Sand Talk

A few times in your life, you come across a book that opens your eyes and your mind to a new way of looking at the world. For me, Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines was one of those books (though I now understand how problematic that book is). More recently, Alan Garner's The Voice That Thunders and Bruce Pascoe's Dark Emu have had a similar earth-shaking effect. And now there is Tyson Yunkaporta's Sand Talk.

This is a book I've been looking for for a long time. Ever since I started my research on Crow Country, nearly ten years ago now, and began to perceive tantalising hints of the Aboriginal world view, diametrically different to the Western assumptions I'd inherited, I've been longing for a clear, comprehensive guide to what Yunkaporta calls 'Indigenous thinking.' Now at last I've found it.

It's not easy to summarise the Aboriginal viewpoint and experience of the world, and I'm not going to presume to try to do it here. But one fundamental difference is that the Indigenous worldview never considers any one factor in isolation, never separates out one element of the picture to examine it 'objectively.' In the Aboriginal world, everything is connected, including us: land, Law, story, spirit, weather, plants and animals, humans, all inextricably intertwined. This is wisdom that the Western world is only just dimly beginning to reclaim.

Time is not a straight-line arrow into the future; it's an endlessly repeating cycle as the universe breathes in and out. All trouble begins with the thought I am greater than you. Aboriginal societies devote a lot of effort to trying to wipe out that tendency, the root of inequality, greed and oppression. Yunkaporta has an easy, engaging style, sprinkled with plenty of humour and anecdote -- this is far from a dry, academic read, but it's packed with ideas and questions nonetheless.

I don't necessarily find all of Yunkaporta's ideas comfortable. The chapter on violence was very confronting, the section on male-female relations didn't chime with my Western feminist standpoint. But Sand Talk has given me plenty to ponder on. I first read this book on the Kindle, and now I'm going to read it again in hard copy.

So good I've bought it twice! For a tight-arse like me, that's recommendation indeed.

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