In today’s episode, we’re heading for the Northern Territory of Australia as Dr. Amanda Markham talks about some of the Aboriginal Dreaming stories of the area and how the vast landscape impacts living and working there, as well as the best places to visit if you’re traveling. Amanda is of Wiradjuri Aboriginal descent and speaks an Aboriginal language, so it’s fantastic to get her perspective.
We recorded this episode before the bush fires swept the country and I talked back in episode 20 about my own experience traveling around Australia and then living there — I mentioned that it’s the weather you have to watch out for, not the snakes or spiders — and Amanda emphasizes again how important it is to prepare for the reality of the outback. We both love Australia and particularly, the Northern Territories — it’s one of the places I would love to go back to — so I hope you enjoy the adventure in this episode.
Dr. Amanda Markham is an archaeologist and anthropologist in the Australian outback, as well as a travel writer and award-winning author of speculative fiction.
- The three different climates of the Northern Territory
- Exploring the Top End with Aboriginal guides and some of the Dreaming stories in the landscape
- Language differences above and below the monsoon line
- The myths and reality about danger in Australia
- The Alice Springs Beanie Festival and what makes the outback culture unique
- Stargazing in the Northern Territory
- Recommended books set in outback Australia
Transcript of the interview
Jo Frances Penn: Dr. Amanda Markham is an archaeologist and anthropologist in the Australian outback, as well as a travel writer and award-winning author of speculative fiction. Welcome, Amanda.
Dr. Markham: Hi. Thanks, Joanna. Thanks very much for having me.
Jo Frances Penn: It’s great to have you on the show. Your job sounds very cool. I always wanted to be an archaeologist. People think, ‘Oh, archaeology? You must work in ancient Greece or Egypt.’ But you work in the Australian outback.
Tell us, what does your job involve?
Dr. Markham: I’ll say that I’ve had two careers working in the outback. First, as an anthropologist, I started working in anthropology in 1997. I went to the Northern Territory to work for an agency, a government agency called The Sacred Sites Authority, and I worked specifically in the protection of Aboriginal sacred sites, working with aboriginal elders, particularly over Central Australia, so the southern half of the Northern Territory.
I’ll slow down a little bit for listeners who don’t know where the Northern Territory is in Australia. It’s that middle third of Australia, but the northern part, and it’s got three very distinctive climate zones, one of which is the arid zone.
I don’t want to call it a desert because we don’t really have true deserts in Australia. We do have arid zones, which are often vast savannas and rangelands. Then, you have a sub-tropical area north of that. And then we have the tropics where they actually get a full monsoon, and we call it here in the Northern Territory, we call it the Top End, and that’s where Darwin is.
So, I went to the Northern Territory to be an anthropologist, work with Aboriginal elders, recording and protecting their sacred sites, so their Dreaming sites. Always, when people wanted to do any kind of work, so, say, they wanted to build a new road or go do mining exploration, which is a very big thing across Australia, before they could do that, one of the permits they needed to do was to get their development or their approvals from the government, was a Sacred Site Clearance, a Heritage Clearance.
And now, through that work, about 12 years ago, we lost our biological anthropologist. So the agency also was doing traditional, the identification, repatriation of Aboriginal remains — human remains. We lost our biological anthropologist because she’d fallen pregnant with twins, and they asked me would I be interested in training in human osteology and forensic anthropology?
I said, yes, and I ended up going back after doing a Ph.D. in anthropology and doing a master’s in archaeology. And I specialize in Aboriginal archaeology, and I am of Aboriginal descent, which is great.
Jo Frances Penn: That’s fantastic because you’ve actually opened up so many questions there. I want to start with the human remains. So you are of Aboriginal descent, which is, I think, an important point. I think many people, when they think of Australia, they do have an idea about some Aboriginal people, but they don’t necessarily understand the political situation, so it’s great to hear that you’re working in that as someone with Aboriginal descent.
I want to ask about the remains because I thought the Aboriginal people have quite a specific thing about remains and images of people who’ve passed on.
You mentioned the Dreaming. Tell us more as people might not know the word.
