After my fascination with the Tarzan series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, I gained an interest in books by Arthur Upfield.
Arthur William Upfield (1 September 1890 – 12 February 1964) was an English born Australian writer of detective fiction.
Following his war service in World War 1 Upfield travelled extensively throughout outback Australia, obtaining a knowledge of Australian Aboriginal culture that he would later use in his written works. He is best known for the series of twenty nine books featuring Detective Inspector Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte of the Queensland Police Force. Bony is of mixed parentage, with an English father and an Aboriginal mother.
My interest was piqued by an Australian television series from the early 1970’s based on the Bony series of books and starring James Laurenson. Laurenson, a New Zealander in fact, was indeed my reason to finish all homework in record time on a Tuesday evening. Tall and dark, my tastes were nothing but consistent.
Interestingly, the money guys had to change the spelling to make the title easier to pronounce for the mums and dads at home. Which just goes to show that having money does not equate to having brains…..
Being a born and bred city lass I was fascinated by the outback scenery on the tv. Vast open spaces, red dirt, the scrub, big blue skies, the strength of the people who managed to survive and thrive in such remote and brutal landscapes: it was all new to me and I was captivated. Not so impressed by the flies nor snakes, this was the birth of my next book collection. I must have kept Angus and Robertson in business in the late 60s with all those Gift Certificates!
Bony maintained my interest for several years, not because of any interest in crime or mystery, but because Upfield included much Aboriginal lore into his novels. As a primary school student my introduction to our indigenous peoples was limited to what we learned from social history books, which was minimal and totally unflattering. Sadly, I don’t think as a nation that view has changed much, though I was schooled never to discuss politics, religion, or sex at the table.
I’ve just reread the sixth book in the series, The Bone Is Pointed, some forty years after my first effort. Bony, university educated, comes across as arrogant, and a tad pompous, and his language stilted and far more English that Australian. All these years later I still enjoyed his Aboriginal tracking skills and the way he reads the lay of the land, as well as the spirituality of our first people.
For example :
The ceremony of bone pointing is a common ritual for bringing sickness among the [Australian] Arunta. The pointing bone or pointing stick is usually about nine inches in length, pointed at one end, and tipped with a lump of resin at the other. The stick is endowed with magical power by being ‘sung over,’ that is, curses are muttered over it, such as ‘may your heart be rent asunder’ and ‘may your head and throat be split open.’ On the evening of the day on which the bone has been ‘sung’ the wizard creeps stealthily in the shadows until he can see the victim’s face clearly by the firelight. He then points the bone in the victim’s direction and utters in a low tone the curses with which the stick was endowed earlier in the day. The victim is supposed to sicken and die within a month at the most. Two men may cooperate in the pointing operation. Spears may also be endowed with magic by ‘singing’ over them. A person who knows that he has been injured, even slightly, with a spear thus prepared will be likely to waste away through fear unless counter magic can be brought to his aid.
–from “Primitive Theories of Disease” by Spencer L. Rogers in Ciba Symposia (April 1942)
Unfortunately, I think Upfield’s books are very much dated with political correctness madness having taken over our world, but I remember them fondly as a snapshot of an earlier Australia, when rabbits out numbered people, and our forefathers lived off the land.
I guess the really big questions have to be asked : why the heck did I marry (and divorce) a blond?
And who wears a white shirt in the Australian outback?
Answer: someone who has never washed or ironed in their life!