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 is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

Cover: December 2008 - January 2009

December 2008 – January 2009

From the front page

A promising backflip

The federal budget appears to be back in shape … finally

Image from ‘Atlanta’

‘Atlanta’: thrillingly subversive

Donald Glover’s uncommon blend of the everyday and the absurd makes a masterful return

Image of Peter Dutton

South African farmers: we will decide

Australia, refugees and the politics of fear

Image from ‘The Americans’

‘The Americans’, the Russians and the perils of parallels

Why sometimes it’s better to approach art on its own terms


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Alfred Deakin & John Bunyan

Feeling lucky

What drives economic optimism?

‘A Mercy’ by Toni Morrison

Tradition, truth & tomorrow


More in Arts & Letters

Image of Pompeii

Ceridwen Dovey’s ‘In the Garden of the Fugitives’

Reality flexes at the edges of Dovey’s second novel

Still from The Death of Stalin

Armando Iannucci’s ‘The Death of Stalin’

This Soviet satire pushes comedy’s tragedy-plus-time formula to the limit

Young Fathers’ ‘Cocoa Sugar’

The Scottish group’s third album proves they don’t sound like anyone else

Installation view of Mass by Ron Mueck, 2016–17

The NGV Triennial

A new exhibition series’ first instalment delivers a heady mix of populism and politics


More in Noted

Tim Winton’s ‘The Shepherd’s Hut’

One of Australia’s most acclaimed novelists offers a painful and beautiful story of redemption

Zadie Smith’s ‘Feel Free’

In this collection of essays, Smith shines when she’s addressing the personal

‘The Only Story’ by Julian Barnes

The meticulous novelist takes on the oldest subject there is

‘Lady Bird’ directed by Greta Gerwig

The debut director goes home to make a funny, touching film about wanting to leave it


Read on

Image from ‘Atlanta’

‘Atlanta’: thrillingly subversive

Donald Glover’s uncommon blend of the everyday and the absurd makes a masterful return

Image of Peter Dutton

South African farmers: we will decide

Australia, refugees and the politics of fear

Image from ‘The Americans’

‘The Americans’, the Russians and the perils of parallels

Why sometimes it’s better to approach art on its own terms

Image of Hugh Grant in ‘Maurice’

Merchant Ivory connects gilded surfaces with emotional depth

Restraint belies profundity in ‘Maurice’, ‘Howards End’ and more


×
×