Dr. Markham: The Dreaming is, for want of a better word, it’s our religion, but I guess this might be quite a complicated answer. So, in the dream time, so if I’ll say, a long, long time ago, in the creation time, spirits walked across the land, the spirits made everything.
As they walked across the land, they did things. So, for example, there might have been what we call a man who was also a dog spirit, and he might have walked across the land and he decided he got tired, so he sat down, he dug a little hole for himself to snuggle into, and then he got up. And he was hungry, so he saw a brush-turkey and he went after the brush-turkey and hunted down the brush-turkey and ate it. And that left a mark on the landscape.
So if we go back to where he lay down, he dug out something, it might be like a little waterhole, well, that becomes a sacred site. And even though the story of this particular dog spirit man, he might have moved across hundreds of kilometers, but everywhere he did something in the landscape, he created something like a waterhole or a particular rock, or a mountain range or something like that.
And he’s still traveling through, he’s there forever and ever.
The Dreamtime ancestors leave a piece of their essence in the landscape, and it’s there forever.
One of the things about Aboriginal culture is that people who are born into those particular pieces of land are often seen as reincarnations of that particular piece of the dream, of a Dreaming story, and they might even be reincarnations in some instances of the actual Dreaming ancestor.
If people aren’t there on the land, looking after the land, and actually just being on the land and remembering the stories and telling the stories and sometimes singing the songs, the land gets sick, people get sick. It’s a very holistic, but very subtle kind of relationship and way of being. Is that too rambly and long?
Jo Frances Penn: No, I really liked it. And part of when I traveled in the Northern Territory, particularly, I think, I mean, obviously, we can’t get too much into the colonial history but if you look to the southeast area of the country, Sydney, that area feels like ‘city’ of Australia, whereas the Northern Territory is still is very ‘outback.’ There are a lot more Aboriginal people living in the Northern Territory. I think it’s the most super-Australian state.
What do you think makes the Northern Territory so uniquely Australian?
Dr. Markham: I’m originally from New South Wales, so I grew up just south in Sydney, and I moved to the Northern Territory in 2000. It’s very laid back. It has its very own unique culture, which goes right through how business is done, how government agencies work, so it’s very laid back.
Some people have described it to me how Australia used to be in the 1970s. There’s a small population in a very big area. You can fit Texas in Northern Territory twice, so it’s one state, very big. And you’ve got this tiny little population of, I think it’s 250,000. That’s tiny, tiny population.
So, it’s that sense of isolation, a sense of this unique culture that is very…I don’t want to say pioneering, but it’s very much, ‘Well, yeah, we’ll just go ahead and do it. We’ve come up with a great idea. It doesn’t matter if we’re the biggest government department ever, but somebody came up with a great idea, let’s not worry about all the red tape. Let’s just go and do it.’
Jo Frances Penn: A can-do attitude.
Dr. Markham: Can-do attitude. And a sense of freedom because of the vast distances. So, a huge part of recreation outside of work in the NTs is going camping in these absolutely stunning places. I hope that answers the question.
Jo Frances Penn: Yes. I think what I particularly loved about it was sleeping out there, as you say, in the arid zone. Let’s not call it the desert.
Dr. Markham: No, you can call it desert. Feel free to call it desert.
Jo Frances Penn: And sleeping in swag, which is, again, an Australian…
Dr. Markham: Oh, the swag. Oh, my goodness.
Jo Frances Penn: Explain what a swag is.
Dr. Markham: All right. If I had a camera, I’d take you out to our shed because we have got everything from a queen-sized swag down to a motorbike swag. All right. We collect swags.
It’s a foam canvas…so foam, so like bed foam, and you put it inside a waterproof canvas zip-up bag. It’s like a little bed. And then, inside the canvas, you can either put in your duvet, and your normal bed sheets, so you can put your sleeping bag in there. And it’s basically like a bedroll, you roll it up.
Swags are a part of the NTs culture. As much of a part as just driving up the road and driving up the road, going and driving 500Ks, 500 kilometers.
Jo Frances Penn: Driving for, like, 10 hours.
Dr. Markham: ‘Oh, I’m just going up the road.’ ‘Oh, where are you going?’ ‘Tennant Creek.’ ‘Oh, yeah, it’s only five.’ ‘Oh, yeah. We’ll, be there in half a day. Only 500Ks.’ That kind of thing.
