On a visit to one of the cultural centres in Kakadu I picked up this book
and was sufficiently interested by the blurb on the back page to part with
the $29.00 that was the asking price. That’s a big spend from a bloke who
has been buying his books in op shops lately!
Essentially it’s a bit of a history of Arnhem Land from time before whites
ventured there right thru to today. It tells a pretty sorry story of people
dispossessed and subsequently disorientated by the changes. It traces the
various attempts to develop white settlements which were by and large a
failure until the mining companies discovered substances of value…
With the mining companies came royalties and a whole new way of life for a
group of people who were surviving just fine. While we may have looked on in
sympathy at primitive shelters and dirty conditions, the current situation
is in many ways worse.
The author – Andrew McMillan – says that in regards to white habitation of
Arnhem Land it is either misfits, missionaries or mercenaries who go there.
He is particularly harsh on the missionaries, and his invective towards
Christians in general is a bit overdone. While the missionaries definitely
made some mistakes they at least went there with noble intentions. Perhaps
the most abhorrent things the old mishos did was to try and root the
‘aboriginality’ out of the people either by separating kids from parent so
they couldn’t learn culture, or by beating them for practicing their
Of course when the mining companies came the amount of alcohol increased and
many people didn’t know what to do with the $$$ they initially received.
McMillan is quick to point out that alcohol and money destroyed a culture.
His depictions of life on Grootye Eylandt are particularly sad as they show
the violence, aggression and loss of hope that seems to depict life in these
He spend a lot of time telling the story of Galarrwuy, the bloke who
finished up leading Youth Yindi (and who has been a significant leader for
the Arnhem people. Ironically this same man spent 3 years in a Queensland
Bible College preparing to come back and share the gospel with the people
only to return, see the chaos and decide he’d had enough of the church
nonsense and that there was a more important cause to put his energies to –
that of bringing some dignity back to the people of his land. Pretty sad.
It wasn’t a super easy read, but if you have an interest in how things have
taken shape in that part of the world then its well worth dipping into. If
you’re a Christian then you’ll need to read it patiently as he doesn’t have
much time for us