I, The Aboriginal by Douglas Lockwood

‘Waipuldanya began life as a piccaninny on the Roper River in the south- east corner of Arnhem Land.’

Philip ‘Waipuldanya’ Roberts OBE (1922 – 24 November 1988) was a traditional doctor, activist and adviser to the Commonwealth Government of Australia on Aboriginal policies and programs. This book is his autobiography, as told to Douglas Lockwood, and was first published in 1962.

This is the story of a man who straddled two cultures and was aware of the influence of both on his life. As a youth, Waipuldanya was taught how to track and hunt, how to live off the land. He introduces us to a way of life which had been largely untouched for thousands of years. He introduces us to a way of life which, while it was rich in meaning, full of ritual and beliefs, was considered inferior by ‘white-feller’ society.

‘Unfortunately for us, the alien laws of England, written centuries after our own, do not list interference with a sacred tree as a punishable offence, although heavy penalties are provided for sacrilege committed elsewhere – whether in a Christian Church, a Moslem Temple, or a Chinese Joss-House.

Is it surprising, therefore, that we resent compliance with supreme laws compulsorily applied to our lives without consultation?’

Waipuldanya , known in the ‘white-feller’ world as Philip Roberts, trained as a medical assistant and travelled far and wide to treat remote Indigenous people suffering from diseases such as leprosy and yaws.  He learned how to read medical slides, with Dr ‘Spike’ Langsford. Later he was taught, by Dr Tarlton Rayment, how to operate an X-ray machine.

I read this book, conscious of how little I know about Indigenous cultures and beliefs. I finished wanting to know more.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AussieAuthor 2021

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