Jo Frances Penn: The other thing I really liked is the red earth.
And, obviously, most people will know Uluru, the big rock in the middle, which is that red color. And you see a lot of pictures of that dark red earth. One of the dreaming stories that I heard is that it was the blood of the creation snake. Is that a Northern Territory, or is that a Western Australian myth?
Dr. Markham: There are about 600 different Aboriginal groups. And just around Alice Springs in Uluru, there are 11 different Aboriginal peoples. Think of it as Western Europe, because these peoples are quite different, and not all the same. So there are lots of snake dreamings.
There are nine different dreaming stories and dreaming ancestors that converge on Uluru. Now, Uluru is a culturally significant place, but it has about a dozen named sacred sites, which are particularly taboo sites for one way or another.
A sacred site in Aboriginal in all of the languages in Central Australia, there is a special term for those sites. There are some snake dreamings, but, I guess the main dreaming is some of the lizard dreaming, the Kuniya, the Malu, which is a kangaroo, and various other. There are two women dreaming.
I’ve been to Women’s Law for one of the Dreaming stories that comes from Uluru and goes up to a place called Kings Canyon and then comes back around into the MacDonnell range. I’m just waving my hand in the air chasing the story.
I haven’t heard that, about the blood of the snake but I don’t know every single Dreaming story. The layers are like an onion, so often, women and tourists and outsiders will only get told that top layer. And only the people that have been through, especially men that have been through various stages of Aboriginal law ceremony business, can actually learn the inner layers of those dreaming stories.
Jo Frances Penn: And so for people visiting, because when I visited, I learned a lot about this type of stuff that I just didn’t know before I arrived. And given Britain’s history with Australia, I should probably have known more. I feel I didn’t know enough, and I learned a lot.
What are the things that people can do to respect the Aboriginal culture? Are there groups they can seek out or particular tourist things that are run by Aboriginal people?
What can they do for an authentic experience, but also supporting the culture?
Dr. Markham: I will talk about what’s around Central Australia for people to do. So, just out of Alice Springs, going into the West MacDonnell ranges, there’s a place called Standley Chasm, and they have cultural tours that are run by the Arrernte, the traditional owners.
The Arrernte elders are the custodians of that particular site. Go and do one of the cultural tours there. It’s run by Aboriginal people. The other one is the Cave Hill tours, which run out of Uluru, and they take you about 110 kilometers out southwest of Uluru to a place called Cave Hill, and you talk to the senior custodian there, an old man.
You’re actually on Aboriginal land, you’re in Aboriginal freehold land so it’s not open to the public, it’s only open there via this tour. And you get to go to a very important sacred site, which is an amazing rock artwork there as well. And you spend the day with Aboriginal people getting taught. You’re shown bush tucker and eating a bit of bush tucker and learning all about culture.
And then there’s Karrke, which is another place that’s right near, just south of Kings Canyon in the same area. And they do, again, bush tucker and hunting and dreaming stories and sit down and actually talk with Aboriginal people. So that’s the cultural tours at Standley Chasm, which is west of Alice Springs, about 40 minutes west of Alice Springs. There’s Cave Hill tours, which you can organize through SEIT Outback Tours, and Karrke, which is actually a name in Luritja for a crow, because it’s the sound that a crow makes, and that’s K-A-R-R-K-E.
Jo Frances Penn: Fantastic.
And for people who might not know, what is bush tucker?
Dr. Markham: Oh, sorry, it’s basically food that you find in the bush. So tucker is one of those Australian words for food. And bush tucker is Aboriginal foods in the bush like witchetty grubs, which I’m sure you know what witchetty grubs are. These are great, big fat caterpillars, that you either dig up out of the roots of acacias, certain kinds of acacias, or you get them out of eucalyptus trees as well.
And yes, I have eaten them. I’ve eaten all kinds of bush tuckers. There are lots of berries and things that people eat.
Jo Frances Penn: I was going to say, when I did one of those tours, we didn’t eat any grubs, but we did have some berries and they crushed certain leaves so you could smell the different herbs.
