Monday, June 17, 2013

A Brief Stop in Australia (Pt 2)

One of my desires for this year was to imbibe in Australian literature. While exalting over finding a copy of Nevil Shute's A Town Like Alice at my local used bookstore, the owner called my attention to a book she had run across entitled Mutant Message Downunder. She told me everyone that she has recommended it to had loved it, but that she wasn't sure about the accuracy of everything in the book.  Always up for reading something new, I purchased the book and decided to give it a go.

Mutant Message Downunder by Marlo Morgan

When I finished the book I said, "Wow!" for I had read it in one day, entirely intrigued with the Aboriginal wisdom and their difficult existence. Originally self-published as a memoir detailing the author's experience with a group of Aborigines who practically kidnapped her to go walkabout with the express purpose of giving her their message for the world. However, the book left me with a few niggling questions, such as why would Aborigines want a complete stranger to go walkabout with them? Why would Aborigines entrust an outsider (an American at that!) to proclaim their "message"? This took me back to re-read a note from the author in the beginning of the book that emphasized that her story was true in spite of doubters! Not convinced, I made the decision to do a little research to find out what aspects of this memoir were causing controversy. I turned to Wikipedia for some answers, and found that the author admitted at a later date (after a good deal of pressure from critics) that the story was indeed fiction. It seems the book offended many Aborigines that Ms. Morgan would pose as their "messenger". It does seem pretty brazen on her part! It is also disappointing. It would be nice to have available a first-hand account of Aboriginal life.

But in spite of the controversies, the book does offer some good insight into Aboriginal religion, traditions and culture. -Of course, its difficult to know how much is accurate without some background of the Aborigines.- Nevertheless, the book does contain many quote-worthy statements, here are a couple:

~These people believe everything exists on the planet for a reason. There are no freaks, misfits, or accidents. there are only misunderstandings and mysteries not yet revealed to mortal man.

Marlo Morgan
~I liked the idea of looking back over my life and considering even when it appeared I had made mistakes or poor choices, on some level of my BEING, it was the best I could do at the time and in the longrun it was going to prove to be a step progressing forward.

In spite of the author's confusion over what entails fiction and what doesn't, Mutant Message Downunder is a riveting tale. Would I recommend it? Only if the reader knew before reading that it is fiction and they were okay with that.This was a 3-star read for me.


Tracks by Robyn Davidson

Now here's a book that I DO recommend with no hesitation! You know how on the jackets of books they will say things like "Absorbing", "Genuinely astonishing..." and "...a landmark in the genre.."? Well, Doris Lessing lauds Tracks on its front cover saying "This will rank among the best books on exploration and travel." and I fully agree with her. this is why:

1) Robyn Davidson makes no attempt to impress, astound or toot her own horn. What this lady accomplished is amazing! How many women do you know who walked 1700 miles (mostly alone) across the Australian Outback with 4 camels and a dog? But, Davidson doesn't pat herself on the back, rather she freely admits when her mental state is in shambles including her doubts and fears in herself. The honesty was refreshing.

Robyn Davidson

2) The reader gets a firsthand account of the desert terrain, its beauty and pitfalls. Davidson doesn't hold back in describing man's destructiveness of the Outback, but this is not a running diatribe about the environment or a plea on behalf of an environmental organization. Davidson abhors the lack of concern about the desert and its natural inhabitants, particularly the detrimental mining practices, but she keeps her focus on telling her story.

3) Often adventure memoirs are written by Westerners visiting a foreign location and attempting something daring. This book is written by an Australian attempting a desert crossing with camels in her own country. Its in her own lingo, about her own country and her own countrymen, and the crossing is accomplished in her own Aussie way. The result is a wonderful picture of Outback culture.

4) If you ever wondered what its like to train, ride and care for camels, this book gives an up close look. Honestly, I don't understand her attachment to the beasts (her word), but they do provide entertaining drama! I feel more educated about camel's needs and care for having read this book.

5) Facts about desert creatures, plants, Aboriginal lifestyle, Australian history
Robyn & her camels
and culture are sprinkled throughout the book. It left me wanting to visit Australia!
Some Aussie-talk just for fun

~Name calling. What Robin found a 'mate' is not according to the drunken stereotypical Australian Outback male:  wog, pom, rice-eye, boong, poofter, slope, wanker to name a few of the milder racist terms. (Robin found these men very distasteful.)
~Camel's names. Dookie, Bub, Zeleika and her calf, Goliath. Dog. Diggity
~Aussie terms. Widdershins    Translation = water-worn gulleys
Above it was an ancient whip bucket which I had Buckley's and none of being able to use.
Translation = no chance of using the whip bucket

Quotes from book

Re: Eddie, an older Aboriginal-tongue speaking man who walked with her for about 100 miles of her journey.
Road train in Australian Outback

For the next two days Eddie and I walked together, we played charades trying to communicate and fell in to fits of hysteria at each other's antics. We stalked rabbits and missed, picked bush foods and generally had a good time. He was sheer pleasure to be with, exuding all those qualities typical of old Aboriginal people - strength, warmth, self-possession, wit, and a kind of rootedness, a substantiality that immediately commanded respect. And I wondered as we walked along, how the word 'primitive' with all its subtle and nasty connotations ever got to be associated with people like this.

Re: her sudden fame  as the 'camel lady'

The reaction was totally unexpected and it was very, very weird. I was now public property. I was now a kind of symbol. I was now an object of ridicule for small-minded sexists, and I was a crazy, irresponsible adventurer (though not as crazy as I would have been had I failed). But worse than all that, I was now a mythical being who had done something courageous and outside the possibilities that ordinary people could hope for. And that was the antithesis of what I wanted to share. That anyone could do anything. If I could bumble my way across a desert, then anyone could do anything. And that was true especially for women, who have used cowardice for so long to protect themselves that it has become a habit.

This was a solid 4-star read for me and recommended to Around-the World and adventure memoir readers.

The next two stories in my chronological Steinbeck tour.

Happy reading and see you Monday for the next post!


  1. Tracks sounds like my kind of book. Thank you for highlighting it.

  2. I read Mutant Message Down Under because my mother in law said it was deep and meaningful and contained an important message, but I pretty much rolled my eyes through the whole thing. The one detail I remember is a gross one, these years later- the flies cleaning her teeth? *shudder*

  3. @Chelsea Thank-you. I do believe you would enjoy it. :-)

    @Jenny Lol. I had forgotten about that, but yes, that was gross! I disagree about the message though. I found many passages that were meaningful.

  4. "Tracks" does sound interesting. But I agree with Jenny on "Mutant Message...". It was one of the few books unfortunate enough to get just one star from me. I didn't like the narrator, and while there are some interesting things about Aboriginal culture, the messages were too obvious for me. Like she just wrote them down, but didn't understand them.