Truth is much stranger than fiction: Marlo Morgan and Mutant Messages from Down Under

So you know that saying “truth is stranger than fiction”?

Well, this story takes the cake, if there is one being awarded.

I am in the middle (literally) of my literature review, and, seeing as my brain is working like Endnote right now (crashing and requiring a restart), I thought I would break in order to fill you in on one of the funniest stories that I’ve read yet. When I say funny, however, you should note that I am an Australian and (perhaps this is unrelated or perhaps not) prone to a strange sense of humour. Nevertheless, let’s give it a shot.

In 1991, a woman called Marlo Morgan wrote a narrative about an Aboriginal tribe of the Central Desert. It was called Mutant Message from Down Under. Picked up by a large American Publishing company, it is now in its fourth printing. You can see its cover here:


Yes, that’s right, it’s in its tenth anniversary edition (and the words ‘Down Under’ are upside down *groan*, but we’ll forgive that one for now).

According to Vanessa Gould of The West Australian (an Australian newspaper), Morgan made over $4.8 million in sales. Wowzers!

And, they were about to turn the book into a movie, except, some offended elders got in touch with her. The article I found is priceless, and takes place in the house of Stephen Seagal. Who, I guess, was hoping for movie rights. In the end, this movie mogul staged a conversation…. where, basically, these elders on Seagal’s speakerphone demanded that Morgan apologise, and admit she had never been to Australia.

They didn’t want any compensation, they just wanted her to admit it.

Why? Well there are a number of dead giveaways…. firstly, the story line centres around her claim that she was abducted by a Central Desert Aboriginal community (uh… what??? Anyone seen the movie Utopia???) …. then, she claims she was initiated into this ‘tribe’ (double uh?? The probability of this is like a fish going to the moon)… who shared with her secret knowledges about koalas and dolphins – which she claims were sacred to these ‘Aborigines’. Now this is particularly weird because neither animal appears in the desert, and therefore cannot possibly be sacred to them.

Let me spell this out in small pieces, because some of my early readers have missed this point entirely: Aboriginal spirituality is linked to the features of the land they live on. Koalas *only* eat eucalyptus trees. Dolphins require water to swim in. Neither eucalyptus trees nor water can be found in the Australian desert.This makes it, in fact, a parody of indigenous Australian religion….

Well, I guess we would know that because these Aboriginals called themselves “The Real People” and describe Settler Australians as “Mutants”. Look, I’ve heard of “white fella”, “black fella” and “Balanda” (white fella in Yolgnu), but this is outrageous! … and even maybe exploitative.

During the book, Australians ring other Australians with quarters – which is funny, because we have a 10c piece and a 20c piece, but it takes two 20c pieces to make a phonecall on any public Australian phone. That’s how the Australian phrase “here’s forty cents, call someone who cares” became popular.

Morgan describes an Australian harbour city with cane toads (there isn’t one by the way, Aussies all know cane toads are from Queensland, and the harbour city is Sydney, which is twelve hour’s drive away). There is an airline carrier called Quantas (I think you mean the iconic Australian airline Qantas, which no Australian would ever get wrong).

And, to top it off, here’s a review from an Australian who works with Indigenous people in the Central Desert and states,

I have to wonder if Marlo Morgan has ventured out into the Australian desert at all. She does accurately describe the thorny nature of walking in the desert barefoot. I too have pulled thorns from my feet – but I knew what kind of thorns they were. Marlo obviously does not. She describes in detail walking for months on spinifex grass. Walking on spinifex grass is virtually impossible. It grows in large clumps, quite widely spaced, with red sand in between. Walking in the desert consists of walking around and between tussocks of spinifex. Yet Marlo several times describes walking on it as its sharp barbs dig into her feet. She must have very long legs, or the word walking means jumping in her unique dictionary. Why spend months jumping from tussock to tussock to cut your feet? In the interests of a good story? Why describe spinifex as a sharp lawn when it looks nothing like that? Could it be because you don’t really know what spinifex looks like?

