Under the Windamarra Tree Paperback – 1 Jan 2003
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If anyone knows Doris Pilkington's email address, Please let me know! I want to thank her for her 4 extraordinary books.
Daniel Adkins firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Under the Wintamarra Tree’ is the story of Doris Pilkington, the daughter of Molly whose heroic trek was the subject of the book ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’, made into a film by Phillip Noyce in 2002. Like ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’, it illustrates how young lives can be damaged, even with the best of (misguided) intentions.
‘These adults who conditioned and indoctrinated the Aboriginal children in their care were confident that the children would lose all memories of their actual families and thus their Aboriginal heritage.’
Doris Pilkington was born at Balfour Downs Station, near the north Western Australian settlement of Jigalong in 1937. Her mother Molly named her Nugi Garimara, but Molly’s employer Mary Dunnet insisted on calling her Doris. Doris’s birth was unregistered, and her birthday was recorded as being 1 July 1937 by the Department of Native Affairs. When Doris was aged three and a half, she was taken from her mother to be raised at the Moore River mission. The authorities believed that Doris and her sister Anna were three quarters white and therefore needed to be separated from the ‘desert natives’ and given an education.
‘However, we must secure Anna. She is too white to stay with Molly.’
Doris Pilkington wrote this autobiographical book in the third person as it relates to the earlier part of her life, switching to the first person as her account becomes more contemporary. It’s almost as though Doris is, together with the reader, observing a different person in a life long past. It imposes a detachment on the events and people which, for me at least, serves to mute the impact. Perhaps this was one way of reducing the pain of recounting her life before she met up with her parents again after twenty years apart.
‘The hot easterly winds carried the sound of a mother’s cry to tell everyone that her daughter who was taken away as a child had returned as a woman and a mother.’
I found it unbearably sad to read Doris’s very personal account of separation from her parents. And, while ‘Under the Wintamarra Tree’ is too disjointed a narrative to hold the reader’s attention in the same way as ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’, I will read (and re-read) it as a reminder of the consequences of depriving children of their language and culture, of their sense of belonging.
Doris Pilkington (Nugi Garimara) died in Perth, Western Australia, on the 10th of April 2014. She was aged 76.
‘The wintamarra tree is a permanent reminder of the beginning of my life. The journey of healing and the healing process is similar to the wintamarra tree. It’s always been there waiting for me to come and reconnect to my birthplace.’