Books

Stan Grant
Talking to My Country

Why we haven’t yet had an Aboriginal secession movement − say, a uranium republic declared in part of Arnhem Land − is a puzzle. Half the United Nations would probably recognise it. Stan Grant’s part-memoir explains why. Raised around country towns, given old-fashioned English names, listening to country music on their car radios, Aborigines now seem like some of the most classic “Australians” around. 

Of course, growing up in Riverina towns, Grant picked up the hidden history of places such as Poisoned Waterholes Creek and Murdering Island, where many of his Wiradjuri forebears perished. Regions from Evans Head to Margaret River have similar stories. The Myall Creek Massacre of 1838 was the exception that got into the history books because seven of the perpetrators hanged. The lesson taken was not justice, but a deeper code of colonial omerta to conceal further extermination. 

Yet Grant has sympathy for the Irish ex-convict who gave him his surname, via an unknown Aboriginal woman, on the Wiradjuri land he fenced in for his sheep. His family story since is one of crossed racial lines, including the courageous white woman who moved in with his grandfather in a riverside shanty. Grant’s father worked hard and his mother built and rebuilt a home in their itinerant life. School playgrounds were divided between Anglos, Abos and dagos (not his words), and when they turned 15, the headmaster called in Grant and his Aboriginal classmates to advise them further schooling was pointless. Luckily again, Grant’s dad got work in Canberra and eventually a government house, so Grant’s education continued, beyond school, as office boy in the then Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, where he devoured the library. He learnt more, thanks to Marcia Langton’s encouragement, at the University of New South Wales, and as a cadet journalist at the ABC. 

A stellar TV career followed – with some “missteps” into TV tawdriness – including long postings with CNN in China and the Middle East. The suffering he saw, the distant perspective on Australia, developed the fine mind behind the wholesomely handsome TV reporter image. We recently heard it in his IQ2 speech. This book is a longer, equally eloquent version: Australia viewed from the riverbank on the edge of town; great affection mixed with discomfort about “Advance Australia Fair”. Grant will be an important voice in shaping this nation further.  JF

HarperCollins, 240pp, $29.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 12, 2016 as "Stan Grant, Talking to My Country ". Subscribe here.

Reviewer: JF