What is very funny (and disturbing!!) to me is that the American website that provided the link to this review was still backing up Morgan and asserting her book is true, even after Segal’s decision to pull the plug.

I just can’t stop giggling at a white woman in the desert  in the middle of the day without a hat (every white Australian avoids sunburn like the plague) jumping from spinifex bush to spinifex bush trying to walk ‘on the grass’ in front of Uluru. Well, you can rest easy, the elders did finally receive their apology. Gould says,

In an emotional hour-long telephone call to Morgan in New York from Seagal’s Hollywood studio on Monday, Morgan admitted for the first time to the eight elders that her work was fiction and a fabrication.

Did you hear that, Morgan supporters? She apologized, because IT’S NOT TRUE.

Surprise surprise. What is funny to me is that this book is still being published, and the comments below show that there are thousands of people who still hang on the idea of Mutants.

What an insult to indigenous people!!! I almost fell over when I found it inside Fuller Theological Seminary’s library. Can’t wait to read it, given such great reviews (that was sarcasm).

Truth is much stranger than fiction, it seems.

18 thoughts on “Truth is much stranger than fiction: Marlo Morgan and Mutant Messages from Down Under

  1. The Stephen Seagal touch is priceless… mind you, there has been a lot of rain in Lake Eyre, so perhaps there is a special species of pre-dried dolphin which, like desert wildflowers, springs up (reconstitutes?) when La Niña hits the east coast! ‘Under Seige XXIII: Mutant Desert Dolphins Attack!’

  2. Ha ha ha – your research is truly digging up some treasures! Still can’t quite believe she managed to convince anyone that any of that was true but then again there are many ridiculous things that people readily believe in so many spheres of life.
    Hugs to you and thanks for giving me a good laugh :0)

  3. I have read this book. It was given to me by an American whilst I was visiting their country two years ago. The author has been exposed for producing such a fabricated story. She actually made a great deal of money and went on book tours wide and far to promote her story. One of those amazing and enterprising Americans!!!
    Lynne H.

  4. I would be interested in hearing about Australian Aboriginal spiritual beliefs – is there a book you would recommend that is written by an Aboriginal Elder or an Australian that is accurate?

    1. Great question, I hope what I say makes sense. The main thing to note is that before colonisation, there were over 200 nations, each with their own language and spiritual beliefs. During the genocides and following mission era, a *lot* of these languages and religious practices were lost. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that 1% of indigenous Christians practice traditional religion, and 6% in extreme remote communities. In contrast, 74% of Aboriginal Australians identify as Christians. Much of the religious practices considered “traditional” is a new-age fusion of beliefs, in the vein of Morgan. There are some a academic works by anthropologists, and some articles I can recommend.

      But, if you’re wanting a lighter read, ‘Songlines’ by Bruce Chatwin was recommended to me by an indigenous pastor. He also said “don’t believe everything you read”.

      1. Also there is ‘Rainbow Spirit Theology’ but I’m not sure I can wholeheartedly recommend it as representative of indigenous Australia. What it does provide is a Christian response to the anthropological texts and new age religion.

  5. My family members all the time say that I am wasting my time here
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  6. Got here while looking for reviews and comments on the book. Whether I believe or not what is written in the book is certainly less important than how feble are the critics to it. I have only been reading critics regarding a couple of factual things (telephone calls and spinflex grass) and a group of native Australians claiming that what is written does not represent their culture (thousands of tribes culture? Moreover I see with some suspect a group who was made up just for this occasion, whos website is ridiculous and they portray themselves in even more mystical and foggy terms, beside the fact that they are supported by Australian gov which is racist as none else). Moreover, reviews like this one talk about a desert tribe while in the book was clear that they were mainly residing by the sea (not in the time narrated of course) and travelling in the desert for special occasions (hence dolphins etc..). Looks like you haven’t read the book.

