ORAL TALES AND TRADITIONS
PAPERBARK: A COLLECTION OF BLACK AUSTRALIAN WRITINGS. Edited by Jack Davis, Stephen Muecke, Mudrooroo Narogin, and Adam Shoemaker, Queensland, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 369 pp., $14.95 (paper) FOR too long, the Australian Aboriginal population has been represented by voices other than their own, if at all.
``Paperbark,'' the first collection of black Australian writings to cover such a diverse range of writers, eloquently expresses the plight of a people continually robbed of their dignity and homeland.
The introduction to the collection explains why this book of political essays, poems, short stories, true historical accounts, myths, a rock opera, and a drama exists:
``These examples represent the experiences of people who write because writing is one way of coming to terms with the struggles of daily life. ... Aboriginal writing can often be seen as a community gesture toward freedom and survival, rather than the self-expression of an individual author.''
Many works in this collection have their roots in an oral tradition, a tradition fundamentally important to the Aboriginal people, many of whom are still suspicious of the written word. Most of the stories were transcribed from their original oral forms to the written word during the last three decades.
Aboriginal legends and myths speak through a mixture of magical realism and nonlinear, surrealistic fantasy.
``Menpeel Nullum. They have placed us into this Grass Tree and ... l become your servants.'' Such is the cry of two maidens who are bound in the flesh of a tree in the mythical tale, ``Narroondarie's Wives,'' by David Unaipon.
In contrast to the mythical, magical tales there are stark, often-brutal accounts of the treatment suffered by the Aborigines under greedy, white colonists. ``Old Cobraboor,'' by Ellen Draper, a story based on a true event that took place during the late 19th century, was never before written down because of the nearly inhuman brutality it depicts. One scene describes a massacre over a single piece of gold.