The Power of Bones by Keelen Mailman

Book cover of The Power of Bones

The Power of Bones by Keelen Mailman, (Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2014).

“I chose survival” says Keelen Mailman in her memoir, The Power of Bones. Powerful, painful and memorable, The Power of Bones lays bare the struggles and achievements of Aboriginal life in  Australia during the late twentieth century and more recently.

Mailman is an Aboriginal woman from south-west Queensland near Charleville. She had a hard childhood and a poor education but she has risen from this to be the first Aboriginal woman to run a commercial cattle station. This book is a lesson in never writing a person off, no matter how bleak their background appears to be.

Mailman is proud of her Bidjara culture. Her knowledge and commitment to the Bidjara people was recognised by one of the community elders who asked her to manage the Mount Tabor cattle station for the Bidjara. The work at the station is mentioned in passing, the focus of this memoir is family and culture. Continue reading

Review: A Long Way Home

A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, (Melbourne: Penguin, 2013).

A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, (Melbourne: Penguin, 2013).

Do you remember becoming separated from your parents by accident as a child?  That moment when you realised that you could not find your parents and were lost in a strange place was terrifying.  You may have been rooted by fear, or madly dashed around. You probably called out for them in between sobs.

Perhaps you have lost one of your own children.  My husband recalls the panic he felt when the tram he had just boarded started moving and he realised that our five-year old was still at the tram stop.  He yelled at the tram driver to stop but the tram kept going.  Hubble left the tram at the next stop and vividly remembers his mad sprint down the road to the tram stop where our daughter was still standing.

Fortunately for most of us that moment is transitory.  Parents find their children after a couple of minutes or kind strangers take the child to the store manager or police who find their parents.  Parents and the child resolve to be more careful in future and life resumes.

The nightmare for five-year old Saroo and his mother was not transitory.  Saroo was lost on the streets of Kolkata and his desperate mother was unable to find him.  The separation became permanent. Yet while kind strangers were unable to reunite the child with his mother they were able to provide the care he needed. Now an adult, Saroo Brierley tells his story in A Long Way Home. Continue reading

Review: Paint me Black by Claire Henty-Gebert

Book cover of Paint Me Black

Paint Me Black by Claire Henty-Gebert (Aboriginal Studies Press: Canberra, 2005).

One day I was reading brief accounts in the newspaper written by some people who were over one hundred years old.  And there she was, Margaret Somerville, the link to the book Paint Me Black, that was waiting on my bedroom floor to be read.

I was a missionary, I went to Croker Island, just off Darwin, and was a cottage mother at a home for part-Aboriginal children. The government had asked the church to take over care of these children. I’d been up there a few months when Darwin was bombed and then we had to be evacuated. The government and the church worked together to get us to Otford, a [then] campsite on the NSW south coast. It took six weeks to get all 95 children there. We spent four years at Otford and once the war was over,  I was the only staff member that went back to Croker Island. I was there for  24 years.

Sydney Morning Herald, 4 March 2013.

Claire Henty-Gebert was one of those children evacuated from Croker Island under the care of Margaret Somerville and her fellow missionaries.  Henty-Gebert’s memoir, Paint Me Black, is an absorbing read.  The clarity of her language and the power of her story engrossed me in this book. She has an amazing story to tell.

Henty-Gebert’s mother was Aboriginal and her father was white.  She was born sometime in the 1920s in a remote part of the Northern Territory.  Along with thousands of children like her she was removed from her Aboriginal family at a young age. Continue reading