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Book of the week

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Bell, Diane (ed.), Kungun Ngarrindjeri Miminar Yunnan (Listen to Ngarrindjeri Women Speaking)Kungun Ngarrindjeri Miminar Yunnan (Listen to Ngarrindjeri Women Speaking), Diane Bell (ed.), cover image. Spinifex Press, Melbourne, 2008, RRP $34.95, ISBN 9781876756697

In 2003 Elders of the Ngarrindjeri Nation, representing the indigenous people of the Lower Murray, the Lakes and the Coorong, presented 'the Proclamation of Ngarrindjeri Dominion' to the then South Australian Governor, emphasising that they had always occupied their traditional lands and never ceded or sold these lands or waters to others.

This same spirit of defiance is evident in Kungun Ngarrindjeri Miminar Yunnan (Listen to Ngarrindjeri Women Speaking), which chronicles the stories and aspirations of powerful Ngarrindjeri women.

The proclamation was intended to remind the government of the original Letters Patent of 1836 issued to Governor Hindmarsh in London by the Crown of the United Kingdom, which expressly provided for the rights of the indigenous inhabitants. In this book there is a continuity of that same spirit of feisty resistance which has survived from those earlier times until the present.

This link to the past is symbolised too by the circular weaving of baskets and mats which is still a feature of Ngarrindjeri enterprise. 'The past constitutes who we are today' is a recurring theme in this book and ancient stories help to weave together a people separated by historical, non-indigenous interventions.

From its opening prologue Kungun Ngarrindjeri Miminar Yunnan adopts a 'take-no-prisoners' attitude as its authors grapple with a number of contemporary issues. These are women who 'have had enough of this system of things' and are 'tired of always having to explain our existence and to prove our Aboriginality'.

Although the book does contain traditional stories handed down from earlier generations (such as the 'Story of the Seven Sisters'), this 'army of motherhood' chooses to confront current issues like the Northern Territory Intervention, care for land (in the face of impending catastrophe in the Lower Murray), economic development and appropriate methods of governance.

The book was fashioned through a painstaking series of workshops, facilitated by editor and anthropologist Diane Bell, and this process reveals an extraordinary spirit of cooperation. Conversations and negotiations took seven months, with young, old, female and male Ngarrindjeri contributing.

The launch took place in Murray Bridge, directly opposite the cemetery where my great-grandparents are buried. My great-grandfather in the 19th century felled trees and cut stone in quarries on Ngarrindjeri land to supply the nearby expanding city of Adelaide. It was inspiring to see the Ngarrindjeri women on the other side of the road surviving, strong, determined and still 'on the warpath'.

Kungun Ngarrindjeri Miminar Yunnan (Spinifex Press website)

John BartlettJohn Bartlett's features and short stories have been published widely in magazines and newspapers. His debut novel Towards a Distant Sea was released in 2005. He teaches Professional Writing at Deakin University.


Topic tags: Diane Bell, ISBN 9781876756697, Kungun Ngarrindjeri Miminar Yunnan, Ngarrindjeri Women



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Existing comments

The Murray river belongs to the people of Australia and the people who have been there the longest must have a strong claim to its care. Congratulationd to the Ngarrindjeri women for their brave efforts to reverse some of the harm that white people have done to the ecology of Australia

Ray O'Donoghue | 29 August 2008  

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