Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 9, 2020

Tripping with Jenny, by Mudrooroo


Have you ever wondered what those who came of age in the Sixties got up to, in the era of free love (post-Pill but before AIDS)? When mass airline travel was cheap enough for adventurers to hit the hippie trail throughout Southeast Asia and the Indian sub-continent and you could breeze through lackadaisical passport control with a smile? When all you needed was a Lonely Planet and a rucksack, because food and accommodation were amazingly cheap, and the psychedelic freedom extended to freely-available drugs?  How did those staid old folks now in their 70s and 80s play up when they were away from home and the conservative culture of Australia??

In my experience, people who did all that are rarely forthcoming about it.  Sometimes because they freely admit that their memory has been affected by drug use, and sometimes, I suspect, it seems circumspect to draw a veil over those days.  So I was fascinated by Tripping with Jenny, intended to be Mudrooroo’s first instalment of a multi-volume autobiography, but now published posthumously after his death in January 2019.  (See my obituary here).

This is the blurb:

Tripping with Jenny follows the adventures of a young Aborigine identified only by his nickname, Skippy, originally from outback Western Australia, the author of a successful first novel, Wild Cat Falling. He and his wife Jenny set out from Melbourne on the overland route to London via Asia. It is the mid-60s, and the book draws a vivid picture of a time of social unrest and experimentation, of rapid cultural change. On their year-long journey, the couple spend much time hunting for ganja (hashish), ‘tripping’ on marihuana and other drugs. The author’s interest in Eastern religions leads to an initiation into Buddhism that becomes an important part of his existential quest for identity. A picaresque novel of self-discovery, the book explores what it means to be ‘on the road’ and ‘at home’; it highlights the importance of exploring new political horizons in a complex part of the world characterized by the disappearance of an obsolete Imperial order and the trauma of decolonization, as well as the search for alternative cultural models and experiences on the route to ‘swinging London’.

In Tripping with Jenny, Mudrooroo chooses not to re-visit the controversy regarding the origins of his biological family. However, the book provides important new insights into the formative years of his life, as a young adult and budding writer. Tripping with Jenny leaves no doubt regarding Mudrooroo’s insistence on an Indigenous identity based on a life lived and acknowledged as an Aboriginal person. This book includes photographs from the ‘tripping, and an Afterword by Gerhard Fischer, on the importance of this novel in the life of Mudrooroo.

Although the book bears the hallmarks of a draft yet to be revised and properly edited, (including too many typos), Tripping with Jenny is more than just a story of drug-addled meanderings.  About half way through, the narrator ‘Skippy’ makes reference to the book that accompanies him on his journey.  It’s Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which is the highly influential comparative mythology known to have influenced the Star Wars and Disney films, Richard Adam’s Watership Down and many others.   (Joseph Campbell is the author of A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake, which was my bible when I was reading it, so he’s a very clever man.)  ‘Skippy’ claims not to have read the whole of Campbell’s book but thinks that the chapter headings are enough for any meditation. 

Part One: The Adventure of the Hero
Chapter 1: Departure
1. The Call to Adventure
2. Refusal of the Call
3. Supernatural Aid
4. The Crossing of the First Threshold
5. The Belly of the Whale (p.166)

I think these headings, and the diagram which I’ve cribbed from Wikipedia, are enough to see that Mudrooroo was scaffolding his autobiography to fit the ‘the hero’s journey’ a.k.a. the monomyth.  I think the reason that the narrator is ‘Skippy’ and not Mudrooroo himself, is so that the narrative can depart from real life in order to fit his intentions for the book.

You can read more learned thoughts than mine about Tripping with Jenny from Paul Sharrad, University of Wollongong at JASAL.  Sharrad is right that there’s more about the quest for drugs than there is about engaging with the cultures they drift through, but he is relentlessly disapproving whereas I found the depiction of character in the 1960s hippie trail setting interesting.  On the one hand, ‘Skippy’ is a confused Buddhist (who eats meat with relish yet satisfies other desires with extraordinary detachment) and on the other hand he’s a muddled Leftist who condemns the Brits while enjoying the advantages of a Commonwealth passport.  He is bone idle, drifting through days in a drug-induced fog, but in London and back in Australia he knuckles down to work hard on his next novel because he is determined to be a writer. He is spectacularly ignorant about the places he visits (including having firm views about the Vietnam War while not knowing anything about conflict in Bangladesh and India even as he cross over their borders) but he knows about the Nouveau Roman (new novel) trend of the 1960s and chats at length with Marion Boyers [sic] in her bookshop about French literature and film.  (The novel back at home in this period was dominated by Australian realism.)

