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Return to Uluru

Mark McKenna



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Black Inc
22 February 2021
ABBEY'S BOOKSELLER PICK ----- Mark McKenna wanted to write about the centre of Australia and specifically Uluru - the rock - and its unique hold on Australians' imaginations. He does that, writing about Uluru and its place in indigenous songlines and Tjukurpa and giving a sense of the mere blip in the history of the rock represented by the white man's 'discovery' of the rock and subsequent tourism.

But he also centres the book around a tragic event at the frontier between the indigenous people and white colonisers, bringing to the fore the legal and ethical conundrum that arose when white policeman Bill McKinnon shot and killed aboriginal man Yokunnuna for his alleged role in a tribal law killing. This conundrum was neatly phrased by Richard Fidler in his ABC Radio Conversations talk with Mark McKenna as 'who is the lawman and who is the murderer?' in this sad story.

It's a story of two Australias. The white colonisers, here represented by the hardy, capable, resourceful, but also ruthless white lawman who regards aboriginal people as lesser beings who only respond to fear. The indigenous people, coping with the white man's restrictions on their lives, trying to live according to ways established over many thousands of years.

But even back then there were voices meeting in the middle. In the end, this is a book about our nation's progress towards reconciliation and it is heartening that the ancestors on both sides find common ground in truth-telling.

As with the hardback edition of 1835 by James Boyce, Black Inc have again produced a book that is also beautiful to hold and read - a tip of the hat to the designer and editors. Craig Kirchner


A killing. A hidden history. A story that goes to the heart of the nation.

When Mark McKenna set out to write a history of the centre of Australia, he had no idea what he would discover. One event in 1934 - the shooting at Uluru of Aboriginal man Yokunnuna by white policeman Bill McKinnon, and subsequent Commonwealth inquiry - stood out as a mirror of racial politics in the Northern Territory at the time.

But then, through speaking with the families of both killer and victim, McKenna unearthed new evidence that transformed the historical record and the meaning of the event for today. As he explains, 'Every thread of the story connected to the present in surprising ways.' In a sequence of powerful revelations, McKenna explores what truth-telling and reconciliation look like in practice.

Return to Uluru brings a cold case to life. It speaks directly to the Black Lives Matter movement, but is completely Australian. Recalling Chloe Hooper's The Tall Man, it is superbly written, moving, and full of astonishing, unexpected twists. Ultimately it is a story of recognition and return, which goes to the very heart of the country. At the centre of it all is Uluru, the sacred site where paths fatefully converged.

'I feel sure that it will become an Australian classic, not the first of its kind, but certainly the most powerful narrative I have read of frontier injustice and its resonance in our lives today.' Marcia Langton
By:   Mark McKenna
Imprint:   Black Inc
Country of Publication:   Australia
Dimensions:   Height: 240mm,  Width: 162mm,  Spine: 20mm
Weight:   575g
ISBN:   9781760642556
ISBN 10:   176064255X
Pages:   240
Publication Date:   22 February 2021
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Mark McKenna is one of Australia's leading historians, based at the University of Sydney. He is the author of several prize-winning books, including From the Edge- Australia's Lost Histories, Looking for Blackfellas' Point and An Eye for Eternity- The Life of Manning Clark, which won the Prime Minister's Literary Award for nonfiction and the Victorian, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australian premiers' awards.

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