We Came With This Place By Debra Dunk – A gem to rival Australia’s great desert memoir | Wrote

DrIbra Dank is a Gudanji and Wakaja woman, mother, grandmother, and teacher. These are important autobiographical notes, because this book is about all those qualifications that not only make the author what she is, but root the story in general and direct its purpose.

Part memoir, shrub guide, customs guide, this is a book you can count on and enjoy. Above all else, this is a story to learn from. In her preface, Dank calls it “a strange kind of letter written to my place,” yet this strange weaving back and forth through time and dimension adds to the reader’s experience.

We come with this place is a gem of a book, Australians in particular should read and point out. In this way, it belongs to the famous desert memoirs, such as Nino The Grandmother’s Law, by Nora Nongalka Ward, about the life of a Yankunitjatjara woman from the Central Sahara; And two sisters, the story of the Magari brothers, Ngarta and Jokona, as they leave the Great Sandy Desert.

Dank takes her time opening the story. She tells you about the land she grew up on – a character in itself, and all its broken dust and rocks – but that’s just a small part of the whole: there is so much more to this stretch of the country in far western Queensland, across Barkley Table and Carpentaria Bay. She gave birth to the black child of a black stock man, a fact that is omnipresent in her family’s life, and the threat posed by Belki Petersen Queensland in the 1950s and 1960s. The unseen danger is seen in the images of a sudden cloud of locusts swallowing their truck bound for Oban Station, and a sky full of fish raining writhing all over the barren streets of Camowell.

There is a sense of heaviness throughout the book, of theft, loss, and accidental death too – Dank was a childhood of discovery and keen observation, both for the beauty and brutality of Australian rural life. Hungry and thirsty people and animals litter the pages; The liberated cattle gather around the dwelling, or the severe rationing of fresh water.

This is also the story of the Dunk family, siblings, parents, grandparents, and ancestors through time; From the Bungmaji and the Three Maramanas, the Water Women, and others. Many of the stories focus on the infatuation, forgiveness, and love of a troubled parent. Of note is Dunk’s father, Soda, whose story follows immortal paths as he escapes from station owners and mission priests, crossing hot country with a small stone or hard seed as “the presence of the UFO produced water in his mouth”. We see him dancing and joking with his kids and working endlessly and suffering too. There he is reunited with his mother, Lucy, and the untold crimes he witnesses in that moment before they separate again.

Dank is especially skilled at showing remote areas through children’s eyes and hearts: magical fish, things that can poison, the disfiguring yellow bodies of grasshoppers, farming accidents—in this case, a man sucking the tip of a carbine light, ending “without his brain.” The sting of a red meat ant and the unexpected and confusing kindness of white strangers are stories told side by side. Everything seems to be intertwined with beauty and pain. There is the food and drink that binds time, place and joy to their broken hearts – the story of Conkerberry (plum bush), Mamojugamma In the Gudanji language, “We all prefer them, including turkeys.” And the fascinating story of Grandfather Dunk pulling five perches out of a secret hole in the desert, where you discover “how we can take fish from the cold waters of arid places.”

There are quiet discoveries made in fresh and salt water, and the mixing of each of them in her marriage to a white fella, and in returning with her adult children to a country where her son longs to take off his shoes, so that his feet may breathe on a drain; In his words, “My feet have felt all these things here before.”

In the end, Dunk reckons violence that was never supposed to enter her family tree, but did, and she overcame it. It was as if these massive setbacks had lodged in her mouth as a child, unwilling to say too many things out loud. Here, in the privacy and communication of the page, Dank’s voice is heard clearly and courageously, and we, the readers, our fellow residents of this country, are richer even more because this book was written.