BABARU by B. Wongar
Kirkus Star


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Wongar (The Track to Bralgu, 1978) writes about the cultural demise of his Australian aboriginal people; and in these twelve brief stories the reed-thin voices of the narrators penetrate spiritual and mythic essences as well as the steel-and-water mix of the native/white culture conflict. Most of these tales are structured by journeys: sad dreamtreks to dusty extinction where Home keeps receding beyond a trail of rusty ""boss"" huts, empty petrol cans, and a desert drained of life-giving. The journeyers often take the form of sacred totem animals--dingos, cockatoos, and an emu--as they search for their tribal countries, their families, children (now with white names), or wives whose ""skin may have begun to go white."" The places have gone too. Even the water is dammed, trapped ""like an immense carcase . . . with nowhere to go"": the whites have stolen the magic, destroyed the sacred waters that flowed free. In a marvelously surreal and savage tale, a pregnant woman in a white hospital watches the analysis of the sacred stone in her belly on a TV, as ""trolley after trolley"" of pregnant tribeswomen pass by: they'll be shrunk, smoothed, and compressed to the size of grains of sand--which will be arranged in a ""temperature-controlled spiritual hatchery"" at the bottom of the lake. And in other pieces: a cockatoo slips in and out of jail, remembering tribesmen--tracked and executed, mutilated and lost; a dead black man is honored by a bishop and a queen, but he's taken to total extinction on his caisson--a bulldozer; and single whites are puzzling--from the kind nurse who says she's the same as a medicine man (""but she smiles too much"") to the Padre whose white brothers wouldn't come when he wanted to stop a plague . . . to the ""good"" white who preserved the trees and fed the crocodiles in the river. (Or was that food really bait for skins?) Astringent stories of deep pain--but flashing with the whirr of birds, the last faint pulse of clapping sticks, the lost bark of the dingo.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1982
Publisher: Univ. of Illinois Press