From Mungo to North Sentinel: messages from the real world
But even if it can't offer the tactile delights of the printed word, electronic publishing does afford certain special pleasures, like the possibility of immediate communication between reader and writer. Most of the online journals and blogs I write for and read have comments boxes, and those that don't at least list the e mail addresses of their contributors.
One of the most enjoyable things about blogging is reading the comments one's posts provoke. Positive comments are nice, especially when they come from experts in a field one is interested in, and even abusive comments - and, let's face it, this blog attracts its fair share of abusive comments - have, for me at least, an obscure fascination. (I've thought of keeping a record of the various epithets I've attracted from my more abusive critics - 'fake Pakeha', 'failed poet', and 'long white political pig' are three of my favourites...)
I find it especially exciting to be contacted by someone with an intimate connection to a place or a piece of history I have written about. Last September I posted an essay about Lake Mungo, the Unesco World Heritage Site in the far west of New South Wales where bones, tools, and campfires are preserved in layered walls of sand and mud that have been raised and sculpted by meticulous desert winds over the last one hundred thousand years. Since the stratigrapher and bushman Jim Bowler discovered an ancient skeleton he dubbed 'Mungo Man' in 1974, Mungo has been a place of pilgrimage for archaeologists. Mungo Man is between forty and sixty-five thousand years old, and Mungo is one of the oldest known continually-inhabited places outside Africa.
It is a pleasure to find that someone with a very close connection to Lake Mungo and to Jim Bowler recently read and responded to my 'Annotated Guide to Mungo National Park'. Here's the comment that Jenny Bowler left under my post last week:
Beautiful post...came across your site as I was looking for a poem with reflections on Mungo.
Much like the history and presences of Lake Mungo; a silent shadow on the Australian psyche, the finder of Mungo Man & Mungo Woman also remains mostly unrecognised.
My parents are about to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, for 40 years of that my father worked at Mungo. His PhD was done on the sheep farm in the 60's and it was he who came face to face - alone on the shores of Mungo, with the original inhabitants of 40,000 BC. His life's work has been compiled into a CD Rom call - Lake Mungo...he can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
It is such an evocative landscape, that slowly is beginning to rise and feed the imaginations of those who visit and hopefully school students who might find it soon embedded in the curriculum. Climate change...Australian Ancient history...ecology...Aboriginal perspective...science...pastrolists...artist
...artists...politics - all meet in the lakebed of Mungo. What more do we need for a great story.
Oh yeah and by the way, my father's name is Jim Bowler.
Thanks Jenny, and sorry for calling your old man John instead of Jim! Jenny's comment follows one made a couple of months ago by someone calling him or herself 'Aussie Knight':
Just as an aside to this fascinating article. I grew up in this area in the sixties and often travelled through and played in the dunes etc. When it was made a national park many people were upset as the 'owners' had been on the land for a long time. Ironically, 15 years later the same family won 16 million dollars in a lottery. Perhaps there is such a thing as Karma!
Because of a blog's function as a sort of informal archive, and because of the frightening indefatigability of search engines, an almost-forgotten post can sometimes attract a comment years after it was made. Back at the beginning of 2006, when this blog was just learning to crawl, I posted about North Sentinel, the island in the Bay of Bengal which is home to one of the world's last 'uncontacted' peoples. The people of North Sentinel are technically citizens of India, but they look like African pygmies, have had little to do with the world outside their island for thousands of years, and speak an unknown language. My post was a response to a marvellous article on North Sentinel by Adam Goodheart, who seems to have developed the obsession with obscure tropical islands that is an occupational hazard for romantic Western intellectuals. Goodheart told the story of a cargo ship called the Primrose, which became stranded on a reef close to North Sentinel Island in 1981. When the captain of the Primrose radioed his bosses to tell them that little frizzy-haired men in dugout canoes were firing arrows at his vessel, he was at first suspected of excessive consumption of rum. Eventually the distress calls were heeded, and the captain and his crew were taken off their reef by helicopter.
Some time last year a man named Robert Fore left a short comment at the bottom of my post about North Sentinel:
I have the distinction of being the pilot who flew the helicopter which rescued the crew of the Primrose from North Sentinel Island. It is good to see that the entire episode did not simply disappear into the shadows of time. It was a memorable event for those of us involved.
I hoped that Fore's note might be the entree for a more detailed account of his extraordinary experience, and a google search turns up a long e mail he wrote to another blogger about the rescue of the crew of the Primrose.
The late David Stevens, the electronic utopian who was the proprietor of a website with the immortal name Trotsky, Sex and Drugs, once claimed that 'everything in the world is on the internet, plus a little more'. Stevens was writing a decade ago, before large parts of the internet had been enclosed by multinational companies, and before it was clear that the most popular political blogs would inevitably be panoptic spaces whose megalomaniacal proprietors wallowed to the reverberations of their own egos and the praise of their fellow-thinkers. It is hard to see much of the real world in the dozen or so posts Cameron Slater makes every day, or in the thousands of repetitious comments that are deposited at the Huffington Post every day. Yet even if the internet and the blogosphere have failed to live up to the expectations of Stevens and other idealists, communications from the likes of Jenny Bowler and Robert Fore make me feel that the game is worth the candle.