Friday, 13 June 2008

Whispering Wind

Although I've yet to travel as far as the great Australian continent, I've had a strong interest in Aussie food and other aspects of the country's culture ever since my college Gastronomy Project, when I wrote about the negative effects that racial segregation since European colonisation had imposed on the development of a truly national Australian cuisine. And I'm really into the work of survivalist and bushcraft expert Ray Mears. So it's not surprising that I've really enjoyed watching the first episodes of the new TV series Ray Mears Goes Walkabout, shipped out to me from the UK recently.

Syd Kyle-LittleI choose to ignore the cynical and supercilious reviews in The Independent and The Guardian, to which I might give more credence if they didn't conjure up images of journalists whose idea of an anthropological expedition is ten minutes' walk on Hampstead Heath before an expenses lunch at The Spaniards Inn. Reading these reviews reminds me why I decided to stop writing for Word of Mouth.

What I want to share with you today is not directly about food, although there's plenty of fascinating stuff about indigenous produce in the TV series, especially in the second episode which Ray Mears spends in the company of Les Hiddins, TV's 'Bush Tucker Man'.

Instead I want to share with you a clip from the same episode, featuring a long-forgotten nonogenarian from the extreme northern tip of Australia. A man by the name of Syd Kyle-Little, or Whispering Wind.

Whispering Wind is the translation of Kyle-Little's Aboriginal nameBorn at the end of WWI, Kyle-Little was the son of a Northern Territory policeman and was brought up as an Australian buffalo hunter. After WWII, he became a Patrol Officer with the Native Affairs Department in Arnhem Land. Rejecting the rifle, handcuffs, neck-irons and chains that came with the job and eventually discarding his European clothes as well, Syd came to see what most white Australians of his time could not see - that the aboriginals he was sent to police were cultured, wise and principled people from whom he had more to learn than he had to teach.

Kyle-Little wrote about his adventures - in particular about his enduring friendship with Aboriginal chief Mahrdei - in the book 'Whispering Wind', first published by Hutchinson in 1957 and republished by Alibris in 1993. Sadly, the book is now out of print, although copies are still available from the Kyle-Little family who remain big game hunters to this day.

Take a look at a man who was unique in breaking the mould of his day. Like T.E. Lawrence a generation earlier, Syd Kyle-Little set aside the perceived wisdom of his own racial superiority, opened his eyes to a reality that others couldn't see and resolutely stood up for his unwavering principles. This is a man who, when asked what life had taught him, replies with unquestionable integrity: "I learned to respect other people, regardless of colour, race, creed or religion". Ray Mears observes at the end of the clip: "As far as I'm concerned, the world needs more people like Syd Kyle-Little". I couldn't agree more.

For a more detailed perspective on Syd Kyle-Little, see Readings From The Far North from the blog Aboriginal Art & Culture: An American Eye by Will Owen.

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