Marie Munkara’s “Every Secret Thing” By Sally Lattin
In spite of dire warnings from her adopted Mother, Marie Munkara left Melbourne at the age of 28 to head back to the Tiwi Islands to find her real Mother.
“They’ll take all your money”, she says, “Aborigines are shifty and can’t be trusted I’ve always told you that. They’ll teach you bad habits”. “Why do you say things like that, I’m Aboriginal too” I say, not out of solidarity for those of my genetic disposition mind you, but with the knowledge that this particular topic will get right up her arse.
Marie was born on the banks of the Mainoru River in central Arnhem Land and went to Nguiu on the Tiwi Islands when she was about 18 months old. At the age of three, she, like many other Aboriginal children, was removed from her family and sent to live in Melbourne.
My family were quite strict and very Catholic, they were almost like 18th century Victorians in their outlook and the way we were brought up. There was no talking unless you were spoken to by an adult first and definitely no talking at the dinner table, no running or giggling in the house, stuff like that. As a teenager I rebelled against the rigorous Catholicism that I had forced on me so I think a bit of that comes out in my book when I take the piss out of the mission mob.
The rebellion that propelled Marie back to her roots 20 years ago provided the stories that birthed her first novel, even though her trip back to meet her real Mother was not exactly as she had expected.
I’ve worn the same clothes for four days and even though I bathe in the sea like everyone else, I know I stink. My hair is encrusted with salt and I look like a dreadlocked Rastafarian who missed the boat to the West Indies and got off at this shit hole by mistake. I am sunburned and I feel awful.
My brother has killed a wallaby and is gutting it just above the tree line. The stench wafts over to me so I move further down the beach to another tree to escape the putrid smell. I sit there for hours sulking and everyone leaves me to myself.
Marie’s award-winning first novel Every Secret Thing came about as a result of listening to the yarns as she sat around with her long lost family. She said that she wanted to write the stories down so that her daughters would know how things had been for her and their grandmother and others of that time.
This extraordinary book focuses not only the terrible things that happened in the missions and white institutions, but on the feelings that we all share as human beings and the good that can sometimes come from even the most dreadful situations. Her “nothing is sacred” and deliberately sarcastic rendition of the stories she tells crackle with humour and a kind of forgiveness that contributes to the humanity of her work. She reveals many of the truths of Australia’s black history in a quirky, no holds barred approach that has allowed her to be both political and scathing without alienating her audience.
Marie has written ever since she was a child, and the book, which started as a short story entry for the NT Literary Awards, apparently just wrote itself. Whatever it was that felt like it was just “writing through her” has captured the horror and the humanity, the bigotry and the sodomy, the chicanery and the resilience which has been the experience of many who have become known as Australia’s “Stolen Generation”.
The book took just 12 months to write and she says that she enjoyed every moment of it. The type of experience most writers would kill for! Not only that, she says that there are plenty more stories just waiting to be told and is currently working on her second novel.
Every Secret Thing was the winner of the 2008 David Unaipon Award for best unpublished manuscript by an Aboriginal writer, and this year also won ‘Territory Read’ the Northern Territory Book of the Year Award.
Marie Munkara will be a guest of the 2010 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, October 6 - 10, sponsored by Arts NT and the NT Writers Centre
For more info about the festival go to www.ubudwritersfestival.com.