Readers of Kayang and Me should not be lulled by the beauty of its prose or by its seemingly easy location within the now-familiar genre of indigenous life story. This book dislodges its white readers from positions of quietude or certainty, and takes us into a world marked by irredeemable loss – our own as well as Noongars’. Among other things, Kayang and Me points to the crucial things that settler-colonisers have lost or forsaken in the mistaken pursuit of the bounties of colonisation, and it calls for nothing less than a radical remaking of the Australian nation-state. Significantly, it installs writing and reading as practices through which the past, present and future might come to be differently known and newly imagined. The white reader is shown to be implicated in the story she holds in her hands, in its vision of another future as well as in its tragic present and past.
When I first picked up a copy of Jackson’s Track: A memoir of a Dreamtime place (Daryl Tonkin and Carolyn Landon, Viking 1999), I expected to find the life story of an Aboriginal woman. The striking cover photograph the 1940s of Euphemia Mullett in high-heeled shoes and light summer dress, standing beside a white man and his horse in a forest clearing suggested it, as did the reference to the dreamtime in the book’s title. I soon discovered my mistake. Jackson’s Track is instead the memoir of the white man in the photograph, Daryl Tonkin, who owned land and a timber mill at Jackson’s Track, West Gippsland, for over forty years from the mid-1930s. During this time, an Aboriginal community of over 150 people established itself at Jackson’s Track, setting up camp in the forest and working for Tonkin, felling timber for the mill. Euphemia Mullett was with those people attracted to the promise of work at Jackson’s Track, and she would go on to live there for over thirty years as Tonkin’s wife.