Michael Duke – Arabana and the Ghan

Connor Court Publishing Queensland, 2019

Melbourne based writer and psychiatrist Dr Michael Duke has worked with Aboriginal people from the 1980s.

In researching for this book, he made a number of trips to Arabana country and recorded interviews with Arabana people about their experiences of the railway.  He also read extensively and has helpfully provided the reader with a list of references.

Michael Duke talks about his book Arabana and the Ghan

Whilst this is a history in the contemporary genre, both drawing on grass roots story-telling and other bodies of research, slight though these are from an Aboriginal perspective, as well as the author’s personal journeys, it is a book written with passion.

Michael Duke directs our attention to the many and parlous injustices wrought upon Aboriginal communities by white settlers and successive governments. The acquisition and destruction of land is a key theme, both referenced in the building of the original railway and in more recent actions relating to cold war atomic bomb testing, uranium mining and water.

It is interesting to note the vast differences historically between pastoral work and railway work for Aboriginal people, the latter being paid at equal rates to white and other workers, the former often not much more than slave labour.

Consultation with the Arabana people whose story this tells has been a key feature of this work throughout the research and writing process. Arabana and the Ghan ably fills a space in our national history.