Friday, 10 April 2009

Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines - David Unaipon

Read: April 2008

If you have any interest in Aboriginal beliefs, culture or mythology then this is the book to read. David Unaipon – writer, inventor, and the man now featured on the Australian $50 note - was one of the first Aborigines to put down on paper the legends and customs that make his race unique, and as such, played a huge role in demonstrating the validity of Aboriginal culture. He was a man of intelligence, faith and vision, and believed that there were many similarities between Aboriginal and Christian values.

And all of this comes through here. Despite being originally published – or should we say pilfered! – in 1930 under the name W. Ramsay Smith (the then Chief Medical Officer of South Australia) it has now been repatriated and stands here complete and unabridged. The result is a fascinating insight into Aboriginal culture and mythology, which at the same time demonstrates the similarities between the moral, religious, and social basis of white and indigenous cultures. The stories are diverse and enthralling, full of colourful mythology and writings on everything from education, to food, to sport. And although they are not written in the most comfortable prose, they contain a treasure trove of ideas.

I read this as research for a novel I am writing, and for that it was absolutely ideal. The folklore is full of reverence for nature and anthropomorphism and supported by information on the underlying culture. There are tales of love and treachery, of creation and vengeance. I particularly loved the tale of the Thalung (tongue). You can never know too much about world mythology, and this is a very worthwhile addition to anyone interested in the history of oral storytelling.

7 out of 10

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