Songs of Central Australia Part 2

 

 

Carl Strehlow died in the blistering heat of a desert, a great man lost to posterity.

The sole inheritance bequeathed to his young son Theodore – or as he was known ‘Ted’ – were tens of thousands of words written in German about the language, culture and beliefs of the Aranda people of Central Australia.

It was a meagre inheritance in monetary terms; a hidden wealth for someone fluent in German and Aranda.

And for the 14 year old Ted that was given having grown up as an only child on a remote  mission station and been educated by his parents – and spent his childhood with Aranda kids of his own age.

After the death of his father, Ted, accompanied by his mother Frieda travelled south to Adelaide to start a new life. Few would have predicted that Ted would adapt as successfully as he did. When he arrived in Adelaide he had never attended a school, rarely worn shoes, and never been in the company of white people. Yet he finished High School by topping the state in German, Greek and Latin and winning a scholarship to attend Adelaide University. In 1931, he gained a Masters’ degree with distinction. 

He seemed destined for a solid and secure career as an academic. But the bequest of his father proved far more powerful…….  Read more

Songs of Central Australia Part 1

It took two men, father and son, and the passing of almost eighty years to write it: ‘Songs of Central Australia’, one the greatest non-fiction books ever written and a precursor to the revolution in attitudes towards the original inhabitants of Australia.

The story behind the writing of Songs in Central Australia is no less remarkable than the book itself…….

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Blueprint for Genocide

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When I flew from capitol of  Cambodia, Phnom Pen, to the town of Ban Loeng, lying in the east of Cambodia, it was with a simple aim in mind: I wanted to see the jungles where during the 1960´s a small group of young idealists forged their blueprint for one of the greatest acts of genocide ever committed…..

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Joining the Pilgrims – Part 1

 

Located in the state of Gujarat in the west of India, Junagadh was a pilgrim town with a difference.

A few kilometres outside of town, on top of a high ridge, were famous temples.

But to reach the temples, the pilgrim had to climb stone steps: 10, 000 of them.

That was a lot of steps.

I didn’t have a problem with the idea of ascending all those steps. A pilgrimage, as far as I was concerned, wasn’t meant to be easy. My conviction on this point emerged after previous visits to the famous pilgrim towns on the coast of Gujarat: Dwarka and Somnath.

In Dwarka and Somnath there were temples which were famous all over India and which every year were visited by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims – and their number was increasing rapidly. It was in these sacred towns that I got to see the contemporary Hindu pilgrimage industry first hand.  The pilgrims came in luxury coaches or cars, stayed in luxury hotels, dined out and bought souvenirs – and in between visited the temples. They were a part of a corporate pilgrimage industry.

Vendors did a brisk trade selling trinkets and souvenirs and in the temples, the priests had thoughtfully installed ATM’s to facilitate the donation cash flow.  The spirit of consumerism had scored a complete triumph in India – supposedly a ‘spiritual’ land. 

At the outskirts of Dwarka and Somnath, armies of peons worked like ants to build new luxury hotels and kitsch parks full of statues, avenues, ponds, swings and rides.

The Holy Site converted into a theme park.

In the past, pilgrims who went to sacred towns like Dwarka and Somnath had to endure great hardships to get there. More than a few of them would have perished on the way.

Of course, climbing ten thousand steps wasn’t the same as experiencing the ancient pilgrim’s uncertain, primordial world, but it did at least put more emphasis on the notion of the pilgrimage involving physical effort; of the means of getting to the end destination being at least as important as the end destination itself…….. 

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Evening Shadows

 

I must have been 5 or 6 the first time I saw the painting ‘Evening Shadows’ at the South Australian Art Gallery.

I didn´t like it and for a good reason. 

I was with my grandfather from my mother´s side.

Karl Wurfel was a devout Christian of the Old Testament kind. His god was a stern disciplinarian and a hard task master. He thought nothing of beating a young kid with a length of cane. I had experienced that and I hated him.

Why my mother ever left me with he and his neurotic wife was a mystery. She knew what her father was like. Karl had regularly beaten her and her sister. Then again, she was suffering from undiagnosed depression and making a bad job of caring for me and my younger sister.

Thankfully my relationship with the Wurfels didn’t last long because my father, who was in the Air Force, was posted out of Adelaide.

So there I was standing next to that tyrant looking up at ‘Evening Shadows’.

What did grandfather see in that painting?

He must have seen something because at one point, he seemed to be in a trance……

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