Author Gary Lonesborough
Jeremy Eccles | 02.02.21
Author: Jeremy Eccles
News Source: Review
A Young Adult (JA) novel in the Aboriginal art repertoire? Well, there has to be a first for everything. And anyone who read my thoughts on my return from Griffith’s Wiradjuri Festival in October will know that “The Mish” was capable of becoming a major factor in saving 19th century tribal people from annihilation. In recognition of this today, memories are cherished of the role that the now abandoned Warangesda mission at Darlington Point played as a turning point in modern Wiradjuri history.
So I couldn’t wait to read Gary Lonesborough’s book, ‘The Mish Boy’ for more on contemporary associations with the Mish as featured in his book on Yuin Country. Not that Gary, 26, was raised on the Wallaga Lake Reserve, just outside Bermagui. He’s a boy from Bega – should he be Biggah, as Yuin calls him – where he “didn’t like growing up” in a private house, but received a good enough education that his teachers did. nominate at 19 for the Bega Valley Young Citizen Award on the strength of a self-published short story.
They also got him involved in a project involving visits to the Wallaga Preserve during his last two years at school, and Gary discovered the pros (and some cons) of “everyone knowing each other.” There is a real sense of community. He also discovered the regional group of men who play a key role in the book. Because the fictitious teenager Jackson, too young to buy alcohol but used to drinking too much, has a problem that only the former members of the Group seem capable of solving. For he finds himself drawn to young Tomas, a wild boy from Sydney down for the summer; but he always thought he was totally straight. Everyone’s in the Mish, aren’t they?
While he comes to accept that his sexual failures with girls and Tomas’ “kindness” may be leading him elsewhere, it’s Uncle Charlie of the Men’s Group who quietly tells him that he always knew, and that this small difference “does not disconnect you from your culture”.
In real life Gary was similarly touched by “one of the first real cultural experiences I had” with the Wallaga Men’s Group. “We let our guards down, opened up and shared our problems around the campfire. I guess it’s a lot easier in the countryside than in Sydney. But now I’m trying to convey the power of these groups, the sense of security they can provide to the children of Penrith, where I currently work. I know there are elders out there with the knowledge like Charlie; but they get by. And children are disconnected from their culture as a result ”.
So our author is also a social worker, which begs the question of whether his book has a social work aspect. Is it intended exclusively for First Nations youth leaving school or would it be relevant for non-Indigenous people?
Hard to say – guess I was reading it for the native experience – the Mish, the group of men, Yuin aspects such as the Mythic Doolagah – the “hairy men” roughly invented to keep children near the campfire at night, but appearing in the book as part of an Aboriginal superhero tale that Tomas tries to fit into a graphic novel – requiring Jackson’s artistry. And that’s their original reason for coming together. But their developing relationship has a universality, based on growing understanding and emotions rather than graphic gender.
“I couldn’t do without it completely,” Gary Lonesborough tells me, “but I wanted to make sure that issues like communication and consent got to the readers”. He hopes this will happen for all the teens, “who can all see elements of themselves in the characters; but especially native readers. There weren’t any books like this when I was in school – which led to a lot of drinking and partying, being a general idiot! “.
And Tomas and Jackson are both general idiots at different points in the book – but their relationship is a positive, perhaps redemptive, experience for both of them. “I needed to give hope”, sums up Gary, while admitting that it all started with one scene in his head on the sacred mountain Yuin Gulaga (Mt Dromedary) where the boys struggled in the mud and climbed many steps to find “the perfect place” to have sex for the first time …..
I won’t say more.
‘The Boy from the Mish’ is released today by Allen & Unwin for $ 20
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The Wallaga Lake Group circa 1900: Biamanga, also known as Jack Mumbler, Merriman, an unknown man, and Neddy with the Biamanga breastplate
The Allen & Unwin Young Adult Publication