Oh dear – at almost the last hurdle, I’ve fallen behind my plan! We both had our booster Covid vaccinations yesterday at our GP surgery, and although we’ve not been too bad and it was worth it, of course, we did have some side effects that led to me sleeping in and drifting around rather than keeping focused on reviewing this book this morning and finishing reading two more to review tomorrow! Anyway, this is my second book read for AusReading Month, hosted by Brona’s Books at This Reading Life. I bought it from Oxfam Books in September, spotting it was about Australia and immediately putting it in the pile to buy. So this one comes in for NonFiction November, AND my TBR reading challenge as well as AusReading Month!

Sven Lindqvist, translated by Sarah Death – “Terra Nullius: A Journey Through No One’s Land”

(8 September 2021)

If one of us can, everyone can. On that basis, it turns out that whole villages can produce superb works of art which win them acclaim from teh world and raise them out of misery and dependence. (p. 202)

So I need to mention first of all that this is an outsider’s reading of an outsider’s translated book about their experience travelling in Australia and learning of the country’s history, particularly around its interactions with the original Aboriginal peoples*. In the early 2000s, Lindqvist paid a long visit to Australia from his native Sweden, researching the history of the places he visited and seeking out sites relating to the many atrocities he discovered had been meted out to the Aboriginal peoples who already lived there. The title and subtitle are ironic: it was because the British settlers who went there and claimed the land stated that it was no one’s land that they were able to claim it, when, of course, it was land inhabited for centuries [edit: as Bill reminds me, millennia] by people to whom it was hospitable, fruitful, sustainable and religiously significant.

Lindqvist details horrendous event after horrendous event, from people being turned off their land to forced migrations (It “doesn’t matter” because they’re “nomads”; never mind the significance a certain land has to a group), being studied to back up spurious psychological theories, being moved out of the way for nuclear testing even after a test ban treaty had been signed, having mixed-heritage children forcibly removed from them to be taken away and “saved”, and being plied with alcohol then slammed for using it. He draws an interesting parallel with the treatment of more recent immigrants to Australia than the British; refugees being herded into camps and kept in inhumane conditions.

He does also celebrate the cleverness of some Aboriginal peoples in their manipulation of their coverage and discussion, and also some sympathetic Europeans who try to help and/or make amends. And later in the book he very much celebrates the way Aboriginal peoples artists, especially women, have flourished and taken their place in worldwide art markets, celebrating also their very different attitude towards artistic talent and individual exceptionalism, and the way that recent radio and television media have helped to preserve and spread cultural artifacts such as sand pictures and songs. He also celebrates the recent movements around Indigenous peoples across the whole world joining together for conferences, solidarity and campaigning.

There is travelogue in here, places stayed and people met, and some good geology. A chronology in the back of the book sets the events in order and lists which chapters they fall in, as the chapters are not in strict chronological order themselves as he travels around, delving into history. Of course a pretty hard book to read, Lindqvist shares his horror without going over the top, I felt and does bring out positives where he can. The emotional impact taught me a lot more about what I sort of half-knew intellectually, and I’m glad I read the book.

* I sought support from Brona on how to refer to the original inhabitants of Australia and she pointed me to some resources to help me decide. I have used Aboriginal people because Lindqvist travels around the whole country and discusses a wide range of different peoples, but no Torres Strait Islanders, as far as I was aware.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Book 19/85 – 66 to go! I read it for Nonfiction November and AusReading Month! Interestingly, for AusReading Month, I’ve managed to read one book by Australians set in Iceland and one book by a Swede set in Australia!