I have to admit I took a while to get into this book. For some reason, I didn't find the author's early descriptions of her travels in Australia to be particularly engaging. However once she settled into her stay in the Aboriginal community of Wirrimanu ('the flight of the kingfisher') in Balgo in the Great Sandy Desert, I was much more drawn into the book.
Once you get past those early chapters this is a wonderful book. Furlong is deeply interested in the lives and customs of the Aboriginal people. She outlines the history of the relations between the Aborigines and the white settlers, looking in detail at the history of some of the missionary groups. We are introduced to missionaries who have been able to not only respect the Aboriginal beliefs but to draw parallels with those beliefs and the missionaries' own Christian beliefs as well as with pre-Christian beliefs from western countries. I loved the insights into The Dreaming and how stories are not only part of the landscape but part of some inescapable eternal now.
The book looks in detail at the Aboriginal relationship with the land, how they can find sustenance in a desert that the the first white settlers seemed totally barren. Furlong also looks in detail at the art of the Aborigines, how they originally used natural pigments to paint almost solely sacred art which strictly speaking they felt couldn't be shared to how the introduction of acrylics freed artists up to paint more commercial paintings that weren't so sacred (though of course the introduction of payment for paintings probably had something to do with this). We are also introduced to some of the words from Kukatja, one of the Aboriginal languages. Furlong analyses some of the words to give interesting insights into the community's concerns and priorities - there are a lot of words relating to ill health and pain, and the natural world is very carefully described in the vocabulary.
Overall this is a fascinating book, for anyone interested in spirituality and our relationship with the natural world.
Flight of the Kingfisher by Monica Furlong published by Flamingo, an imprint of Harper Collins.