Australia is one of the go-to places on my ‘bucket list’ as I have long been fascinated with its culture and the concept of ‘dreamtime’. Along came a book that placed me smack dab, at least vicariously in the landscape as woven in the true life tale of Aboriginal Elder Banjo Clarke whose 2000 funeral was a testament to the love that this man embodied while he walked the Earth.
In Banjo’s dialect, the story was told to Camilla Chance; who encountered him in a (no pun intended:) chance meeting in 1975. She is an author, book reviewer, lyric writer and speaker whose love of Aboriginal culture is evident in this meandering back and forth walk-about journey. As his children spoke of in the foreword, Aboriginal culture values oral tradition and this is story telling at its finest. It took 27 years for this shared labor of love to be birthed and the result is well worth waiting for. A collaborative effort, Banjo seemed to take delight in taking the reader along for the trip. To understand how precious this book is, know that written references to Aboriginal spiritual practice are rare. Clearly, there was mutual trust between the two.
He was uncertain of his date of birth which is appropriate to this story, since Banjo believed in simultaneous occurences. “There is no past, everything is still happening.” He was born into the Kirrae Whurrong tribe of the Gunditjmara nation on the Framingham Mission in the 1920’s. Not educated in the mainstream world; he left the classroom as a youngster when he saw a teacher hit another child. From then on, life became his teacher. He respected his traditions, all the while, carrying them with him into modern life. Always feeling a connection with his ancestors, and the land on which he lived, regardless of how much he traveled about, the last telling line in his dialog with Chance, offered a small hint of his devotion: “You always come back to your homeland. You always come back.”
Much like the racism that African American people have faced in the U.S., so too have Aborignal people encountered in their native land. What is admirable about Banjo throughout the story is that he held fast to his beliefs that people are inherently good and those who act in violent, negative ways, are simply unhappy. Not that he excuses it, but explains it. He encountered people, including Chance, who are of the Baha’i faith that painted much of his world view as a result. Seeing kindness and acceptance, it fed his already open-hearted manner.
Photographs of Banjo and is family of origin, the next generations and family of choice that he attracted throughout his life give the reader a sense of his impact on those around him. A family tree in the front of the book highlights the generations the precede him; he descended from Aboriginal chiefs, but his sense of royalty emerged from his heart. He expresses pride in the next generations of Clarkes who will, no doubt carry on Banjo’s loving legacy.