Saturday, 23 April 2016

Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story

Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story by Christobel Mattingley (Allen & Unwin) PB RRP$19.099 ISBN 9781760290177

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The first thing to notice about this book is how beautiful it is, like a small work of art from the title page with its background of indigenous pattern artwork  through its almost 200 pages with good quality paper and numerous photographs, black and white and coloured. The typeface is brown, easy on the eye, and the whole design of the book is considered and attractive.

Award-winning author Christobel Mattingley, a white woman from Adelaide, honours the legacy here of Yvonne Edwards, a highly respected and community elder who was born near the United Aborigines Mission (UAM) at Ooldea in 1950. The artwork is Yvonne’s, and so is the country shown in the photos. Yvonne’s mother was one of the Anangu family while her father was white (a walypala). Her Aboriginal name was Tjintjiwara and her mother tongue was Pitjantajara. As her child she learned how to carve artifacts, skin rabbits, make damper and draw in the sand. And, too, she learned the stories of the Dreamtime.

However, the Anangu family was told to leave by the white people and sent to the country of another Aboriginal family. Meanwhile, at an Anangu place called Maralinga, white people were planning something which would cause long, slow and painful dying to Yvonne’s husband and two of her sons. Maralinga, of course, was the site of atomic bomb testing.

In clear and obviously well-researched fiction, Mattingley relates Yvonne’s story from her birth through her upbringing. Like many indigenous children, she was taken from her family for a while, but then returned to the Lutheran mission. When the girl was pre-pubescent, the atomic testing – almost 100 kilotons of explosives – occurred near the mission. It went on from 19653 to 1957 with elderly people dying and some blinded. More personal disaster occurred for Yvonne when her first born son was taken from her by Welfare: it would be 20 years before she saw David again.

This beautifully written and designed book is sure to be of interest not just to young readers, but for anyone with an interest in the life of a woman whose life and those of her clan was affected by decisions made by ignorant white people. Maralinga cast a very long shadow, but throughout her life Yvonne triumphed, finding her gift as an artist in her later years. In 2012 after a turbulent life which included the loss of close family, Yvonne died at the age of 61. Happily a copy of Maralinga: The Anangu Story was brought to the hospital for staff to see what an important person they were caring for.


Mattingley met and befriended Yvonne six years before her death, but had to wait for two years after her friend’s death, as is Aboriginal custom, before she could write her book. It is a moving tribute to a wonderful woman.

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