Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia by Bill Arthur & Frances Morphy [eds]

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

This work is the second edition of an Atlas of Indigenous Australia. The first edition was published in 2005.

The basic structure of the book has not changed. There are still three major sections of focus: the socio-cultural space, the socio-economic space and the socio-political space. Some chapters have new titles, reflecting a change in perspective on their subject matter. Since the first edition was published, Australians have seen an era of closing the gap, changing focus of government policy and a greater awareness of climate change.

This new edition has three broad aims: to update the maps and other illustrations to reflect the latest available data; to introduce new issues that have risen in prominence in the last decade; and to amplify the presence of Indigenous people themselves in the crafting of the project (introduction).

Most atlases are modelled on western concepts of representation of space. Indigenous conceptualisations and representations of space and place are based on a very different ontology. There is a key focus on aspects of landscape that are ancestrally significant rather than on topography for its own sake (11). This atlas represents, in graphic form, a pattern of human activity in space and time. It seeks to make information about indigenous people, past and present, as accessible as possible and also to explain, and stimulate enquiry about, where and why events occurred and continue to occur.

The book has been a collaboration of the Australian National University, Australian Bureau of Statistics and Macquarie Dictionary and contains edited work from over thirty authors. Information on these contributors can be found towards the end of the book. The general editors mentioned on the book cover are Bill Arthur and Frances Morphy. A teacher’s guide is available at macquariedictionary.com.au and panmacmillan.com.au.

Beautifully presented, this 24x31cm hard-covered book with matching dust jacket, will keep any reader fascinated over a long period of time. The information inside is something that needs to be read and studied, sections at a time, to gain the most benefit from the book. The striking cover portrays a painting from the Seven Sisters storyline referring to the Pleiades constellation which travels from the west to the east across the far western and central deserts.

In the Foreword, Western Australian Senator, Patrick Dodson, informs the reader that the Atlas provides the information and analysis needed to inform a better understanding of this country, adding that lines on maps are not drawn lightly and “have been used throughout our history to enforce the dispossession of First Nations peoples”. He also said that “The Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia has a place on the table of every Australian student, on the coffee table of every Australian home and on the desk of every Australian political representative”.

The maps, which form the core of the book, are supplemented by diagrams and explanatory text plus photographs, illustrations and Indigenous artworks which have been presented on high quality paper. The information is easy to read as it only occupies two-thirds of the width of the page and the paragraphs are succinct and well-spaced. The variety of non-textual materials and use of different colours in the subheadings also add to the reading experience. The book employs the Dewey system for its text and includes all the aspects expected of a non-fiction book including two appendixes, a glossary and other endmatter. Credit is given to authors of each chapter which also finishes with a summary and suggested items for further reading.

Many maps in the Atlas reflect the violent and disruptive nature of colonisation and the extensive dispossession of Indigenous people from their lands. It is obvious from the content of this book that much work has been done to rectify mistakes of the past through sharing knowledge, the use of more Aboriginal place names or shared place names, the change of government policies and projects of reconciliation.

Like Senator Dodson, I believe that there is a place for this book in all schools, homes and offices of policymakers in this country particularly at this time in Australia’s history and going into the future.

Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia second edition.

(2019)

Editors: Bill Arthur & Frances Morphy

Macquarie Dictionary Publishers

ISBN:978-1-76055-658-7

$79.99; 306pp

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