In London they take advantage of the British Film Institute’s programme which enabled my wife and I to get a lot of information about the French New Wave that we had no chance of acquiring in far-away Australia.  Amongst other films, they go to see Hiroshima mon amour, a film by Alain Resnais:

What I liked about this film was that he worked with authors in good standing with me, such as Marguerite Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet, encouraging them to write the script as a piece of literature rather than as a screenplay.  Robbe-Grillet also had a film screened, Point of Departure, his literary work transferred to the screen so that we entered a world with a flickering sense of reality scored by psychological hesitations and ellipses.  It was in this film that the main character, in talking about Istanbul, revealed that the ruins were all false and had been rebuilt as ruins.  This made me remember Angkor Wat and the dismantling and reassembling of ruins that really could not be described as ancient ruins but simply as modern assemblages, or if you wish, it just goes to show things are not what they seem.  (p.230)

Indeed.  While the narrative as it stands departs from the ‘hero’s journey’ in places, the adventure brings him challenges, petty though they may be, that he doesn’t want to confront as well as those that he overcomes.  He has mentors, from his wife Jenny to his Australian co-traveller Derek and Prasert the Buddhist monk, and some lively young students who introduce him to the work of  Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray. His visit to a prostitute is one of a number of temptations, and so of course is the purchase of a massive hunk of ganja for fifty American dollars. He is certainly transformed by his travels, (as all of us are, one way or another).

There are many remarkable aspects to the life of Mudrooroo, and this book goes some way towards illuminating some of the influences on his craft.

PS For those interested in the controversy surrounding Mudrooroo’s identity and the reasons why I include this book in 2020 Indigenous Literature Week, I repeat what I wrote in my review of Balga Boy Jackson when I read it in 2018:

I don’t need to justify reading or reviewing this book by Mudrooroo a.k.a. Colin Johnson, but I do need to explain why I am including a book by a writer whose Aboriginality is contested in #IndigLitWeek (Indigenous Literature Week).

The short answer is that it’s not up to me to decide who and who isn’t Aboriginal.  I have said this before: if an author identifies him/herself as indigenous, that’s good enough for me.  I have no authority (or desire) to become a gatekeeper in the complex politics of Aboriginal identity.

For more detail about Mudrooroo’s place in Australian literature, please visit my post about Balga Boy Jackson.

Image credit:

First edition cover of The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hero_with_a_Thousand_Faces and diagram https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero%27s_journey#/media/File:Heroesjourney.svg

Author: Mudrooroo
Title: Tripping with Jenny
Afterword by Gerhard Fischer, UNSW
Design by Hannah Gotlieb
Publisher: ETT Imprint, Exile Bay, 2019
ISBN: 9781925706734, pbk., 303 pages
Source: Review copy courtesy of ETT Imprint

 


Responses

  1. Oh this does sound fascinating. What a pity we will never get to read beyond it.
    As a side note, a very dear friend gifted me Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ years ago and, although I found it somewhat complicated, I gained much from the reading of it.

    Like

    • Hi Karenlee, I love your new photo!
      I must admit I am tempted to track down a copy…when the shops open again, there are some secondhand bookshops near me that might have it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Lisa, Re the photo: I was lucky enough to have a photo shoot – along with some other authors – with a Walkley award winner – Patrick Hamilton. I feel very privileged indeed.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This will be an interesting read for me. I discovered the 60’s subcultures in the 80’s as I was otherwise occupied with young children and it was the conscription, Vietnam and later the wonderful Germaine Greer who shifted my world. Joseph Campbell, Jung, R.D. Laing followed when those babies become young adults and they introduced me to their books. Murdrooroo was a lecturer at Murdoch when I studied in the 90’s and he was another source of knowledge. So the exploration continues Lisa and your reviews much appreciated.

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    • As I was just saying to a friend who commented offline, I was too young to do any of this, but I was old enough to be jealous of those who did…

      Like

  3. How fascinating! Mr. Kaggsy came of age in the 60s and experienced a certain amount of what went on – well, I assume so because he doesn’t seem to want to tell me all about it… :D As for your comment about gatekeeping, I’m in agreement – there’s far too much of that about at the moment…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, it’s been a bleak day here in Melbourne with the lockdown reimposed, and your comment was my first laugh of the day, so thank you and Mr Kaggsy!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. How useful to have this additional information to frame an understanding of an individual’s life. I especially enjoy reading about the books and courses of study (independent, even more so than formal studies) that people run into throughout their lives and what works/people/conversations they find formative and game-changing/mind-changing. (I laughed at Kaggsy’s comment too.! Hee hee)

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    • I was fascinated by it…something is stirring in the back of my mind now, from first year at Melbourne Uni. I don’t remember things clearly but I remember that our lecturer’s topic was that all stories of good and evil go back to the period we were studying, starting with Gawain and the Good Knight in the C14th, and the morality plays and so on. I distinctly remember that he referred to Star Wars (which had then been released just a year or two before) being in the same tradition, and laid out a very elegant explanation of why this was so. I realise now that he was probably alluding to some of Campbell’s work…

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