The Institute Times

Book Review by Prof Sandy Toussaint (former AIATSIS Council member)

Front cover of the two worlds of Jimmie Barker.

Aboriginal Studies Press, first published in 1977 (republished in 1980, 1982 and 1988).

The Two Worlds of Jimmie Barker, the Life of an Australian Aboriginal 1900-1972 as told to Janet Mathews is one of the few publications that entered the Australian domain in the 1970s that highlighted an Aboriginal person's life via focused storytelling, albeit with non-Aboriginal author, Janet Mathews, whose research with Jimmie and his family was funded through what was then known as the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

Jimmie was a Muruwari man, and it is mostly via Jimmie's words, detailed description and heart-felt explanations that readers learn about the bruising and prejudiced implications of social, cultural and economic inequality as he, his mother and brother, and other family members and friends were forcibly removed from their homelands by government policies and authorities in the last century.

At the very same time, and in a way that keeps readers on track, Jimmie tells evocative stories about moments of creative resilience and aspiration relating to family, lands and everyday life. These regularly reflect the beliefs and practices that influenced and reproduced the richness and tenacity of Aboriginal culture; they also reflect the emotional joys, grief, frustrations inspirations and disappointments of a shared humanity.

In contemporary settings readers might want to know more about how Jimmie Barker and Janet Mathews worked together, and some of the devices and language used to relay his story. One of the qualities that distinguish Two Worlds, however, is that it was proudly written, published and re-published by the Institute when the wider society was starting to listen, if not always understand, about Aboriginal life in all its complex histories, continuities and contemporary presences.

Adj Prof Sandy Toussaint, Social and Environmental Sciences, University of Western Australia.