My recent post on Madelaine Dickie’s Red can origami was getting too long – and I just couldn’t cover in detail all that I wanted to, so I’ve decided to do one of my rare Delicious Descriptions posts to expand some ideas from the book.
Concluding my post, I commented that the novel is an effective consciousness-raiser as well as a great read. One of the many points Dickie makes concerns the intrinsic significance of language to cultural identity. (This issue, in fact, was discussed much during last year’s International Year of Indigenous Languages.) Here is Dickie in Red can origami (and do note the second person style – “you’re invited to sit …”):
You’re invited to sit in on a Burrika language session at Gubinge District High. It’s the first week of term one and the session’s being funded through the community benefits package. The language teacher is fishing-club-Keith’s wife Kylie, an intimidating, bearded old girl, with a deep wrinkle line between her eye. She stands in front of a class of teenagers. She explains that in Burrika, there are six words to describe anger, four words to describe jealousing and that there’s even a word for someone who’s a serial liar. Here, she looks pointedly at a young woman wearing heavy eyeliner. Then she says some people think the Burrika language is only used to describe things like berries and barramundi. Here, she looks pointedly at you.
Language comes from country, she tells the kids. Language comes from the rocks, the desert waterholes, from the creeks that twist through the mangroves. Language comes from the sky. When you don’t know your language, you can’t tell country you are coming, and you can’t look after your country. (p. 195)
With Indigenous language revival programs popping up around the country, some of which I’ve mentioned in my blog, Dickie was spot on to make this point in her book.
The issue of uranium mining and its potential for problems, if not disaster, underpins the novel’s plot. It also provides a good example of how Dickie teases out different attitudes from the various stakeholders – the Indigenous people, protesters, the people of Gubinge, the mining company employees, and Ava herself as she navigates spin versus facts and reality. And as Ava ponders the issue, the second person voice brings us on her journey with her. Whenever we hear “you”, there’s that little initial reaction, “who, me?” Anyhow, Burrika leader Noah patiently tells a radio presenter,
No-one wants to see a uranium mine on their country. Not the mob at Jabiluka, not the mob in South Australia, and not the people in Gubinge. But when you’re under duress, when you are given a choice between something and nothing, you choose something.
These are the sorts of real-world challenges that are posed by the novel.
At the book’s launch, Dickie referred to Japan’s involvement in uranium mining in Australia, and mentioned the Fukushima disaster. She quoted from the letter written in 2011 by Yvonne Margarula of Kakadu’s Mirarr people to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon concerning the Fukushima disaster:
Given the long history between Japanese nuclear companies and Australian uranium miners, it is likely that the radiation problems at Fukushima are, at least in part, fuelled by uranium derived from our traditional lands. This makes us feel very sad.
The sense of extended community responsibility expressed in this letter is surely something we could all learn from – and this, I’m sure, is what Dickie hopes her book will encourage its readers to consider.
Madelaine Dickie, Red can origami, Fremantle Press, 2019.