An American woman is visiting Australia to work in healthcare when she notices the scarcity of Aboriginal people around her, and the desperate condition those few she does see appear to be living in. She sets up a program to help young Aboriginal men use their skills to create items they can sell, and set up a small business. She admires their cooperativeness and tells of listening to stories of how their culture is being lost. Then she gets a summons from the other side of the continent to attend a meeting of an Aboriginal tribe. Thinking she is going to be recognized at some kind of luncheon, she gets in a jeep with a man who takes her to a remote location in the Outback. Before she realizes what is happening, she has been told to leave all her belongings behind, donned a rough strip of cloth, and is accompanying the tribe on a months-long walkabout.
The rest of the book is her telling about learning how the people live in the desert, their spiritual outlook and their opinions on modern ideas (what few she is able to convey to them, or they have heard about from their ‘scouts’ who go into cities). She describes going through various ‘tests’ the people use to ascertain her readiness for information, being taken to sacred sites and taught cultural secrets. It presents a really interesting idea of how people can live in perfect harmony with each other and the landscape, in a belief system that promotes each person becoming their own best self. I was interested to read the parts that described the desert landscape and weather, the methods of finding and preparing foods, and how they merged their lives with nature. Other things struck me as a bit hokey or hard to believe- in particular her description of ‘dream catchers’ made from spiderwebs and of mental telepathy communication among the tribe members.
Well it turns out this book is reputedly a fake- but I didn’t know about the controversy until I was done reading it. My copy (found at a thrift store) has an introduction and afterword that make you think it’s a true story, but the publication information clearly denotes it as fiction. Look up the title online and you can find lots of sites that discuss it. It’s said to be an insulting misrepresentation of the Aboriginal culture, and Aboriginal groups have tried to ban its publication. Ultimately, after reading more about this book, I’ve decided not to keep it. While I enjoyed my first reading of it, I don’t want to shelve something that might give future readers such blatantly false ideas about another culture. Meaning my kids, mostly, if they were ever interested in reading books from my personal library.