Dr. Markham: Well, there’s Eremophila bushes, Emu bushes, which have this very pungent smell that they will use for getting rid of colds and chest coughs and things like that as well. So there’s a lot of bush medicine. And there’s still many people that are around who use bush medicine all the time in Central Australia and in the top end and all across the outback.
Jo Frances Penn: So that’s the arid zone that we’ve talked about around Alice Springs and around that area. But the tropics up in the Top End, you mentioned, obviously, there’s Darwin, but there’s Kakadu National Park, which I visited. There’s a number of national parks, which are just fantastic.
What’s different about Kakadu, for example, compared to the area of as well?
Dr. Markham: Kakadu is in the tropics. And, just from Aboriginal culture, it’s totally different. The languages are totally different, even the way the languages are put together.
There’s this line, which follows the monsoon, and above that line, the languages, I won’t get too technical, but the languages create their meaning in a different way to all the rest of the languages south of that monsoon line, all the way across Australia.
So south of it, to change the meaning of a verb, it’s a bit like, if we’re going past, present, future; doing, did, will do. You tackle something on the end of the verb in Aboriginal languages south of there, while they tack things on the beginning and the end in the Top End.
The artwork is different because it’s a lot easier. People didn’t have to work as hard to get food and things like that, so they have much more complex, much more time to put into ceremonies and artwork, and even rudimentary farming practices. And I have to say, I’ve not done a lot of work in the Top End, most of my work has been done in these deserts and things like that.
Jo Frances Penn: I would say that there’s also a big difference in the type of creatures in the Kakadu.
We couldn’t sleep on the ground because of the crocs.
Dr. Markham: Absolutely. Obviously, the saltwater crocodiles in the Top End, and freshwater crocodiles. Now, in Central Australia, look, there’s not a croc. You need to go 1100 kilometers up to Elliot to find your first wild crocodile. So, where I’ve done most of my work there’s none.
My husband was a ranger and he was actually employed at Katherine Gorge, Nitmiluk National Park, and he used to pull saltwater crocs out of the traps. So he’s got some amazing stories about having to drag crocs into little tinnies, into little boats.
Jo Frances Penn: Take them off somewhere else.
Dr. Markham: Take them off and put them onto the back of the tray back ute. Now, I know, ute is an Australian term. Think of a flatbed. A small… I don’t know how to explain a ute.
Jo Frances Penn: It’s like a utility truck?
Dr. Markham: A utility truck. Like, a pickup truck. Americans will know what a pickup truck is, so it’s like a pickup.
They’d have to pull them out of the trap truck and duct tape them. Duct tape is great for everything, including crocs, and then they’d take them to a crocodile farm and they’d ring the crocodile farm up. The crocodile farm, which is up in Darwin, which is about 300Ks north, and they’d meet them halfway and do a croc swap. And they’d give them the croc and off they go. But often, they’d have to camp in the swag.
Jo Frances Penn: With the croc in the van.
Dr. Markham: With the croc on the back of the flat aluminum tray, doing death rolls all night, growling and barking. He’s got heaps of funny ranger stories.
Jo Frances Penn: That’s fantastic. Obviously, the crocs are not a laughing matter in different places in Australia. They are to be taken seriously. But I think it’s important to talk about the potential dangers of Australia.
A lot of people think about snakes or spiders, like if we’re talking about the area where you were working in the arid zone, but also being out in the middle of nowhere on your own or fire or flood.
What is myth about the dangers of Australia and what is the reality?
Dr. Markham: I’ve been so looking forward to answering this question. The two biggest myths are snakes and spiders. What can I say? They are so overrated.
My job as an archaeologist is to do field surveys. I’ll often walk up to 30 kilometers a day doing a survey through the bush, off-tracks, not on tracks. I’ve got a GPS and off I go and I’ve got to survey a particular area looking for stone tools and stone quarries and burials and old camp huts and all kinds of things.
Now, all I’m going to say is, if anyone’s going to run into trouble with a snake walking through grass, it’s going to be me. Well, the number of snakes I’ve seen in the outback, and the same with my husband as a ranger, we could use, in 20 years, he said he’s probably only encountered 10 snakes in his work. And I reckon I’ve encountered in the outback when I’ve been doing work, probably about six snakes. They go away.
