Last year, Dr Eva Chapman wrote about her book, ‘Sexy at 70’ for us at ‘Advantages of Age’. Here she explains why she had to write her latest book, ‘Butterflies & Demons’.
Butterflies and Demons is set in Adelaide, South Australia. After a vision, in 2006, about the Adelaide Aborigines (the Kaurna), I felt compelled to tell their story, which is also partly my story. In 1950, I arrived as a three-year-old Eastern European refugee in Adelaide.
I didn’t see an Aboriginal person until my teenage years even though the Kaurna had inhabited the Adelaide plain for 40 thousand years. It was as if they had been obliterated. I was taught the European version of history at school, which was that Australia began when the white man came to her shores. I was curious and spent the next few years researching the history of the Kaurna. This entailed going back – by this time I had moved to the UK – to Adelaide, speaking to Aboriginal people, and looking through diaries, newspaper articles and archives. I loved doing the research and found that Kaurna people were so gentle, so clever, and so mindful of the piece of earth they lived on. They suffered terribly at the hands of the British Empire, as did I, an unwelcome refugee in 1950s Adelaide.
I was thrilled to come across the diaries of two Lutheran missionaries, Teichelmann and Shurmann who came to Adelaide in 1838 and lived among the Aborigines, describing in great detail, what happened to the Kaurna, as the British occupied their lands. The missionaries learnt the Kaurna language, believing this was the best way to convert the Aborigines to Christianity. I reproduce many of the conversations between the missionaries and Kaurna men especially Murlawirrapurka who was regarded as the wise elder of the Kaurna people. The missionaries recorded many conversations and events which involved Murlawirrapurka, which demonstrated the measure of the man and the delicate line he had to tread with his new masters. He was gentle and trusting and bent over backwards to accommodate the white man, working hard to ease tensions within his own people. He, as the custodian of the Kaurna people, hoped that the whites would uphold their traditions. But sadly, this was not to be, even though Adelaide was set up to be a model colony, which was not supposed to repeat the harsh treatment of Aborigines in the Eastern States.
The story in my book bounces between two eras, the 1840s, which describes what happened to the Kaurna, and the 1950s, which follows the story of a migrant child who also suffered at the hands of British imperialism. This is based on my own story and describes the prejudice I personally experienced, as I spoke weirdly, looked strange and smelt of garlic. Adelaide residents prided themselves on their Anglo-Saxon heritage and were afraid that the influx of ‘aliens’, as we were called, would dilute their Britishness. They set out to ‘australianise’ us as quickly as possible. My misery was compounded by having a violent, schizophrenic mother who thought the Communists were persecuting her.
The Kaurna story and my story intertwine in a startling and dramatic way – I personally received great healing from their loving energy, which still imbues the gum trees and blue skies of the majestic Adelaide plain.
The pivotal theme that fuses the parallel stories is that past misdeeds cannot be buried. I include a meta-commentary that illustrates this. This Greek chorus is supplied by a dreaming circle of Kaurna grandmothers who observe the unfolding drama, confront and challenge the author (often with humour), and also take part in the action. So I use it as a way of challenging myself. For instance –
Grandmothers: Eva Chapman, who do you think you are? Are you attempting to write about the Kaurna, the Red Kangaroo people?
Author: Hey who do you think you are? I am trying to write Chapter 1.
Grandmothers: We are the Kaurna Grandmothers. And we want to know why you are writing about us? We exist in an oral tradition. We are here to protect our sacred Kaurna heritage. We don’t want white, nosy know-it-alls, poking their pointy snouts into our business.
This dialogue device is in honour of the Kaurna oral tradition, and also of the plays or ‘ngunyawaietti’ that the Kaurna loved to put on, and which were described by Teichelmann and Shurmann, in their diaries. The other outstanding contribution of Teichelmann and Shurmann, was their grammar book of the Kaurna language which they published in 1840. This was subsequently lost for 150 years, but by a series of miracles recovered. As a result, Kaurna is one of a handful of the original 450 Aboriginal languages that is still spoken, and taught in schools.
The story ends in the present. Deeply held racist attitudes still hold sway towards Aborigine people. The author is challenged by the Kaurna grandmothers about her own racism, and the result is surprising and ultimately rewarding. Out of the chrysalis of greed, racism and demons emerge new hope – including a song that had been driven underground and a virtually extinct butterfly.
The butterflies which are in the title and on the cover are the Delias Aganippe which were in abundance on the Adelaide plain. Now they are rarely seen. Fortunately, the South Australian Butterfly Conservation Society has taken it on as its mascot and are working to restore vegetation to bring them back.
I have had many visits with Uncle Lewis Yelopurka O’Brien, the current highly esteemed Kaurna elder, who is now 91. What a lovely man. As well as taking me on a historic tour of the Kaurna sites, he read my book ‘Sasha & Olga’ and said my life had been harder than his. Excuse me! His humility is astounding. He feels very honoured that I wrote ‘Butterflies & Demons’ and has fully endorsed it.
Please message me if you want a signed copy or get it on Amazon. Website www.evamariachapman.com , firstname.lastname@example.org