Riding the black cockatoo

I had a surprise event spring out from a Booktalkers Faraway Places session at The State Library of Victoria last Tuesday night. There were 3 authors speaking –

John Nicholson, Judith Simpson, and John Danalis, author of Riding the black cockatoo.

blackcockatoo

The first two speakers were engaging, but we were in for a treat with John Danalis, whose recent book told the story of how he finally decided to return the Aboriginal skull which had been taken from its resting place near Swan Hill 40 years ago and now lived on the family mantelpiece. John explained how he had been feeling uncomfortable for some time about keeping the skull, and after taking Indigenous Studies at university and delving into Aboriginal culture, he couldn’t rest until he had returned the skull to its rightful burial place. It was as if ‘Mary’, as the family affectionately called the skull (which turned out to be male, incidentally), was pushing him from behind to do what was right. Read John’s book for the whole story.

What we didn’t expect that evening was the ceremonial part of the exchange. Ngarra Murray had made a large and beautiful possum skin cloak which was presented to John by Ngarra’s father, Garry Murray, member of the Wamba-Wamba people, the traditional residents of the Murray River, and from the part of Australia that ‘Mary’ had been buried. The cloak had an embroidered story on the skin-side, the details of which we couldn’t see properly from our seats but which looked intricate.                                                                                                                                                            The ceremony was something to experience, and included the provision of lemon-scented gum leaves for everyone in the audience, Indigenous singing and dancing, and a great deal of warmth between John, Ngarra, Garry and others in their group.

Garry closed the evening by urging everyone to consider the seriousness of stolen Aboriginal remains, and also by encouraging us all to keep the Aboriginal stories alive in our schools. He suggested that writers interested in telling Aboriginal stories and publishing them should approach him, and he would be happy to collaborate.

Well, I still have my cluster of lemon-scented gum leaves and the memory of that fascinating evening.

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