December 2008 – January 2009

Arts & Letters

‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ by Paul Kelly & Kev Carmody

By Mungo MacCallum
Illustrations by Peter Hudson & Gurindji schoolchildren

This is the book of the song that has become the anthem of the reconciliation movement. A century after the birth of Vincent Lingiari and 20 years after his death, the walkout of stockmen he led at Wave Hill Station in 1966 and its triumphant resolution in 1975 remains a turning point in Australian history: the translation of the Aboriginal-rights movement from theoretical expressions of good intentions into the practical outcome of land rights.

The struggle of the Gurindji people has had many spin-offs over the years: the book The Unlucky Australians, by their great supporter Frank Hardy, who also introduced the eye surgeon Fred Hollows to the strikers and sparked his altruistic career; the song ‘Gurindji Blues', by Ted Egan; and the iconic photo of Gough Whitlam pouring sand into Lingiari's hands. But it is the Kelly-Carmody work that has gone into folklore, and which was triumphantly revived when Kevin Rudd restarted the reconciliation process with his apology to the Stolen Generations.

And now it is a book, wonderfully illustrated by the Gurindji kids in their settlements at Daguragu and Kalkarinji, and by the Queensland artist Peter Hudson. It's all about the song, of course, and there is even a translation into the Gurindji language, itself now endangered. Martin Flanagan has contributed a useful and optimistic introduction, and all proceeds from the book will be returned to fund projects for Gurindji youth. Appropriately, the project took place under the patronage of Tom Uren, a Whitlam minister who has been with the Gurindji from the start of their struggle.

This is a book of huge symbolic importance, a reminder of a groundbreaking triumph of the past and a message of hope and exhortation for the future: "That was the story of Vincent Lingiari / But this is the story of something much more / How power and privilege cannot move a people / Who know where they stand and stand in the law." When he received the sand from his prime minister, the old stockman said simply, "We be mates now." But we're not, not really; there is still much to do. To remind us just how much, this book should be in every Australian library, office, classroom and home.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum was a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Much of his work can be found here: The View from Billinudgel.

There is nowhere quite like The Monthly. We are told that we live in a time of diminished attention spans; a time where the 24-hour-news-cycle has produced a collective desire for hot takes and brief summaries of the news and ideas that effect us. But we don’t believe it. The need for considered, reflective, long-form journalism has never been greater, and for almost 20 years, that’s what The Monthly has offered, from some of our finest writers.

That kind of quality writing costs money, and requires the support of our readers. Your subscription to The Monthly allows us to be the home for the best, most considered, most substantial perspectives on the state of the world. It’s Australia’s only current affairs magazine, an indispensable home for cultural commentary, criticism and reviews, and home to personal and reflective essays that celebrate and elevate our humanity.

The Monthly doesn’t just comment on our culture, our society and our politics: it shapes it. And your subscription makes you part of that.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

From the front page

Kim Williams seen through window with arms half-raised

The interesting Mr Williams

At a time when the ABC faces more pressure than ever before, is its new chair the right person for the job?

Exterior of the Department of Treasury, Canberra

Tax to grind

Tax reform should not be centred on what we want, but on who we want to be

Rehearsal for the ABC TV show ‘Cooking with Wine’, March 13, 1956

Whose ABC?

Amid questions of relevance and culture war hostilities, the ABC’s charter clearly makes the case for a government-funded national broadcaster

Tony McNamara in New York City, January 2024

Pure things: Tony McNamara

How the Australian screenwriter of ‘Poor Things’, who cut his teeth on shows such as ‘The Secret Life of Us’, earnt his second Oscar nomination

In This Issue

Between a muddle & a mystery

Brian Dibble’s ‘Doing Life’

Big thoughts, empire burlesque

Oliver Stone’s ‘W’

Going private

Simone de Beauvoir & Jean-Paul Sartre, then & now

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Alfred Deakin & John Bunyan


More in Arts & Letters

David Malouf, March 2015 in Sydney

An imagined life: David Malouf

Celebrating the literary great’s 90th birthday with a visit to his incongruous home of Surfers Paradise to discuss a life in letters

Tony McNamara in New York City, January 2024

Pure things: Tony McNamara

How the Australian screenwriter of ‘Poor Things’, who cut his teeth on shows such as ‘The Secret Life of Us’, earnt his second Oscar nomination

Jeffrey Wright in ‘American Fiction’

The dread of the author: ‘American Fiction’ and ‘Argylle’

Cord Jefferson’s satire about Black artists fighting white perceptions of their work runs out of ideas, while Matthew Vaughn’s spy movie parody has no ideas of its own

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Pictures of you

The award-winning author kicks off our new fiction series with a story of coming to terms with a troubled father’s obsessions


More in Noted

Cover of Sheila Heti’s ‘Alphabetical Diaries’

Sheila Heti’s ‘Alphabetical Diaries’

The Canadian writer’s presentation of sentence-long entries from her diaries, organised alphabetically, delivers a playful and unpredictable self-examination

Cover of Lauren Oyler’s ‘No Judgement: On Being Critical’

Lauren Oyler’s ‘No Judgement’

The American author and critic’s essay collection moves from her gripes with contemporary cultural criticism to personal reflection

Cover of ‘Kids Run the Show’

Delphine de Vigan’s ‘Kids Run the Show’

The French author’s fragmentary novel employs the horror genre to explore anxieties about intimacy, celebrity and our infatuation with life on screens

Still from ‘Boy Swallows Universe’

‘Boy Swallows Universe’

The magical realism in Netflix’s adaptation of Trent Dalton’s bestselling novel derails its tender portrayal of family drama in 1980s Brisbane’s suburban fringe


Online latest

Osamah Sami with members of his local mosque

In ‘House of Gods’, Sydney’s Muslim community gets to be complicated

Plus, Barnaby Joyce shines in ‘Nemesis’, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott deliver ‘Bottoms’, and Chloë Sevigny and Molly Ringwald step up for ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’.

International Film Festival Rotterdam highlights

Films from Iran, Ukraine and Bundaberg were deserving winners at this year’s festival

Two women on a train smile and shake hands

‘Expats’ drills down on Hong Kong’s class divide

Plus, Netflix swallows Trent Dalton, Deborah Mailman remains in ‘Total Control’ and ‘Vanderpump Rules’ returns for another season

Image of a man playing music using electronics and the kora (West African harp)

Three overlooked albums of spiritual jazz from 2023

Recent releases by kora player John Haycock, trumpeter Matthew Halsall and 14-piece jazz ensemble Ancient Infinity Orchestra feel like a refuge from reality