Sunday 19 September 2010

Dog Ear Café

Dog Ear Café by Andrew Stojanovski (Hybrid Publishing)
PB RRP $34.95
ISBN 978192166506
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

I feel like stopping people in the street to tell them that they MUST read Dog Ear Café. It is essential reading for all young adult and adult Australians. Dog Ear Cafe is a powerful recount of Andrew Stojanovski’s time in the central Australian community of Yuendumu where the battle raged to save the community’s youth from a petrol-sniffing culture. Young people were becoming brain-damaged and dying. Along with Walpiri community elders, Stojanovski established the Mt Theo Petrol Sniffing Program which in eight years defeated petrol-sniffing.

However, it was not an easy eight years. How Stojanovski stuck it out, I don’t know. At times his life was threatened and his marriage teetered. Many other good men and women gave their all but were finally exhausted and left.

One of the great strengths of this book is it is written from the heart and with humour but does not gloss over the harsh realities of life in these communities. Stojanovski has a genuine love and understanding of the Walpiri people gained through being open to their ideas and ways. Dog Ear Cafe is by no means an academic text but Stojanovski (an anthropology graduate) gives his theory on how, with all best intentions, many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people misunderstand each other. Notions of work and saving, kinship and obligation are vastly different in Western and Indigenous culture. Stojanovski explains the ramifications of these differences on how programs run and their effectiveness.

The success of the Mt. Theo Program was due to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians stepping outside their cultural boundaries, commitment and the building of close relationships. Stojanovski founded the Mt Theo Program with Peggy Nampijimpa Brown and Johnny Hooker Creek (all three were awarded Order of Australia medals in 2005). These two Indigenous leaders put themselves at great personal risk by looking after other clans' children. If something had happened to those youths, they may have been subject to the traditional notion of payback.

Dog Ear Café includes a glossary of many Walpiri words and terms; a list of people and their cultural identity; a list of places; bibliography; maps; and many colour and black-and-white photographs.

Please, please, please do yourself and our nation a favour by reading Dog Ear Cafe. This book most certainly should be in every high school, university and public library. It is a story of overcoming culture clash, and inspiration by people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who cared too much to give up.

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