The Passion of Private White, Don Watson


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From the bestselling author of The Bush, the story of a fifty-year relationship between a Vietnam veteran and a remote Aboriginal tribe: a miniature epic of human adaptation, suffering and resilience. The Passion of Private White describes the meeting of two worlds: the world of the fiercely driven biologist and anthropologist Neville White, and the world of the hunter-gatherer clans of remote northern Australia he studied and lived with. As White tried to understand the world as it was understood on the other side of the vast cultural divide, he was also trying to transcend the mental scars he suffered on the battlefields of Vietnam. The clans had their own injuries to deal with, as they tried to adapt to modernity, live down their losses and yet hold onto their ancient lands, customs, laws and language. Over five decades, White mapped in astonishing detail the culture and history of the Yolgnu clans at Donydji in north-east Arnhem Land. But eventually presence meant involvement, and White became advocate more than anthropologist in the clan’s struggle to survive when everything – from the ambitions of mining companies and a zombie bureaucracy, to feuds, sorcery and magic, despair and dysfunction – conspired to destroy them. And the fifty-year endeavour served another purpose for White and the members of his old platoon he took there. Working to help the community at Donydji became a kind of antidote for the psychic wounds of Vietnam. While for the clans, from the old warriors to the children, their fanatical benefactor offered a few rays of meaning and hope. There was no cure in this meeting of two worlds, both suffering their own form of PTSD, but they helped each other survive. This is a miniature epic of human adaptation, suffering and resilience, an astonishing window into both our recent and our deep history, the coloniser and colonised – indeed into the human condition itself.

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Weight 400 g