Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 6, 2022

Born into This, by Adam Thompson

Born into This is a collection of short stories from Aboriginal (pakana) author Adam Thompson from Tasmania. There are sixteen stories, beginning with ‘The Old Tin Mine’,  a survival camp gone wrong set in the isolation of Clarke Island in the Furneaux Group, and including ‘The Blackfellas From Here’ set in the Launceston CBD.  Both these stories, and others too, tackle the contested issue of Aboriginal identity in Tasmania.  ‘Tick-a-box Aborigines’ are vividly depicted in the titular story ‘Born Into This.’

Having just read Terri Janke’s True Tracks, Respecting Indigenous Knowledge and Culture, I hoped that the would-be appropriation of an Aboriginal word as a marketing tool, was not going to end well for the obnoxious Sharkey in the story called ‘Honey’.  Not only is it inappropriate to exploit Aboriginal language as a good gimmick for selling the honey, it’s also a tactless failure to recognise the hurt and sadness felt by Indigenous people about the fate of their languages.   While some languages are thriving, many are endangered while others are lost forever, and some like Palawa Kani are reconstructed from old documents and remain private within the community.  As in ‘The Old Tin Mine’ Thompson depicts the exhaustion his Indigenous character feels: Nathan doesn’t get into an argument with his crass employer. He just makes vague promises to try to find out what Sharkey wants.

Tension over potential land rights claims surfaces in ‘Honey’ too. When Nathan finds a stone tool in a coastal midden, Sharkey immediately confiscates it:

‘Trust you to find this,’ said Sharkey, raising his eyebrows.  He brought the stone close to his face, squinting at it while rolling it through his fingertips.  ‘Don’t go tellin’ the rest of yer mob what you found here.  Bloody… next thing ya know there’ll be a land rights claim on me honey turf.’

‘It doesn’t work like that,’ said Nathan, suppressing a sigh.  ‘We can’t just claim land rights anywhere that we find artefacts.’ He expected a cocky remark but one didn’t come. ‘Anyway, all along this coast is the same.  You can see where the old people camped and lived.’ (p.22)

Just recently author and songwriter Ted Egan called for a more inclusive public holiday than Australia Day. He suggested the 8th of September, the date that the word ‘Australia’ was first used by the navigator Matthew Flinders to describe our country in 1803.  The significance of this event is that the ship’s log records Guringai man Bungaree as the first Indigenous, Australian-born person to circumnavigate the continent, along with Flinders and the crew from HMS Investigator. Reading in ‘Invasion Day’ about the abuse and anger arising from a protest march through the city was another reminder that January 26th is irredeemably divisive now, and no cause for celebration.

My favourite story, and the most poignant, is ‘Jack’s Island’.  It reminded me of other stories I have read (such as Maurice by EM Forster) where the only resolution to an implacable rejection by society is to retreat from it entirely.  It’s a terrible thing when people feel like this.  In Jack’s case, it’s to Badger Island in the Furneaux Group where he finds solace and renewal after the death of his infant son.  But he also finds healing company when his Uncle Donnie comes to stay, and together they find proof of their identity and their dispossession.

Other themes include the loss of culture and the destructive effects of government policies on the Pakana people. It’s a collection that provokes deep thought about these issues of concern.

Adam Thompson is a Pakana man from Tasmania.

Sue at Whispering Gums reviewed this collection too, and so did Kim at Reading Matters

Update, later the same day: NITV has just published ‘Do you know what Aboriginal land you are on today? at their website. The article covers all of Australia, but it’s especially important to check out the section about Tasmania because for so long, and in my lifetime, it was erroneously said and taught that Truganini was ‘the last Aborigine’ in Tasmania.


I read this book for First Nations Reading Week 2022.

This post was written on the traditional land of the Ngaruk-Willam clan, one of the six clans of the Bunerong (Boonwurrung or Boon wurrung) saltwater people of the Kulin nation.

Author: Adam Thompson
Title: Born into This
Design by Design by Committee, artwork by Judith Rose Thomas
Publisher: UQP, (university of Queensland Press), 2021
ISBN: 9780702263118, pbk., 209 pages
Source: Personal library


Responses

  1. Thanks for the link Lisa. It’s a great read isn’t it. I hope to see more from him.

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    • It’s the first fiction that I know of coming from the Tasmanian Aboriginal community. So yes, it’s very good to see.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s a while now since I read this but I think one of the things I liked was his ‘teasing’ of whites for trying too hard to be pro-Aboriginal.
    I think the Australia day suggestion is great. It used to bother me that I would see ‘Australia’ being used in C19th writing and I couldn’t work out where the word came from. Also, I was unaware that Bungaree was on the Tom Thumb (I thought I’d better check that – the Tom Thumbs were used for coastal exploration outside Sydney Harbour)

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    • I’m not sure about that either. I’d never heard of the Tom Thumb until I read The Journey of Tom Thumb II, Bass and Flinders explore the Illawarra Coast, March 1796, a children’s picture book by Christine Hill. (No relation). In that book, it mentions that Bass and Flinders could communicate with the Aborigines they met at Lake Illawarra because they had travelled to Australia with Bennelong aboard HMS Reliance and learned some of his language. But that was on Tom Thumb II, so there must have been a Tom Thumb I, so…

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  3. This book continues to be on best seller lists here. I have it but not read all of it yet.

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    • That’s interesting… nice to hear of Tasmanian’s supporting their own authors!

      Liked by 1 person


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