The first in a series of six books introducing Indigenous knowledges, Songlines: The Power and the Promise explains the use of mnemonics, or memory systems, in Aboriginal culture.
Songlines archive knowledge in the landscape and are often associated with major ancestral beings, animals, natural elements or even contemporary events. For example, a landslide of red rocks may tell of a bloody ancestral battle. In this way, Songlines, with their additional use of art and song, are a form of writing. Deep forms of knowledge are written into Country and passed on from one generation to the next. We know this system is powerful because of its longevity, with stories maintained over tens of thousands of years. Ensuring the accuracy of information relies on a system of checks and balances: stories, songs and answers are owned, and ownership is not granted to a person until they clearly understand what they have been taught. In an oral culture, information is strongly protected.
With its use of personal story, history, art and even neuroscience, Songlines generously invites the reader to expand their consciousness with memory practices that are older than the Western Bible. An instructive and enjoyable primer that will appeal to the scholar and lay reader alike.
Songlines: The Power and the Promise, by Margo Neale and Lynne Kelly. Thames & Hudson. $19.99
Review by Chris Saliba. First published at Books + Publishing.
Feminist Leslie Kern asks us to rethink the city.
In Feminist City, author Leslie Kern asks us to imagine what urban spaces might look like if they were designed by women, not men. All forms of urban planning, we learn, are based around assumptions of the typical citizen. “Shockingly,” Kern writes, “this citizen is a man.” Using a mixture of personal anecdote, pop culture references and the latest in feminist research, the reader learns the multitude of ways women use and relate to the city. The first chapter addresses motherhood in the city. As a young mother, Kern felt keenly how cities could be unwelcoming – sometimes downright hostile – to the needs of women caring for children. Other chapters examine female friendships in the city, negotiating the city on your own, the city as a site for protest and women's safety fears in public places.
Feminist City doesn't look in any detail at planning issues and how to make cities more female friendly, but rather works as a series of thought provoking riffs on politics, issues of equity and the place of minorities in the urban landscape. While the book doesn't answer the question of how to create a city for women, it helps us imagine how such a place might come into being.
Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World, by Leslie Kern. Published by Verso. $29.99
Review by Chris Saliba
A new voice uses Indigenous Knowledge to bring enlightenment and balance.
Sand Talk, a highly original new book by poet, artist and academic Tyson Yunkaporta, presents Indigenous Knowledge as a way of solving our many contemporary ills. Modern life is out of balance and causing harm. There are problems everywhere – from how the economy is run, prioritising growth that is really a form of death to the environment, to poor personal and spiritual health. Society is based around hierarchical relationships, rather than interdependence and shared knowledge. Our narcissism makes us believe we are better than and superior to each other. The ego constantly gets in the way of clear thinking, obscuring the path to true knowledge.
Tyson Yunkaporta was born in Melbourne and raised in rural Queensland, living with about a dozen different Indigenous communities during his youth. As a young man in Cape York he was adopted by Dad Kenlock and Mum Hersie, and subsequently travelled around Australia, working with Indigenous groups and gaining a wealth of traditional knowledge. It is these years spent learning from Elders and knowledge keepers that Yunkaporta brings to Sand Talk. It is a book that has clearly spent many years in the making, a work that is the result of years of deep thought and meditation. On every page Yunkaporta strives for simplicity and truth, as revealed to him by his experiences travelling all over Australia.
Sand Talk is hard to categorise. It reads as a mix of philosophy, self-help and spiritual text. Yunkaporta has a keen analytical mind. There are many passages of surprising clarity. The author is quick to cut through modern received wisdom to expose the lie at the centre of it. For example, in a chapter discussing violence he says our clean, technological, peaceful cities outsource their violence to other places and peoples. “You carry the pillaged metals in your phone from devastated African lands and communities. Your notions of peaceful settlement and development are delusions peppered with bullet holes and spears.” Another chapter discusses the origins of modern education as a way of ensuring obedience and conformity, with an impressive use of history to make the point. The book is full of such radical examples, showing how Western civilisation uses artifice and polished rhetoric to conceal its darker side.
Written in a simple, clear language, yet demanding concentration and commitment, Sand Talk is like nothing you've read before.
Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Change the World, by Tyson Yunkaporta. Published by Text. $32.99
Review by Chris Saliba
North Melbourne Books