I wonder why I didn’t read this book when it was published about 10 years ago? In the 1960s, when I was in my teens, I read poems like Kath Walker’s (later Oodgeroo Noonuccal) We are going; in the 1970s when I was at university it was more academic works such as the white anthropologist CD Rowley’s The destruction of Aboriginal society; and in the 1980s it was Sally Morgan’s My place. Later, in the 2000s it was Leah Purcell’s Black chicks talking. These and other books have both moved and educated me with their portrayals of the richness of indigenous culture in Australia and of the dispossession of its people. And yet, in the 1990s, I missed this treasure (written in collaboration with Meme McDonald).
It is a treasure because, although Boori Pryor and his family have experienced huge tragedy and significant intimidation, he is able to preach reconciliation and mutual respect. Classed as a biography and often promoted as a book for young adults – indeed it was shortlisted in the Children’s Book Council of Australia awards – the book has a much wider ambit. While we learn a lot about Boori’s life, that is not his purpose in writing the book. His purpose is to encourage white society to understand – really understand – where Aboriginal people are coming from, and particularly the far-reaching implications for them of Invasion Day, and to encourage Aboriginal people to trust in their roots and to recognise the importance of their stories, their cultural tradition, to their individual survival as well as to the survival of their people.
Much of the book deals with his work in schools where he aims to encourage students to develop an understanding of and respect for Aboriginal people and for the land. He believes that all people need to have and know their “place”: the first chapter is subtitled “To be happy about yourself you have to be happy about the place you live in”. He talks about the thoughtless and insulting things young people say to him and how he handles it. He says
You have to be the water that puts out the fire. If you fight fire with fire, everything burns.
He seems to be able to “maintain the rage” regarding what has been done to his people while at the same time working wisely and calmly to make things better.
Boori says in the book that storytelling is part of who his people are. After reading this book – with its mix of anecdote, metaphor, analogy and humour – I, for one, would not argue with him.
7 thoughts on “Boori (Monty) Pryor, Maybe tomorrow”
I don’t know how I came to miss this when it was first posted, but I will certainly now look out for this book: I have only recently discovered Pryor – through a children’s book called Shake a Leg. Without being didactic, it has exactly the message you suggest: it begins with some white kids going into a pizza parlour where they are served by an Aboriginal man who gently debunks their preconceptions about Aboriginal life by pointing out that he has a proper job in the modern economy and his kids go to school, and then teases them about crocodile pizza and with some Aboriginal kids to help teaches them the dance that the community uses to warn kids about the dangers of crocs in their environment. I love the picture on the front cover, see http://www.allenandunwin.com/default.aspx?page=397&book=9781741758900, because it’s joyful and sincere, but also – significantly – it shows the white kid happily learning from the Aboriginal ones, something that our dominant culture has failed to do for so long because there was an assumption that there was nothing to learn.
Ah well, Lisa, it was one of my very early posts when I started this blog so you’re forgiven!! He’s a great man. As you probably know Shake a leg won the Children’s Fiction award in this year’s Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. He was one of the speakers on the panel I attended on the day, and the moderator, Caroline Baum, had a bit of a challenge managing him as he had so many great stories to tell but there was of course limited time and other speakers who needed a go too! I haven’t read Shake a leg — perhaps I should get it for Evan. (He’s teaching 3/4 next year).
Absolutely – Evan would love it, but check his school library first – because if it subscribes to Australian Standing Orders (which many schools do) then he will have a copy already. ASO are terrific, for an annual subscription they source the very best in children’s literature, sending packs of books every month or so, and very often these are the books that make it onto the shortlists and win prizes.
Okey doke, Lisa, thanks … I will tell him.
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I just finished reading “Maybe Tomorrow”. What an amazing story! What an amazing Monty! At times tears were streaming down my face, at other times i was laughing at the funny bits but most of the time i was just so grateful for being the recipient of his story. I have always been interested in the earth language of this land. Though i was not born here, one day, on a flight back from the country of my birth as we were flying over central Australia, i had this sense of this mighty Motherly spirit being welcoming me home. In awe i talked to her and thanked her for allowing me to adopt this country. And in a flash she responded saying, “You have not adopted me, I have adopted you!!!”
And so it has been since then. I can feel this spirit being very strongly whenever i am in the bush, but also when i am in my garden. A lot of what Monty talks about in his book resonates in my heart. My heart aches for all the suffering still perpetrated against our aboriginal people. Once living next to an Aboriginal elderly woman, i used to listen through the fence as she was talking to her grandchildren. I did not have the courage to go up to her and ask her to tell her story.
I wish i was a child again, just so i could experience Monty’s show… But i am at the end of my life and content with whatever this earth shares with me.
Oh thank you Hilde for your lovely comment. This was one of my first posts on this blog so it is extra lovely to have someone find it and comment on it. Boori comes across so beautifully doesn’t he.