Debra Dank is a Gudanji/Wakaja woman with an important story to tell. She is a woman who walks comfortably in two worlds. Or perhaps, more accurately, Dank possesses an innate ability to merge two worlds: that of the people and Country she was born from and the shocking narrative of colonial violence and the attempted dispossession of not only her family and community but the hundreds of nations of Indigenous people across a continent also known as Australia.
The manner is which Dank weaves her story, delivered with subtlety, is mesmerising. The tone of the writing is meditative, contemplative on every page.
Dank’s story begins a long way from home, inside the Oxford University library, where she admires a 400-year-old edition of Aristotle’s De Anima (On the Soul). She is a scholar with a PhD in narrative theory and semiotics. Dank clearly respects Western knowledge and its history but laments the fact Indigenous “soul-deep” stories were absent from her “classrooms of schools in Queensland in the 1960s and 1970s”. Her determination to rectify an absence is to engage with deep-time story born “long before paper and words learn to yarn together”.
One aspect of this story is nurtured within Gudanji Country. It cannot be found in any library, institution or within the pages of a book. As Dank shares with us, “Our story is etched into the rocks and it whispers through the trees with our kin who are more than human.” We are then introduced to some of these places, where stories of creation, of birth, are embedded in land. These are not narratives of the past alone but stories vital to our contemporary understanding of ecological health and the protection of Country faced with the challenges of climatic degradation.
Dank, her family and her ancestors also inhabit another place. It is a place where the bravery of Indigenous people accompanies a love of Country. The companion narrative in We Come with This Place is a story of sadness and violence. It is a story of racism and the knowledge that skin colour, be it pale or dark, can determine a person’s future in a so-called lucky country. It is a story of the forced separation of families and the fear instilled in people who want nothing more in life than to share it with those they love. Debra Dank entered a world of immense challenge. The journey she documents is courageous and inspirational.
Echo Publishing, 252pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 22, 2023 as "We Come with This Place, Tony Birch, Debra Dank".
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