Saturday, June 8, 2013

Donald Thomson in Arnhem Land by Donald Thomson.

Donald Thomson in Arnhem Land by Donald Thomson, compiled and introduced by Nicolas Peterson.  Hardcover book published by Currey O’Neil 1983, 146 pages with some black and white photographs and maps.


The Caledon Bay crisis was one of those historical events that seems to have slipped past my knowing.  Yet after finding this book and doing a bit of interweb searching so that I can write this blog entry (and maybe sound like I know what I’m talking about), I think it is one of those stories that I should have known about long before finding this book and writing about it. 

“The Caledon Bay crisis refers to a series of killings at Caledon Bay in the Northern Territory of Australia during 1932–34. These events are widely seen as a turning point in relations between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.” Wikipedia 

There was a lot of killing, rape and a genuine fear that what was a problem in a remote part of the country, could escalate into a full blown Aboriginal uprising.  And then out of the blue along comes this guy, Donald Thomson, who offers to go and fix the problem and surprise, surprise, he does.  I guess that goes to show you, that if you listen, you can fix problems.  The sad truth is that an Anthropologist was always going to be more sympathetic to Australia’s indigenous population than a bureaucracy that didn’t recognise these people as citizens for another thirty years.

This book is a first hand account of Donald’s time in Arnhem Land and doesn’t just look at the “crisis”.   It’s got some great photographs, that seem to me to convey his genuine interest in the locals and in return, their trust in him.  One of his photographs was used as an inspiration for the film 10 Canoes.  

April 1937 

Sir Arthur Bryant wrote that “If a Victoria Cross were awarded for peaceful acts of valour, Donald Thomson deserved the decoration as much as any man.”  I think I agree.  This is definitely a book of interest.

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