27 May – 3 June 2019 is almost over but I wanted to mark National Reconciliation Week this year in a small way. I have been thinking a great deal about the theme:
Grounded in Truth, Walk Together With Courage
It is a powerful and positive message and motivated me to share one of the most remarkable stories of reconciliation that I know.
About six years ago I was in my car running errands and listening to Richard Fidler’s Conversations on ABC Radio. A man named John Danalis was explaining to Richard that when he was growing up there was a human skull sitting on the mantelpiece in his home. The skull was affectionately named ‘Mary’ and it was the skull of a deceased Aboriginal person.
I was completely intrigued (and horrified) by the beginning of John’s story but unfortunately I wasn’t able to catch the end of the interview. Over the next few days I couldn’t stop thinking about it so I decided to track down the book and read the rest of the story for myself.
I found Riding With the Black Cockatoo at the local library but I loved it so much I bought my own copy. It is a true story and was published in 2009 by Allen and Unwin. In the book John unfolds how he sought the truth of ‘Mary’s’ origins and through a series of events arranged for her (who turns out to be a him) to be repatriated to the Wamba Wamba nation whose country lies either side of the Murray River.
Wyrker Milloo Gary Murray of the Wamba Wamba nation notes in his Welcome to Country at the beginning of the book:
Kindness and truth will open doors and break down barriers.
In the case of ‘Mary’, kindness and truth ultimately took her home. John’s writing is candid and funny, yet poignant and gracious too. Fiona Doyle Oochunyung wrote in the Afterword:
This story is the first yarn I know of told by a whitefella who appears to have entered into our place. He has begun to connect, to quite simply, get it.
My favourite comment about John’s story is what Boori Monty Pryor wrote in the Foreword:
…majestic and poetic, Riding the Black Cockatoo is a nation’s journey through its growing pains of race and colour. We lie within the pages of black on white. We belong to this story and it belongs to us. Thank you, John, for having the courage to search and find ways that will make us all better.
To hear Richard Fidler’s interview with John Danalis click on the link below:
To find a copy of Riding the Black Cockatoo try one of the branches of the Blue Mountains City Library or one of our excellent bookshops:
- The Turning Page, Springwood
- Megalong Books, Leura
- The Little Lost Bookshop, Katoomba