Friday, October 5, 2012

Pandemics and Aborigines

As I've said before....

I get excited when Australia is mentioned in American books.

In a book I read recently, Australia was mentioned a few times.

The Things That Keep Us Here, by Carla Buckley, is about an avian flu pandemic.  

Before the virus explodes into the pandemic, the protagonist teachers her elementary school art class about Aboriginal art. 

I might have issue with one of the lines in the story. A child says,  I know what I want to do.  I want to make a story about airplanes, but you said the Aborigines don't have planes.

In the past, Aboriginal Australians didn't have planes.

They have them now. 

They live in the modern world.

Why did the teacher say otherwise?

Is she teaching her class about Aboriginal Australians as something that existed in the past but not now?

Anyway.  Whatever.

Later in the chapter, some Aboriginal symbolism is explained.  

Fruitcake once talked about the type of stuff in her blog.  I'm trying to find the post.  I can't.

Did I dream it?

No, I don't think so. 

Carla Buckley's novel says a circle and a dot represents a campfire.

This website says differently.  It says cocentric circles is a campire.

Well...I guess a dot IS a circle.   So a dot inside a circle could be concentric circles.



There's lots of different Aboriginal groups. Did they all have the exact same symbolism for their dot paintings?

It would make sense if they didn't.

So I'm not going to say Buckley is wrong.  

The art class scene doesn't last long.

It's interrupted by a dramatic fire alarm catastrophe. 

Later Australia is mentioned again, though.

As the flu becomes quite monstrous, scientists find a group of Aborigines who are immune.  

Then I think there was also mention of the protagonist having wishes to visit Australia someday.  Or maybe they had planned to move there at some point.  I forget.  


FruitCake said...

Hi Dina,
The link you have provided is the same as one I included in my post about Sally Morgan's paintings.

It sounds a little like the teacher is making two mistakes. The first is to assume Aboriginal culture is dead, or possibly irrelevant because all Aboriginals live in the modern world and are totally integrated.

The other is a common mistake, which is to assume that there is only one group of indigenous people in Australia. There are many different peoples here, the same as in the U.S. and Canada where there were may different indigenous tribes.

So yes, the symbols would vary from one people to another, and the artforms are quite distinct from one area to another. For example, didgeridoos come from one specific part of Oz.

If avian flu arrived here and only one group of Aboriginals had any resistance, it might be payback for all of the diseases we whitefellas introduced, killing hundreds of thousands before some of us even had a chance to do it in person. Sounds like a complicated plot. Well, complicated for me, anyway.

Kate Sparkles said...

Ah I just typed a really long response to this and somehow managed to delete it before it posted.. But to paraphrase - it's a complicated issue due to theany separate tribes, with diverse languages, customs etc. And it's hard to gain a really great insight to Aborigine culture even in Australia as we are taught so little about them, so it must be harder still for an American to truly grasp it and perhaps this author ha a resource that explained the basics of one tribe and ran with that?
And then I whined about a terrible 'mission' trip o Alice Springs that I wa regrettably a part of in high school and how it raised more questions than it answered.

Andrew said...

I was going to say something along the lines of what FruitCake said in her last paragraph.

Dina said...

Fruitcake: I take issue with the author portraying Aboriginal culture as a dead one.

As for lumping all Aboriginal cultures together, I would have more trouble with it if the book was about Aboriginal Australians.

But since it plays such a tiny part in the book; it might have been too confusing to bring in a lot of detail about diversity.

I guess a "some" could have been added; and that would have been a small gentle reminder of diversity. "Some aborigines use a circle and dot to symbolize...."

Kate Sparkles: Sorry your comment was deleted. I hate when that happens!

Yeah. I think Aboriginal culture is diverse and complicated. I wouldn't expect Americans to know the details. Probably not most Australians either. I can't say I know what symbols and traditions go with each of the various Native American tribes.

Maybe there needed to be something simple added to the book to emphasize that a) the culture is still alive; b) it may sometimes involve airplanes; and c) there is diversity.

But she wouldn't need to go into detail about what art symbols go with which people.

In the context of the particular story; I think it would be extraneous.

Andrew: If we were having this conversation on Facebook, you could have just clicked "like".