///johnsreviewblog: I, the Aboriginal

A path for learning…

A fascinating read, I, the Aboriginal. An autobiography written by Douglas Lockwood about Philip Roberts, an Aboriginal man who’s real name is Waipuldanya, before becoming a ‘citizen’ of the Northern Territory. Waipuldanya’s life story begins with his recollection of being a piccaninny, and his tribal upbringing. The story depicts an Aboriginal culture which is rich in rituals and complex beliefs. For me this story has set me on a path of learning…

Waipuldanya, of the Alawa tribe began life on the Roper River in south-eastern Arnhem Land. The story describes in great detail the way life was for Waipuldanya as a piccaninny, as I interpret, in the period of 30 years prior to 1953, and into the late 1950’s. The context here is significant. In this autobiographical account, W. ( Waipuldanya ) introduces us into an Aboriginal way of life which had largely been untouched for fifteen thousand years, rich in rituals and beliefs…and regarded as pagan by the encroaching ‘white-feller’ society. His account lays bare feelings which to this day would still be in the minds of many traditional Aboriginal people. Waipuldanya points out, despite his ‘acceptance’ into citizenship, there has been no change to his Aboriginal status, I quote: …“My responsibilities to the Alawa people remain as they were. To them, I am Waipuldanya or Wadjiri-Wadjiri of the Bungadi skin. I am a Djungayi and will remain so…If I return to the Roper River while a Kunapipi is in progress I will be expected to examine the body decorations of the men…to act as Master of Ceremonies. My daughters’ uncle, Johnny Nunguru, will say whom they shall marry. Citizenship has not given me that right…Nor has it helped to resolve the conflict between my inherited pagan beliefs and the Christian religion I was taught by the missionaries…Yes, I believe in God. But I also believe in the Earth Mother, the Rainbow Serpent, and my Kangaroo Totem. They gave us all we have: my tribal country, our food, my wife, our children, our culture. Nothing…nothing…will change that.” ( page 238/239 – edition 1995 – Seal Books )

A Lack of Understanding …

I read in comments in other reviews which have labelled some of the story as ‘sexist’, … these comments miss the point, in fact, it shows a lack of understanding of anthropological issues, and immaturity in interpretation of historical fact. Our opinions are quick to judge, and of course, I believe in equality of men and women, but bestowing our own cultural, political and religious  beliefs onto others opens up another gate for philosophical debate as complicated as the creation of the universe. It is therefore pointless to dwell on my opinion re sexism in Aboriginal culture.

It wasn’t all that long ago…

It’s timeline of the story that make this account so powerful, W. highlights with his candid and well-founded opinion the chasm that exists between the recent ( in the last 100 years ) upheaval of primeval Aboriginal society and the “Mission-driven, money-driven…etc” white-feller. Waipuldanya becomes Philip Roberts, his white-feller name, a trained medical officer dedicated to the welfare of his people, often travelling hundreds of miles by foot to treat remote tribes suffering the scourge of yaws, and leprosy. Hunting, and living off what the Land provides, instead of carrying tins of food…


The story for me was an eye-opener, educational. At times, not easy to read…not because of content, but because there’s so much information, and the descriptions of some of the complex rituals are a little convoluted. But it is my lack of understanding of the Dreaming, the Rainbow Serpent … and more, that makes this all the more interesting but also very mystifying. I am still trying to absorb…and without a doubt I will have to revisit the story again, in the future.
The issues in relation to gaining some understanding of Aboriginal culture and its integration into our Anglo-Saxon world are complex, with huge vacuums between the connecting dots. This story goes beyond the populist rants about the stolen generation, incarcerations, and the hunting parties in the late 1800’s. We don’t learn from these rants. Instead, we remain stuck in futile finger-pointing. Waipuldanya possesses a wisdom which highlights so many of our ‘white-feller’ shortcomings, greed … avarice, our blindness to life around us, to name a few.
There is much to be learned from: I, the Aboriginal.
This story should be read by every kid that goes to school in Australia. 

2018-03-03T13:24:28+00:00