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Mudrooroo Biography

novel johnson aborigines wooreddy

Also writes as Colin Johnson and Mudrooroo Narogin. Nationality: Australian. Born: East Cubbaling, Western Australia, 1938. Education: Brought up in a Roman Catholic orphanage. Career: Lived in India for 6 years, three as a Buddhist monk. Holds the Chair of Aboriginal Studies at Murdech University, Perth. Awards: Wieckhard prize, 1979; Western Australia Literary award, 1989; WA Premier's Book award, for most outstanding entry and for poetry, 1992; Australia Council Writer's grant, 1994. Agent: Iarune Little.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

Doin' Wildcat (as Mudrooroo Narogin). South Yarra, Victoria, HylandHouse, 1988.

Master of the Ghost Dreaming. Sydney, HarperCollins, 1991.

Wildcat Screaming. Sydney, HarperCollins, 1992.

The Kwinkan. Sydney, HarperCollins, 1993.

The Undying. Pymble, N.S.W., HarperCollins, 1998.

Underground. Pymble, Sydney, NSW, Angus & Robertson, 1999.

Novels as Colin Johnson

Wild Cat Falling. Sydney and London, Angus and Robertson, 1965.

Long Live Sandawara. Melbourne, Quartet, 1979; London, Quartet, 1980.

Doctor Wooreddy's Prescription for Enduring the Ending of the World. Melbourne, Hyland House, 1983.

Poetry

Dalwurra: The Black Bittern (as Colin Johnson). Nedlands, WesternAustralia, Centre for Studies in Australian Literature, 1988.

The Garden of Gethsemane. Melbourne, Hyland House, 1991.

Pacific Highway Boo-blooz: Country Poems. St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia, University of Queensland Press, 1996.

Other

Before the Invasion: Aboriginal Life to 1788 (as Colin Johnson), withColin Bourke and Isobel White. Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1980.

Writing from the Fringe (as Mudrooroo Narogin). South Yarra, Victoria, Hyland House, 1990.

The Mudrooroo/Mueller Project. Sydney, New South Wales University Press, 1993.

Aboriginal Mythology. London, Aquarian, 1994.

Us Mob: History, Culture, Struggle: An introduction to Indigenous Australia. Sydney and New York, Angus & Robertson, 1995.

Indigenous Literature of Australia/Milli Milli Wangka. South Melbourne, Victoria, Hyland House, 1997.

*

Critical Studies:

The Mudrooroo/Muller Project: A Theatrical Case-book, edited by Gerhard Fischer. Kensington, NSW, Australia, New South Wales University Press, 1993; Mudrooroo—A Critical Study by Adam Shoemaker, Sydney, HarperCollins, 1994; Doin' Mudrooroo: Elements of Style and Involvement in the Early Prose Fiction of Mudrooroo by Greg Watson, Joensuu, Finland, Joensuun Yliopisto, 1997.

* * *

Colin Johnson's novels deal with the displacement of modern Aborigines and their inability either to find a place in white society or to hold to the traditional ways. His first novel was concerned with the world he knew growing up in Perth—a world of the bodgie subculture often in trouble with the law—while subsequent novels confront events from the Australian past and their implications for Aborigines today.

Wild Cat Falling portrays a cynical young Aborigine on his release after a prison sentence. One leitmotif of the novel is Beckett's Waiting for Godot. It is the absurdist view of a pointless world which appeals to the principal character as he moves among various groups in Perth, reticent and detached. He becomes involved in a burglary during which he shoots a policeman. Fleeing, he encounters an old Aborigine who represents both the lore of the Aboriginal and the moral center which he is seeking even while he thinks he is impervious to it. The conclusion sees him showing concern for the man he shot, and finding a glimmer of humanity even in the policeman who is arresting him.

A number of motifs in this novel reappear in the next, in particular the opposition between a directionless "modern" Aborigine and a decayed though still integral Elder. Long Live Sandawara is the story of a group of young Perth Aborigines whose sixteen-yearold leader, Alan, is keen to organize them to improve their opportunities, but his attempts to do so through the local Aboriginal leader get nowhere. Alan eventually leads the gang in a farcical raid on a bank during which all except himself are killed. Throughout the novel he has visited Noorak, who as a child saw the clash between an Aboriginal resistance fighter, Sandawara, and the whites. Noorak recounts the adventures of the past, and it is in emulation of these that Alan leads his ill-fated raid. Johnson treats the freedom fighters of the past with seriousness and dignity as true spiritual products of the soil. The sort of holistic integrity in Sandawara and his fighters contrasts strongly with the rootlessness of the modern characters. This is marked by different narrative styles, a sort of biblical cadence being used for the past events, while the modern story is told in a sometimes awkward historical present using a good deal of dialogue. Johnson has attempted to render in the one novel the ethos of two quite different genres, the epic past, and the problem-drama present. In this novel, the past offers to the present a model of what may be done to correct injustice. However, Johnson argues that more than Western guerrilla resistance is required—that to make anything of their lives modern Aborigines must re-establish contact with the centers of their cultural heritage. At the conclusion of the novel Alan leads the old man, Noorak, to the airport to fly north to their tribal country where he, Alan, will undergo initiation and Noorak will die contented.

The past in this novel is a time of glorious and inspiring resistance to the whites, invariably referred to as "invaders." In Johnson's recent novel, history becomes less a source of political instruction than a crucible within which a philosophy of survival must be forged. Doctor Wooreddy's Prescription for Enduring the Ending of the World is concerned with the annihilation of the Tasmanian Aborigines in the first half of the 19th century. The controlling viewpoint is that of a learned man of the Bruny Island tribe who sees his land polluted by the aggressive practices of the whites. The focus of the novel is on Wooreddy's attempts to understand the processes of change where there had been no change before. Wooreddy is obsessed with the belief that he has been chosen to survive to see the imminent end of the world. This insight comes to him as a child when he sees his first sailing ship which he takes to be a floating island drawn by clouds from the domain of the evil spirit, Ria Warawah. Wooreddy's sense of being select enables him to avoid the worst pangs of outrage and regret as the dispossession of the Aborigines proceeds. He retreats into a fatalistic numbness which cannot be termed cowardice, for bravery and cowardice are no longer meaningful concepts.

Wooreddy's initial vision of the ship is balanced by a second vision which collapses the Manichean world-view which the Aborigines have held. In a sea cave to which he is led by a Port Phillip Aborigine he comes to see that instead of the traditional binary cosmology of a good spirit, Great Ancestor, and an opposing evil spirit, Ria Warawah, there is but one force which is primal and that all things are a manifestation of it. Johnson uses historical events and characters in this novel to investigate the state of doomed suspension in which the Aborigines found themselves after the arrival of the white man. Since there never was any chance of the Tasmanian Aborigines resisting the invaders, their world effectively ended from the appearance of the whites. From early in the novel the invading and polluting whites are seen as the embodiment of the evil spirit, Ria Warawah, but when the disjunction between him and the benevolent creator, Great Ancestor, is rejected by Wooreddy's second major vision the processes of history no longer allow the assignment of guilt. The whites are a force of history as much as a manifestation of the evil of man. Wooreddy is denied even the satisfaction of having someone to blame.

Chris Tiffin

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