ABC Radio National’s indigenous arts and culture program Awaye is broadcasting over five weeks, beginning last week, a series of lectures by the Canadian Cherokee author, Thomas King, about storytelling.

Last week’s story, “The truth about stories”, was a thoroughly interesting talk in which King tells his version of the Cherokee creation story. He combines autobiography, history, theology, mythology and science to recount a compelling, hour-long tale that ultimately concerns the art of telling stories.

This small excerpt is the science bit. For Background, “she” is Charm, the mother of the Cherokee creation, who fell off another planet and is now heading rapidly for the prehistoric Earth, which is entirely water and inhabited only by the water animals.

And as she came around the moon the water animals were suddenly faced with four variables – mass, velocity, compression and displacement – and with two problems. The ducks who have great eyesight could see that Charm weighed in at about 150 pounds. And the beaver who had a head for physics and math knew that she was coming in fast; accelerating at, oh, 32 feet per second per second to be precise, give or take a little for drag and atmospheric friction. And the whales knew from many years of study that water does not compress while the dolphins would tell anyone who asked, that while it won’t compress, water will displace.

I’m not going to give away any more of that story here, I think it’s worthy of listening to, but unfortunately, due to copyright restrictions, it can’t be downloaded as an mp3, it has to be streamed from the Awaye website.

This week’s story, “You’re not the Indian I had in mind”, focuses on the difference between Indians, as they exist in mainstream American cultural ethos, the sort of person who wears a feathered head-dress and a bone breastplate sitting in a tipi smoking a peace-pipe, and an Indian with a name, a personal identity and a background, the one that is often ignored.

King also tells about the period of his life he spent in New Zealand and Australia. Despite working for a little while as a miner in Tennant Creek, he never saw an indigenous Australian, nor had the people he worked with, while they were happy to profess to know that it was their own fault that they were in such debilitating poverty. King characterises the different cultural attitudes to indigenous people in Australia and in New Zealand with an epitaph that’s probably no less applicable today than it was back then.

The two groups [White New Zealanders and Maoris] seem to have organised themselves around an uneasy peace between equals. In Australia there was no such peace. Just a damp, sweltering campaign of discrimination that you could feel on your skin and smell in your hair.

There will be three more of these lectures and since I thoroughly enjoyed these first two, I’ll be waiting patiently for the rest.

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