    Then, there are some nice facts told in the story that actually have correspondence in several cultures and traditions of contemplative practices (from Buddhism to latin American shamanism). Facts and points of view narrated are still wonderful and represent what several cultures believe and practise everyday.

    They are far from Christian and monotheist religions, of course (of course?). That might piss you off or make you laugh as anything that steps a little bit away from your dogmatic mind.

    Cheers. (sorry for my English I am Italian)


    1. I guess Enrico you’re speaking from your intense love of the book.

      My issues are not so much the simple mistakes that Marlo has made about the Australian culture, but about the larger ones.

      Firstly, the UN has declared a state of emergency upon indigenous suicide, and there has been grave concern about Australia’s indigenous people’s health for a long time, as they are now the poorest indigenous peoples in the OECD nations, measured in a variety of ways. So this is a particular serious issue for Australia. So I’m not going to ‘lighten up’ about it.

      Secondly, the indigenous people believe that this book gravely misrepresents them and their culture. They would like it taken off shelves, and unfortunately, I found it in the library of my seminary, which is why I wrote this review. My faith has nothing to do with it, although I did appeal to people of faith to consider this seriously.

      Thirdly, Marlo Morgan admitted that this book is written from the fabrication of her own mind. She has no experience with Australia, but in fact exploited its popularity.

      So, I’m going to leave you with a scenario in which I write a book about traveling to Italy. I come to meet a group of people living in Tor Bella Monca who are ravaged by the economic crisis in Rome, and are living in a mind-altering alternative community that draws deeply from European pagan spirituality. These people drink cappuccinos late at night, they walk around with wet hair because they believe it helps their health, and they never clean their houses. They teach me that their ways of being will help all mankind. I write up my book, and publish it, and I earn a million dollars through the sale of it. I go to turn it into a movie, and then, at the last minute, some of the residents of Tor Bella Monca declare that I am a fraud. They state that I have used them in order to get rich. I finally admit that I have never been to Rome, but I do not act in any other way. I do not give them the benefits of the publication, nor do I retract my book from sale. I think this provides a better example of why I am against this book than any content written within it.

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  9. Did you ever think that maybe she was forced in saying that it was fake? Maybe to stop people from seeking them out? The points youve made about the spinifex and coins to make phone dont justify this as being fake. I’d like to hear stronger facts to justify this as being fake. The story has some very powerful messages. Strong enough to make a difference in the world we live in. Don’t you think there are powers out there that don’t want that to happen? Pharmacueticals being one….

    1. My problem is not that the book is ‘fake’ (although I believe it is). My problem is that this it is yet another misrepresentation of Australia’s indigenous people, who are some of the world’s real voices making a difference against pharmacueticals.

      Not only do **they** believe that this book is wrong, but they went to all the effort of tracking her down overseas to make her retract it. So it’s clearly upsetting to them. They don’t do this normally – case in point, they hate people climbing Uluru (a sacred site) but they just instated a sign that asks people to respect their wishes. Tourists do what they want, continually.

      I would rather help my real countrymen than allow an exploitative fictional account of their lives to circulate, yes. This was such a little post, and it has become one of my most read.

      The fact that people **will not** consider the ethical implications of this book to the people it describes is just ridiculous.

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  11. Hi Tanya, I am an Australian living in Spain and every so often I meet women, who, upon discovering that I am Australian, will gush to me about this book. I understand that as Spanish women, they are starved for stories like this. The message is so “inspirational” and “magical” to them, that the deeper issues of Indigenous representation, racism etc are inevitably swallowed up by a blind, new age thought paradigm that kind of makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little bit when I hear it. I personally read the book and I found it to be ridiculous and patronising- I have tried to draw these issues out for the women who gush to me about this book, but I’m always told to just lighten up. There is no reasoning. Sigh.
    Thanks for the post!

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