Belonging: Australians, Place and Aboriginal Ownership

Article excerpt

Belonging: Australians, Place And Aboriginal Ownership Peter Read Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN O 521 77409 8,

Reviewed by

Sue J Stanton

An interesting book which explores the feelings of non-Aboriginal Australians as they search for real sense of belonging in a stolen land. The opening chapter 'Deep in the Sandstone Gorges' introduces the reader to the author's own feelings of attachment and belonging to the sandstone country and surrounds of the north Sydney district. He is careful for the reader to note the different and many ceremonies of significance, which anchor him and different generations of family and acquaintances to these places. He tells us he belongs there - he makes a strong statement, almost a challenge, in regard to his right to belong.

Read has ably represented Aborigines in some past writings, and makes some effort with his inclusion of the Aboriginal voice in this work so as to give the book some balance. The first section of the chapter 'Men's Business' gives possibly the best example, and the largest portion of Aboriginal sense of belonging, albeit, experienced by a non-Aboriginal person. 'Singing the Native-Born', in adhering to the overall theme of the book, has as the overriding topic in many places, and in various genres, the constant need for non-Aborigines especially, to justify their belonging.

The native-born appear to take great comfort from their notions of attachment to the land through hard work that Aborigines do not seem to be involved in, or never have been involved in, in any capacity. The white man on the land, who works through fire and flood because it's in his heart and in his blood, tells us he has more right to belong. The native-born seeks the support of a cross-section of non-Aboriginal Australians, through prose, song, and general attitude, to reinforce belonging. The native-born feel if they write enough, sing enough, and make constant expression about belonging, in whatever form, it will eventually legitimate belonging for them, and will erase the truth.

Read's research in regard to others' sense of belonging is limited with its carefully selected group of non-Aborigines relating personal experiences and explorations of feelings, and their individual sense of belonging. The added voices of the newly arrived Australians helps legitimate the belonging. These Australians are fortunate in that they are able to distance themselves somewhat from Australian colonial practices and attitudes, past and present. They do not stand accused and feel they owe no apology for they are displaced themselves, and seek to belong to this place too. They, along with the native-born, bring with them multifarious traditions, languages, politics, and gods, which they wish to transpose onto this land and its indigenous people. Sadly, these newcomers feel they must participate in the never-ending self-justificatory discourse of the coloniser, and they too, confuse a sense of belonging with right of possession. Read takes comfort from their support.

It seems these Australians have a sense that their identities as native-born or newly-arrived are somehow shallow in comparison with not only the long-time resident Aborigines, but also with their own ancestors. They worry, and fear, that unless Aborigines acknowledge the importance of their difference, their contributions to all aspects of social life, their feelings. …