their perplexity.

He witnesses a Bororo ceremony, described in mystical terms and describing an inexplicable event. Two boys fight, and paint, and wear womens’ clothes, and then return to the palace holding hands, with banknotes pressed onto their painted faces. Some of them are more ‘chic’ than others. Then there are drums, and jewellery glows like phosphorescence.

Bruce has an audience, and it is clear who that audience is. “He wanted to show how every aspect of Aboriginal song had its counterpart in Hebrew, Ancient Greek, Old Norse or Old English: the literatures we acknowledge as our own.” Here in chapter 14, it is clear that the audience is defined as Europeans and Anglo-saxons, with a shared history and linguistic tradition. This book, this exploration, then, is written for men like Bruce.

He uses the term frontier to describe Australia, as if it’s applicable and there was never terra nullis. Arkady uses his ‘reverberative Russian voice he usually reserved for women, to calm them,” because women need calming.

Like many travelogue writers, Bruce wants to know himself and the world around him. “The Pharaohs had vanished: Mahmoud and his people had lasted. I felt I had to know the secret of their timeless and irreverent vitality.”

Like many a western author before and after him, Bruce feels it is his right to demand answers of a people.

He folded his arms. ‘I want to. Yes,’ he replied with inconceivable insolence. ‘But not in a school run by racists.’

She gasped, wanted to block her ears, but he went on, mercilessly. The education programme, he said, was systematically trying to destroy Aboriginal culture and to rope them into the market system. What Aboriginals needed was land, land and more land – where no unauthorised European would ever set foot.

He ranted on. She felt her answer rising in her throat. She knew she shouldn’t say the words, but the words came bursting out, ‘In South Africa they’ve a name for that! Apartheid!’

Lydia, the she here, is the one with whom Bruce gives sympathy; Graham, the white man teaching Indigenous locals, leaves the house and her, and is constructed as the one who is wrong throughout his participation in Bruce’s story.

There are concepts he writes and shares beautifully but, due to what comes before and after, I don’t know if I can believe them.

‘All our words for ‘country,’’ [Flynn] said, ‘are the same as the words for ‘line.’’

For this there was one simple explanation. Most of Outback Australia was arid scrub or desert where rainfall was always patchy and where one year of plenty might be followed by seven years of lean. To move in such landscape was survival: to stay in the same place suicide. The definition of a man’s ‘own country’ was ‘the place in which I do not have to ask.’ Yet to feel ‘at home’ in that country depended on being able to leave it. Everyone hoped to have at least four ‘ways out’, along which he could travel in a crisis. Every tribe – like it or not – had to cultivate relations with its neighbour.

One could believe that; and it’s fun to read. But this narrator is untrustworthy; and more importantly, Bruce Chatwin is intentionally untrustworthy. It is an essential part of his schtick.

Later, on further reflection, having discovered the cause of our misfortunes, he wished to understand the reason for them, he found one very good reason: namely, the natural unhappiness of our weak mortal condition; so unhappy that when we gave to it all our attention, nothing could console us.

And then it ends, trite and all wrapped up and presented so neatly.

One was strong enough to lift an arm, another to say something. When they heard who Limpy was, all three smiled, spontaneously, the same toothless grin.

Arkady folded his arms, and watched.

‘Aren’t’ they wonderful?’ Marian whispered, putting her hand in mine and giving it a squeeze.

Yes. They were all right. They knew where they were going, smiling at death in the shade of a ghost-gum.

Isn’t that beautiful and evocative and absolutely terrible? And it is there that we leave Bruce and his adventure, his autobiography; the way he tears up everything and gives it back to you in a way you’re not sure you want, and completely misses the point.

Further reading: I found this essay by Robert Clarke, Star traveller: celebrity, Aboriginality and Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines, very interesting.