Spiders are a non-event in the outback. So the big dangerous spider that everyone worries about here is the funnel-web. Well, it’s too dry for funnel-webs. Yes, there’s redbacks but no one has actually died from a redback bite. Gary, my husband, has actually been bitten by a redback. He took some aspirin, had an hour off work, and went back to work.
Jo Frances Penn: You guys sound like you’re like proper Aussies. You’re really hard.
Dr. Markham: No, I’m not that hard. I’m the size of a 12-year-old, so I’m not actually that tough, all that big, all that scary. The thing that you have to worry about in Australia is the sun, getting sunstroke and making sure you have enough water, those are the real things.
Fires and floods, look, you need to be aware if there’s a fire in an area, but the big nasty fires are usually more on the east coast where there’s a lot more forest, not so much in the outback. Yes, we get wildfires or bushfires here, but they’re usually in very remote areas, and the firefighting only takes place around wherever there’s some kind of human infrastructure or buildings or whatever on a national park that needs to be looked after.
But honestly, it is the sun, the heat, and in the wintertime, the cold in the outback in Alice Springs. So, many people think the outback is probably dead flat. Well, Alice Springs is in the MacDonnell ranges, Alice Springs is up 600 meters, which probably doesn’t sound much to many people, but the mountains that surround it, the tallest mountains are 1,500 meters high.
They are actually the tallest east of the Great Divide where the areas that get snow on them, these are the highest points on the Australian continent. Sorry, I meant to say west. So it gets very cold.
The coldest that we’ve ever had in Alice Springs that I can remember is minus 7.5 overnight. And many a time, I’ve been walking to work and it’s been minus three centigrade at 7:30 in the morning.
Jo Frances Penn: It is cold.
Dr. Markham: It is cold. It’s usually sunny. That’s a good thing. It might be minus three at 7:30 in the morning but by the time you go out at lunchtime or something, it’s 15, 16 degrees, and it’s usually clear blue sky.
But if you come and visit in June, July, August, that’s our winter and, yes, it does get cold. And as an offshoot of that, something very quirky about Alice Springs is we have a Beanie Festival.
Now, I don’t know if most people will know what a beanie is, but I’ll explain. It’s one of those knitted hats that your granny might have knitted, but this Beanie Festival, these aren’t your granny’s hats. These are absolutely, if you want to buy a knitted beanie that is like a Viking helmet, you can buy one. If you want to buy one with purple and green dreadlocks, you can buy one. They are just amazing.
And we have this festival that really captures what the quirky, slightly alternative outback feel of Alice Springs is like. We have a Beanie Festival on the last weekend of June every year. And it’s such a thing that there’s even a Beanie Festival cookbook, which is one of the books I was gonna recommend.
Jo Frances Penn: Beanie Festival cookbook, that’s crazy.
Dr. Markham: It’s got its own website, so just look up the Alice Springs Beanie Festival. It’s got a Facebook page. It captures what the culture of the quirky, odd culture of Alice Springs is.
Jo Frances Penn: It is an odd place. I do remember going there and just going, ‘This is kind of a weird place.’ You said you’ve lived there for a bit. It seems very transient.
Is Alice a transient place?
Dr. Markham: It’s very easy to get work in the NT, and we have a lot of backpackers, young people who are traveling, and they get a particular kind of visa. And if they want to stay in Australia longer, they can extend their visa by working in a remote area. I think you can extend it by another 18 months, from memory.
So we get a lot of young people backpacking, and they’ll come and spend three months working in Alice. But then, of course, there are Australians, particularly people from Victoria and South Australia will come to Alice Springs and the Northern Territory straight out of uni in their particular profession, because, again, it’s easy to get a job.
So yes, we do have quite a lot of turnover. There’s a saying in Alice, ‘If you see the Todd River flow five times, you’re never going to leave.’
The first year I was there, I think it was the highest rainfall on record. The Todd River flowed every single month, so I spent 16 years there. Then, there’s a lot of people that fall in love with it like me. And, even though I moved three years ago, our eldest two children, our daughters, are still living in Alice, and I miss it every single day.
