Good Reading : May 2009
author profile personal something CHRISTOBEL MATTINGLEY tells PATRICIA MAUNDER why the subjects of all her books are close to her heart. of course.’ From Adelaide to Sydney, then Tasmania, Christobel’s civil-engineer father moved his family around the nation, giving this shy, sensitive child first-hand experience of displacement, which later became the theme of Christobel Mattingley W hen I was not quite eight, World War II broke out and that was the first time I heard the word “refugee”,’ recalls Christobel Mattingley. The young Adelaide girl was so fearful of becoming a refugee that she prepared herself. ‘I packed my little kindergarten case with my treasures in case we had to move ... Well, then we did have to move – we had to move to Sydney,’ she adds, laughing, ‘and it was a similar kind of experience, though not nearly as brutal, 18 goodreading i MAY 2009 many of her books – now 48 in total. Most often written for children, they frequently tell stories of migration, war or Aboriginal dispossession, as is the case with her latest work, Maralinga: The Anangu story. Though created with young people in mind, it is a sophisticated, carefully researched work that will engage adults – and enlighten many too. Christobel’s interest in Indigenous people, their history and culture, also goes back to her childhood. ‘People didn’t talk about Aboriginal people; they weren’t seen. They were all kept on reserves when I was growing up in the ’30s,’ she says, in her voice of quiet determination. Nevertheless, this child would save her threepenny-a-week pocket money to buy books about Aboriginal culture. She admired the beautiful rock carvings in the sandstone cliffs overlooking the Hawkesbury River where her father was building a bridge; she even delighted in the very sound of Aboriginal place names. ‘Much later, when I was appointed editor-researcher for the Aboriginal history of South Australia, Survival in Our Own Land, the very first story I found linked me to the people of the Adelaide Plains, the Kaurna people,’ says Christobel. ‘I was born on one of their most important Dreaming trails and, it seems to me, that perhaps underlies the great passion I have for Aboriginal people.’ Certainly, the young Christobel was not one for mindlessly following what she calls the ‘common path’ through life.