‘My name is Elizabeth Warnngupayi Marrkilyi Ellis and I have lived a semi-traditional life. I was born in 1962 in the bush at Warakurna, Ngaatjatjarra country, in the Rawlinson Ranges just west of the West Australian—Northern Territory border in the Western Desert.’
In this book, Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis writes of her life as a Ngaatjatjarra woman from central Australia’s Western Desert region. Ms Ellis was born around the time of the first contact between her family and European Australians. Ms Ellis writes of the two Australian worlds she occupies: Aboriginal and European, and of two very different cultures.
‘If you lose your language, you lose the culture.’
I found this memoir both interesting and informative. While I knew that the Western Desert people were some of the last to have contact with European Australians, I didn’t realise that this was as late as the early 1960s. This makes Ms Ellis’s account even more important: she is a literate and educated woman, able to share (where appropriate) her knowledge and experience of her heritage. Some much Aboriginal culture is now lost. But Ms Ellis’s experience need not be. She is able to explain the complicated familial relationships that are so important to Aboriginal people, explain how traditional society functioned, and how the world was viewed.
‘But knowing a language is not enough to be able to practice a culture. You can’t just speak the language and be an active participant. It starts as a child.’
Straddling two worlds is not without its challenges. Ms Ellis writes of her marriage to Michael Ellis, a white school teacher. Of her brother’s negotiation of Michael’s car as a bride-price.
The book contains both an introduction and an anthropological overview of Ngaatjatjarra culture by anthropologist Laurent Dousset. It also contains a glossary of Ngattjatjarra words.
I recommend this book highly to anyone interested in an articulate, interesting and lively account of a life being lived between European and Aboriginal worlds.