Helping Yourself: Marlo Morgan and the Fabrication of Indigenous Wisdom
IN my role as a teacher of Australian literature and Australian studies in an Australian university, I find my classes regularly contain a significant number of international students undertaking a semester of 'study abroad'. As an introductory exercise, I ask these students to list the preconceptions they had of Australia before their arrival and to consider the sources of those ideas. With disturbing frequency students, particularly those from North America, cite a book that is little known in Australia: Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan. Conversations I have had with colleagues in my own and other institutions confirm that these are not isolated experiences. This is disturbing precisely because the book, which is routinely taken by non-Australian readers to be an accurate, non-fictional account of Australian Indigenous culture, is in fact a complete fabrication. Several commentaries offering detailed critical analyses of the book have already been published and my essay does not propose to contribute any further to this body of textual analysis (Sitka; Griffiths; Behrendt). Instead it offers a comprehensive historical account of the Marlo Morgan phenomenon and some thoughts on the potential impact of her venture on Indigenous people.
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