Becky's Reviews > My Place

My Place by Sally Morgan
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Dec 16, 2015

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bookshelves: non-fiction, 2010, reviewed
Read from March 26 to 29, 2010

3.5 Stars--
I honestly have to say that I probably never would have picked up this book if it wasn't sent to me by a friend. Mostly because I never knew it existed, but that's beside the point, hehe. I'm not really a memoir reader, but I am trying to read more non-fiction this year, so this blended perfectly with this goal.

My Place tells the story of how Sally Morgan discovered who she is. In a way, it was a very touching story, and I'm glad that I read it. I've never really given much thought to my own family history when it comes to race, but then race has never been something that I think about. I register different skin tones, yes, but I can't say that I label or judge people because of them. It's just not how I think. Which is why racism makes me so angry. I just don't understand the way that certain people feel that they are better than others because of the color of their skin.

Sally's story is a quest to find out about her racial origins. To make a long story short, she discovers that she is Aboriginal, and then sets about learning the stories of her family members to find out why this is such a shameful secret that must be hidden at all costs - even to the point of blatantly lying.

To be perfectly honest, I know next to nothing about Australian history, and still less about Aboriginal Australian history. This book has definitely piqued my interest, so I think that I'll be reading other books about this so that I can get a fuller picture. Morgan describes a sort of bonded-slavery as being the main interaction between "whitefellas" and "blackfellas" (Aboriginals). White people essentially forced Aboriginal people into servitude, took away their children if they were of mixed-blood ("half-caste") and looked white, and generally made their lives exceptionally difficult according to how dark their skin is. I say that this is a sort of bonded-slavery because even though it is technically slavery, with laws prohibiting Aboriginals travelling without a permit, etc, it's more like indentured servitude, as there were wages involved - even though they weren't paid most of the time. Not to mention that Aboriginals could be let go and hired into service elsewhere. They were owned, in a way, but more in terms of lack of options than actual slave ownership.

Not that this makes it any better. Slavery and racism and bigotry and ignorance are slavery and racism and bigotry and ignorance. The forms that they take matter not one bit. Aboriginal people were taken from their homes, and forced to work for nothing or next to nothing for white people who held everything over their heads at unattainable heights. It was an accomplishment just to survive. And this, still going on in the early parts of the 20th century. It's shameful.

It's also shameful that people should be made to feel so ashamed of their heritage and history that they would deny it. It's understandable that people would want to deny what they are to avoid prejudice and hatred, but it's incredibly sad that the very things that define us are the things that we wish to be rid of in order to be accepted.

I feel like it is an important book, and that it brings awareness to something that people outside of Australia are probably completely oblivious to, and people inside Australia would likely wish to forget. Just as people in the US would like to forget that we were slave-owners once too. I don't understand this seemingly universal drive for a group of people to wish to have dominance over other groups of people. I refuse to believe that this is an ingrained trait.

Anyway, I wish that I could actually give this book a higher rating. I do feel like it is important, but I wish that it was a little more accessible. It feels like it was written with native Australians in mind - people who would already know what a goanna is, and what a didgeridoo is, etc. Things are mentioned but not explained, so there's a lot that has to be looked up in order to get the full story. It feels like it was written for people who already have an academic knowledge of Australia's Aboriginal history, but now just need a few more details to really understand. In a way, this book gives them that, but not with the depth that it could have.

It is written in very simple and straightforward language, which, to me, depersonalizes the story a bit too much. Granted, this should be a story in which you could fit yourself in there and think "This could have happened to anyone... this could have happened to ME and MY family," but really it is a personal story about Sally's family, and the way it was written was too detached to really allow the reader in. The story told us what happened ("And then I was beaten with a whip.") but in a very clinical fashion which makes it hard to feel for someone who doesn't seem to be upset themselves. After telling her mother's story, Sally mentions that she felt close to her mother, but that was all there was. Just that mention. Sally mentions later that there are "depths to {the story} that she knows that she will never plumb." Which is true, but telling us that there are depths isn't the same as communicating them. I would have liked to feel like I was being told the story directly, not a fact-based reproduction of it. I know that this story is a memoir, and that the information in it relies on the information that the contributors are willing or able to share. But it just seems to me that there was a lack of personalization that would have really brought the story together and made it something amazing.

Also there were quite a few typos and errors in the text, which was distracting. One in particular really threw me for a loop - Sally's mother is relaying the story of her father's death, and how she was concerned about his afterlife whereabouts, so she asked "Gold" to show her where he was. I racked my brains for about a minute, trying to think of who Gold was, when it dawned on me that it was supposed to be "God".

And that brings me to my next point, which is that there is a "spiritual realism" aspect to parts of the book. Several of the family members are stated to have seen visions, both of the future and of God and angels, and to have seen signs and omens and the like. I feel like this part of the story wasn't very believable. It was relayed as fact, as was everything else, but I'm a natural skeptic, so I found it hard to believe in visions of angels and the like. I'm not saying that they didn't happen - I don't know what they saw or didn't see - I just would have liked for there to have been a little explanation as to the spiritual nature of Aboriginal people. Parts struck me as being almost voodooish in nature (and this is NOT meant in the "EVIL BLACK MAGIC" way, but as the spiritual religious way), but also mixed in with Christianity in a way that just... I don't know. It didn't feel right for some reason. Like it was tacked on to show how they just knew things would work out, but the history for these feelings wasn't prsented to make it believeable to me. Again, I'm not saying that it didn't happen, because I can't know that. People's faith and spiritualism takes all different shapes and forms, and that's perfectly fine by me. I just wish that there was a basis - a tradition - that explained that Aboriginal people are more in tune with this part of life than other people. This is barely hinted at, but not in the way that I'd like to be able to appreciate these sections.

Overall, I did enjoy the book. It was a quick read, and has started an interest in Australian history that I wouldn't have had before. I will definitely look into more books in the future to see if I can get a fuller understanding of the way life was there, and how it is now. I appreciate having read this book, at having my horizons widened.

Thanks for sharing this book with me, Jon! :)
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Victor Lara Dear Becky, this book is indeed for academic purposes. I'm studying Postcolonialism in my university and it is in the "To Read" list. I don't think it was actually meant to be for students or researchers but it has eventually landed in that field. It is an amazing tool to unveil racism and slavery in what looks as a far, conservative Australia, but is still pretty reluctant to let go of the power of the Whites. Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed it. It was an awesome read for me!!

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