Wisdom Man: Banjo Clarke, an Aboriginal Elder

We’ve become used to a changing society, however few people so much exemplify the struggles, challenges and opportunities for spiritual growth as Banjo Clark, an Australian aboriginal did.

I did not know much about the injustices done to the aboriginal people of Australia. In Wisdom Man: Banjo Clarke I’ve learned that not only were they denied property rights to the land they lived on for generations, but their men were killed and their women raped. The result is that the aboriginal people’s of Australia are now, genetically as well as socially, a mixed breed.

Up into the 1960s aboriginal children were taken from their parents to be adopted by ‘white’ parents.

In short, social injustice was experienced first hand by Banjo Clarke who lived through most of the 20th century (born about 1922, died 200). I won’t repeat all the examples of social injustice in this book, except to say that it includes the oral history of such injustices in his family history going back well into the 19th century.

This alone would make this an interesting biography, but what makes it worth a mention on this spiritual blog is the character Banjo showed in dealing with his challenges.

The saintly tribal elder has become a bit too self evident a pattern. I fully expected not to be impressed by this repetition on the theme.

Yet I was moved and touched.

Partly it has to do with the editing of this biography. I say biography, because that’s how this book is marketed. However, it is mostly an autobiography: Banjo dictated the bulk of the material to Camilla Chance who didn’t do much beyond organizing the material and cleaning it up here and there.

The result is a book in which the narrative voice of the story teller Banjo Clarke comes through. And precisely because it’s autobiographical, Banjo doesn’t come off too saintly to be unbelievable. We learn of his struggles with alcohol and marriage as well as of the way his home turned into a place of refuge for people of all backgrounds.

The only bit that grates a bit against my nerves is the description of the Bahai. They sound so very ideal from the description that it doesn’t feel quite real. Don’t get me wrong: the Bahai have great ideals and are admirable in the way they continue to bridge cultural differences and deal with persecution. I guess it’s rare to read the glowing accounts of a convert and not feel something is missing… And it is my own lack of conversion to that faith that is missing.

Don’t get me wrong, this book is not about the Bahai: their only mentioned tangentially in fact. Banjo’s conversion to the faith doesn’t take up more than a line or two in the book. It seems the faith was more a confirmation of Banjo’s values than that it changed him. However it was a support for him and who, reading all he did and went through could grudge him that.

If you want to be reminded what wisdom looks like, this is definitely a five star recommendation. And don’t we all need to be reminded every once in a while?