The country gets in your heart. That’s something really special about living there.
Jo Frances Penn: And I would say, I lived in Australia five years and also traveled there as a backpacker. And the Northern Territory, really, is the place that I always tell people, ‘You’ve got to visit the Northern Territory and far North Queensland.’ I think there’s a lot that’s special about far North Queensland. But a lot of people just go to Australia, and go to Sydney or Melbourne. And I’m like, ‘that’s not everything.’
Dr. Markham: Look, Sydney and Melbourne are great. There are absolutely stunning things around Sydney and Melbourne. But, Alice and Billaroo, and Kings Canyon, the West McDonnell Ranges, they’re just so special, and having that experience of camping out and looking up at the sky in wintertime.
And honestly, it’s like someone’s laid out black velvet, and they’ve just spilled all these diamonds and other precious stones across. It’s the most star-studded sky that you’ll ever see.
I’ve been to a few other countries. I’ve been to Mount Everest, and that was a pretty amazing sky at night as well, but nothing like being in the desert in wintertime. You can see why all the astronomers come over here to check out the night sky.
Jo Frances Penn: It’s a good point. I remember doing a night sky evening with someone explaining it.
There are Dreamings about the stars as well, aren’t there?
Dr. Markham: Yes. I speak a particular Aboriginal language, which is Arrernte, and there’s all kinds of stories. One of the things that crosses the continent is the Emu in the Milky Way. But it’s not the Emu, people often say, ‘Well, I can’t see it.’ Because they’re looking at the stars, but the Emu is there in the black spaces in the Milky Way.
There’s a story about that Emu, just about all the way across the continent in all Aboriginal cultures, or most Aboriginal cultures. But you’ve got to look at the black spaces.
And for anyone who’s listening who’s trying to see the Emu, he’s a wintertime thing when you can see virtually his whole body. And his head is what Whitefellas call the Coalsack, and the Coalsack is near the Southern Cross, at the bottom right corner, and his little head is the Coalsack. And then, if you trace it down, you can see his neck, which is, again, a negative space and right through to his body and his feathers.
Jo Frances Penn: That is really cool. I definitely recommend doing that as well going on a kind of stargazing.
You can just lay out and swag and have a look, but it’s much better to have someone explaining things to you and pointing them out.
Dr. Markham: And there’s another one, which is one of the coolest one, where about 150 kilometers west of Alice Springs, there’s a big formation which Whitefellas call Gosses Bluff, which is after an explorer. Its name in Arrernte is Tnorala, spelled T-N-O-R-A-L-A, Tnorala.
The story about that is there was some ladies dancing up in the Milky Way. Do you know what coolamon is? It’s like a little dish, a wooden dish that Aboriginal people would carve and they’d put food in it. If you imagine, it’s made out of bark, the hard tree bark. It’s kind of curved and slightly oval-shaped.
People also would put babies in them, this baby carry, so they’d be out getting food and what have you, and the baby would be asleep, so they put the baby in the dish, in the little coolamon.
Well, these ladies are up dancing. They had a ceremony, dancing in the Milky Way. And the baby woke up and rocked and fell with the dish and fell to the ground and went bang. And that big thing called Gosses Bluff is the baby.
But the scientific explanation for Gosses Bluff is it’s a comet crater. But it’s a comet crater that landed so it’s got this same relationship between something came from space and crashed into the earth. And in the Dreaming story, the baby came out of the Milky Way and crashed into the earth and made that thing. It’s a great, big crater that you can drive into it.
Jo Frances Penn: That’s very cool.
And we should just say another interesting language you used there is Whitefella.
Dr. Markham: Oh, Whitefella are non-Aboriginal person, white person.
Jo Frances Penn: It can be a woman as well, right?
Dr. Markham: Oh, yes.
Jo Frances Penn: This is what makes it interesting. I love hearing the language.
Dr. Markham: We just call each other Whitefellas and Blackfellas in the Northern Territory. And there’s no kind of racial connotation. No negative racism or anything like that. It’s just a statement of, ‘You’re that and you’re that.’
