Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Riding the Black Cockatoo by John Danalis

February 2010, Allen & Unwin (distributed by Frances Lincoln)
276 pages, Paperback
Review Copy

Non-fiction, 14 years +

Level of information: 4
Ease of reading: 4
Smiles: 5
Tears: 2
Nayuleska's recommended rating: ♥♥♥♥

Summary from Frances Lincoln

This is the compelling true story of how the skull of an Aboriginal man, found on the banks of the Murray River over 40 years ago, came to be returned to his Wamba Wamba descendants. It is a story of awakening, atonement, forgiveness and friendship. 'It is as if a whole window into Indigenous culture has blown open, not just the window, but every door in the house,' says John Danalis. Part history, part detective story, part cultural discovery and emotional journey, this is a book for young and old, showing the transformative and healing power of true reconciliation.

The above summary is correct. However, it doesn't really get across the humourous voice of John Danalis. For years he thought nothing of the skull in his family's living room. It was only when he dug around for research that he realised it belonged to an Aboriginal man, and needed to be repatriated.

In this book, John tells the reader the journey he embarked on with the skull. It did involve riding with a black cockatoo. There were several points in his story where John made a mistake, by saying the wrong thing or saying too much. However, the people involved didn't take him the wrong way. Often their response was the opposite to what he expected. He didn't realise how friendly people could be, in helping one skull be returned to where it belongs.

The process of repatriating the skull wasn't an easy one. Finding out who he needed to contact for repatriation was actually easier than removing the skull from his house. I'm not going to spoil the story and say why that was the case. John's self-imposed mission (a necessary one), affected not only his life, but those of all around him, especially his family and friends.

John's humour saw him through the darker points of the journey, of which were there were a few (albeit brief). It doesn't make light of the matter of repatriation, which is an important one. But his humour will, I hope, help people to understand how important repatriation is.

I didn't really know much about the Aborigines in Australia until I visited family over there around 5 years ago. There was a huge exhibition going on in one of Sydney's museums (or art galleries..I can't remember!). I saw a lot of aboriginal artwork there, which made Riding the Black Cockatoo that bit more intriguing for me. I wasn't disappointed, and hope to read more work by John Danalis.

2 comments:

Charmaine Clancy said...

Great cover art.

Nayuleska said...

I forgot to add this book has photos in of the skull and people involve din the repatriation :)