Bush tracks, hunting trips, waterholes


Kim Mahood’s Position Doubtful (Scribe) was included on many readers’ ‘best of 2016’ lists, and no wonder. The title is a mapping term, but it can also refer in a more symbolic way to the relationship most Australians have with indigenous Australia, and also to Mahood’s own experience of having one foot each in the two ‘worlds’ of Australia’s Euro-centric coast and the red centre, as a white person with an Aboriginal ‘skin’ name. She is an artist and describes a long project of mapping and painting with indigenous elders, with constant travel over bush tracks, hunting trips, waterholes and storytelling. The book is also a meditation on central Australia and contemporary indigenous life that goes beyond simplistic attitudes such as Dreamtime idealisations or condemnations of Aboriginal communities as hopeless. Instead, the indigenous communities she describes have a mix of the traditional and the Western. Older ways of inhabiting the land mix comfortably with Christian faith. Both supermarket food and goanna meat is craved. Western technology is incorporated, but unlike the Westerners who flow in and out of central Australia, the indigenous people she describes have a curious lack of curiosity about white ways. They have a comfort in their own wisdom, something noted by visitors who sense something is lacking in modern Western culture. At the same time, Mahood is not blind to the problems of central Australia’s clash with modernity. There is a strong absence of men in the book – drawn away, beset, dying young. The older women are the wise ones, caregivers, custodians. But they are funny too, and sometimes bossily selfish. Complete human beings, in other words, not caricatures, a picture which often alludes visitors, especially tourists. Mahood herself is wary throughout of reductionism, a danger that summaries of the book are susceptible to.


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