Christobel Mattingley AM DUniv
Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story (Allen & Unwin, April 2016)
A new book by one of Australia's most respected authors, Christobel Mattingley AM DUniv, presents another chapter in the heartbreaking story of the treatment of the Anangu people during European settlement in South Australia.
It will be launched during National Reconciliation Week on
Thursday 2 June at Tandanya Aboriginal Cultural Institute in Adelaide.
Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story honours the legacy of respected Anangu artist and community leader, Yvonne Edwards, who passed away in 2012. It tells the story of the British nuclear tests at Maralinga in the 1950s and early 1960s, and the far reaching consequences for her family and community which continue to this day.
Christobel has devoted a major part of her career to telling the story of Aboriginal people in South Australia, including her landmark history Survival in Our Own Land: 'Aboriginal' Experiences in 'South Australia' since 1836 (1988) and Maralinga: the Anangu Story (2009).
Christobel met Yvonne, an elder and accomplished artist, while working on Maralinga: the Anangu Story, which she researched and wrote with a group of senior Aboriginal women.
“Yvonne was a woman of great courage and humanity. She had had an extremely difficult life, but she was still so positive, generous and warm-hearted. I agreed to help her tell her story, but she wanted to do the art for it,” says Christobel.
“Because of the circumstances of her life she was unable to paint, it was too sad and tragic for her. Her husband had died from cancer before I met her, as had her uncle and her sister before him. Then, while we were still working on Maralinga: the Anangu Story, her son, who had been taken away from her as a baby - and whom she had spent 20 years looking for - was killed in a road accident. Then, after that book was published, her next two sons died of cancer.”
Yvonne was too grief stricken to paint and Christobel waited for three years until Yvonne rang her on 7 March 2012.
“I’d been in regular contact with her, always taking notes of the conversations, gathering material. I wanted to work with her, so I was pleased when she rang and said she was ready to start,” says Christobel.
Sadly, Yvonne collapsed just a week after this phone call and died after 22 days in intensive care. Christobel then waited two years until the end of the cultural mourning period before she finally began the book in 2014.
“Yvonne was a very strong woman. She had a deep Christian faith and a huge, unlimited love for her people. She tried with every fibre of her being to help them with the situation that they had been put in when they were removed from their ancestral lands and placed into a settlement on the lands of another people. They had no connection with this new land – there were no sacred sites, no roots. They were forced to conform to white culture so it was a time of great adjustment, and Yvonne did her best to help her people through it – the terrible struggles with alcohol and drugs and the great grief of dispossession,” says Christobel.
“These people have been through hideous things and now South Australia is talking about building an international nuclear waste dump,” she says.
Two years after Yvonne’s death her story was published in April 2016. It has proved to be very timely, says Christobel, with the findings of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission being released for discussion. She has lodged submissions with the Commonwealth Department of Industry, Innovation and Science enquiry and the South Australian Royal Commission.
“Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story has been produced as a young adult book with teachers’ notes aimed at Years 10 upwards. It is a story that needs to go into schools. People just don’t know about Maralinga. Young people need to know about the effects of it,” says Christobel.
First published in 1970, Christobel has written 47 books for children and young people. Some, such as the Asmir trilogy, are based on real people and their experiences. My Father’s Islands is based on Abel Tasman’s journals. Many of her books have been translated into other languages. She has also written six adult biographies.
She views the next generation as the hope for the future. “Young people are honest about what they read and they will take on board anything that really touches their hearts.
“They need to know what being Australian really means, that many Aboriginal people have been dispossessed, their culture has been really severely prejudiced and they’re still living with that.”
Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story and an exhibition of Yvonne Edwards’ artwork will be launched at 6:00pm on Thursday 2 June at Tandanya Aboriginal Cultural Institute, 253 Grenfell Street, Adelaide. All welcome. The exhibition continues until 3 July 2016.
Christobel Mattingley was made an Honorary Doctor of the University of South Australia in 1995 and a Member of the Order of Australia in 1996. Other awards recognising her service to literature and social justice include the Advance Australia Award (1990), the Ekidnas Lifetime Recognition Award (2004), UNESCO (Adelaide Chapter) Award (2009), Alice Award (2010). In 2015 she was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters of the University of Tasmania.