And so you go round to an Aboriginal’s person’s house, you got to go and see them about something, you knock on the door, and someone else will answer the door, and you’ll hear them turn around and in Aboriginal language, they’ll say to someone, ‘Hey, Joe, someone’s here. A Whitefella is here to see you.’ And they’ll go, ‘Warlpele nhenhele.’ Something like that. They’ll say, ‘A Whitefella is here, come to see you.’ So we just call each other Whitefellas and Blackfellas.
And I spoke some Arrernte then for you.
Jo Frances Penn: Fantastic. It’s so great to hear this from your perspective. So we are almost out of time, too.
Tell us a bit about your own books, but also, what are some other books you recommend about or set in Australia?
Dr. Markham: Gary, my husband, and I run a very well-known outback travel website called traveloutbackaustralia, it’s all one word. And we’ve got a number of guides, which are written from a local’s point of view about Central Australia. They are driving guides, as well as we’ve got hundreds of articles on our website. You can have a look at our website.
I also write fantasy and I have done so for a long time under various pen names. The reason I keep that clear is that I’ve got my professional name and my travel writing name, and then so, I write under pen names. I write under Katt Powers. I write fast-paced adventure fantasy.
Books that I really recommend, which capture the spirit, capture the landscape and also explain a little bit about what it’s like to live in the outback, and particularly about Aboriginal culture, because I know people will be really interested in that. A couple of fiction books. There’s one called Diamond Dove by a fella called Adrian Hyland. We will have these in the show notes, I think.
Jo Frances Penn: Yes.
Dr. Markham: He lived in Tennant Creek, which is a very small town in the Northern Territory, for a while. And he’s created a character who’s an Aboriginal policewoman. And he writes Aboriginal culture exactly as it is and a small Outback town exactly as it is, and he’s got a couple of books in that series. They are police procedurals, but police procedurals set in the outback.
Another one which I know a lot of people probably have already read or have heard of is The Dry by Jane Harper.
Jo Frances Penn: That’s fantastic.
Dr. Markham: That captures the heat, the feeling of actually being more in the area that I live in now, but certainly, that arid farmland, rangeland, Savannah-type region of Australia. It really captures what it’s like to be in an Australian country, a small country town. So they’re fiction.
The two nonfiction that I wanted to recommend are both very specific to Alice Springs and give outsiders a brilliant insight into both the town and what it’s like…whatever Aboriginal culture is like now in the town. One is called The Hard Light of Day. It’s by Rod Moss, who’s an artist. And it’s all about his friendships with Arrernte people in town camps.
Now, town camps are Aboriginal public housing, and there’s 20 of them in and around Alice Springs. And they’re a very big part of the town and the identity, and they’re very important for Aboriginal people, obviously, in terms of housing. And it shows you that they can be quite confronting places to live and very confronting for people who might not have realized that there’s overcrowding and some desperate poverty and dysfunction in some places as well.
But this book gives an amazing humanizing side and absolutely nails what it’s like for people living in those places, and it’s in Alice Springs, set in Alice Springs.
And then, I can’t not talk about Iwenhe Tyerrtye. And Iwenhe Tyerrtye means “I’m Aboriginal” in Arrernte, and it’s written by M.K. Turner, Margaret Kemarre Turner. And M.K. is the lady who taught me Arrernte. And she talks, in this book, all about what it’s like to be an Aboriginal person, talks about all the different things that you go through in life or business that’s when someone passes away, about kinship relations and how they just are so important, hope for your entire life, about how Aboriginal people experience feelings, about Dreaming and spirituality. It’s just an amazing book. So yeah, they’re my four books to recommend to you.
Jo Frances Penn: That’s fantastic. And your website again, traveloutbackaustralia.com, and we’ll link everything in the show notes, as well.
Apart from that website, I know you’ve got another one as well, so where can people find you online?
Dr. Markham: Me? Probably traveloutbackaustralia is the best.
And I’ve got my little writing website but I am employed pretty much full-time as an archaeologist, as well. And obviously, I want to be found through my fiction writing as Katt Powers. So I hang out on Instagram a lot as @kattwritesworlds. And if you wanna have a chat with me on Instagram, I’m always up for a chat.
Jo Frances Penn: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Amanda. That was great.
Dr. Markham: Well, thanks, Joanna. Cheers.
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