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The Last of the Nomads by WJ Peasley reviewed
A friend of mine lent me this truly remarkable book not long after we came back from travelling through the outback of Australia, on the dusty dirt roads, as she knew that I had been really struck by the different ways that people in our land are living: the conditions are so vastly different to what people in the city are living in, and over here in the East of Australia, we live in a "blissfully unaware" state of this. All of our encounters with the indigenous people who we met were incredibly enriching for each of us, and spending time in each of the communities that we went to was certainly one of the greatest highlights of our trip.
That being said, WJ Peasley's book, "The Last of the Nomads, which was published in 2009 by Fremantle Press, was a deeply moving journal of Dr Peasley's (an anthropologist doctor of aboriginal culture) journey into the Western Gibson Desert in 1976 to find Warri and Yatungka, who were believed to be the last of the Mandudjara tribe of the desert nomads. Peasley describes the journey in incredible detail: the waterholes, the sand dunes and trees and also Mudjon the elder who accompanied them, and the emotion they all go through on the journey. His descriptions are thorough, but not tedious to the reader.
During the time that he undertakes the trip, Western Australia is going through a terrible drought and Mudjon was terribly concerned about the well-being of Warri and Yatungka and approached Peasley to help him find them to bring them out to the Reserve that the rest of the their mob had moved to. Previously they had resisted due to years ago breaking traditional law by marrying each other. They, Warri and Yatungka, feared retribution. Mudjon wanted to go out to reassure them that they would be be safe from punishment and needed to be where water was so that they would survive.
Peasley documents so well the angst of breaking life as it has always been by brining the nomads into civilisation (Warri and Yatungka had never seen white man) when they have never seen it, taking the last of the nomads of the land so that none were left and the land was left to fend for itself. He seemed to feel the pain of where white man had interfered, but what we had started, he didn't feel could be left unfinished. Peasley touches on the fact that the Australian Aboriginals are unlike other indigenous peoples in that they have never developed an alcoholic beverage of their own, so therefore their culture was never geared up to the use of alcohol and the social effects and its abuses "...There were no rules laid down in Dreamtime to control its use. The Tribal elders had no guidelines to assist them, and have no precedents from their totemic ancestors, the lacked authority to formulate the necessary rules.." pp32. He postulates that this may be why in the reserve people drank to excess. The rules, the traditional rules are not there to live by.
It is a fascinating read and all through the book I felt privileged to have his insights into Mudjon's, Warri and Yatungka's lives. I would recommend this book for part of a greater understanding of the nomads of our land.