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Thursday, January 03, 2013


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Toussaint, Sandy (ed.)
2012 Kimberley Stories. Fremantle, Australia : Fremantle Press.

Notes: 212 p. : ill., map ; ISBN 9781921888823
Reviewed 19 Dec 2012 by:
Jack David Eller <>
Community College of Denver
Medium:Written Literature
Kimberley (W.A.) - In literature
Kimberley (W.A.) - Literary collections

ABSTRACT: This intimate collection of short prose, poetry, and play concerning people's memories of and attachments to place in northwest Australia reminds anthropologists of their commitment to embodiment, sensory experience, and emotion in the study of culture.

There is a saying in central Australia, that if you see the Todd River flow three times, you will never leave. Of course, since the Todd, which runs through Alice Springs, is dry almost all of the time, if you have been there long enough to see water running in it, you have probably already been there a long time. I think I may have seen it run twice.It has been more than twenty years since I trod the Australian Outback, but I still have strong memories and strong associations. I recall thinking while I was there that it was like another planet yet one that I have strange attachment to. And Australian Aboriginal societies are famous in the anthropological literature for their attachment to place and their legendary 'Dreaming' concept that links humans, ancestors, land, natural species and forces, and spirits into a single grand social scheme. However, as Kimberley Stories illustrates, the Aboriginals and I are not the only people with connections to the Australian countryside.The book is a collection of short writings, by anthropologists, journalists, poets, playwrights, and native peoples themselves, sharing their experiences of and bonds to the territory known as Kimberley in far northwestern Australia. The volume does not feign to be an ethnography but rather a loving and living tribute to place and memory. As Toussaint explains in her introduction, it "shows the richness of people's intrinsic connections to each other, and to place. It explores the intricacies of nature, pockets of social distress and disquiet, and it reflects humor, joy, and hopefulness" (p. 13).The book is organized into two sections, the first consisting of approximately twenty prose compositions ranging from a couple of pages to several pages, while the second holds a half-dozen pieces of poetry and an extract from a play. The essays of the first section occupy more than three-quarters of the text and are mostly written by non-Aboriginal authors, although Aboriginal voices are also heard.The unifying theme of the volume is the emotional and visceral appeal that the Kimberley region has for the writers, many of whom fell in love with it instantly while others learned to love it. Katie Auty reminisces about attending school there and being formed by the place, where history is "still, almost, and it is contemporary and raw" (p. 26). Jacqueline Wright describes the experience of the seasons, which are distinctly non-European, and reminds us that it "takes a very, very long time to understand particular country; much longer than it takes for a person to love it, or own it or ruin it" (p. 40).The Kimberley is ancient and modern, which is perhaps why Kim Mahood makes 'art on the run' dedicated to the place. Bonita Mason provides a colorful account of the noise and commotion of town life in the territory, something that all residents of outback settlements can confirm. Using color as his guide, Stephen Scourfield shares his sense of time and of the geography of life in the area. For Lesley Corbett, the river runs through her memories.Pat Mamanyjun Torres speaks with a very different voice, a decidedly Aboriginal voice, as she tells her "family's story of identity and sense of belonging with the sacred earth and the ancestral gifts we possess from our connections" (p. 76). Yet, as her surname attests, her heritage is not only Aboriginal but also Spanish-Filipino and Scottish-Irish, although her "family members passionately identify as Indigenous Australians" (p. 78). That is, while her voice is decidedly Aboriginal, it is a hybrid voice, as are all of ours.For other contributors, memories are stored in objects as simple as leaves (Toussaint and Jane Mulcock) or injured seagulls (Pat Lowe) or as complex as graves (Murray Jennings). Donna Bing-Ying Mak is living proof that Anglos and Aboriginals are not the ingredients in contemporary Australiann society; in fact, she makes an interesting case for the affinities between Chinese and Aboriginal cultures. Marminjya Joy Nuggett and Steve Hawke comment on the quality of language, 'break a leg' in the former case, while in the latter Hawke gives a fascinating treatise on translating sections of his play into the Bunuba tongue, with all the surprises of discovery therein. Cathie Clement adds an essay on researching history in Kimberley, concluding with the anthropological message that "to really appreciate the Kimberley, you have to go there" (p. 141). Andrew Burke offers a clear vision of interaction in an Aboriginal classroom, where the teacher learns as much as the students do, and Steve Gome and Luisa Mitchell round out the section with their special memories of hunting (Gome) and playing barefoot (Mitchell).The stanzas of the second part include poetry and song lyrics about iconic Australia experiences: drinking beer, bull riding, the sounds and songs of nature, butchers and dugongs and birds. Finally, a few pages from Peter Bibby's "Escapadia" conveys some of the familiar scenes of Outback life and research, with social workers, administrators, and art coordinators traveling and interacting with native peoples. For those who have never lived in the Australian Outback or other such remote locations, some of the subtleties of the collection may be missed. For those who want an ethnographic description of the Kimberley, they had best look elsewhere. But for anyone who has ever felt life in a remote locale or who has ever experienced the pull of a place, or for any anthropologist who desires to take seriously the embodied, sensory, and emotional quality of culture, Kimberley Stories will no doubt bring up one's own fond memories and inspire us to heed the memories of others.

To cite this review, the American Anthropological Association recommends the following style:
Eller, Jack David
2012 Review of Kimberley Stories. Anthropology Review Database December 19, 2012., accessed January 2, 2013.

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