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.