I’m usually reading three or four books at once: my bedside book, currently the letters of Marian Adams, my gym book for the stationary bike and the sauna, and then in the bathroom I have heaps of old New Yorkers and American Heritage and Smithsonian. And I keep a book in the car in case I wind up waiting at the doctor’s or something.
My current gym book is The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific by Paul Theroux. He’s a bit crusty, but he’s a pro, so he never bores you.
The book opens with Theroux’s book tour of Australia, where he hears a lot of comments by Australians about how Aborigines drink too much. Think about that for a minute. So of course he goes on walkabout in Woop Woop and meets some aborigines who are fascinating insightful people.
He writes about Captain Cook’s first meetings with the Guugu Yimidirrh back in 1770:
“They were not interested in his presents of cloth or nails or paper. They were delighted when he gave them a fish, which they regarded as a symbolic gift. They worshipped fish, they painted pictures of them on the walls of their caves — they were great painters of their other totems, turtles, demons, naked people, dugongs [canoes].”
“‘They were clean limn’d, active and nimble.’ Cook wrote. ‘Cloathes they had none.'”
Cook’s men show the people a kangaroo, which they call a gangurru.
“It happened to be a big brown animal that was shown.” Theroux writes. ” They had eleven words for the different varieties of kangaroo and wallaby, from the small swamp wallaby bibal to the galbaala, the large red kangaroo.”
As he sailed away, Cook wrote in his journal, ” From what I have said of the natives of New Holland they may appear to be some of the most wretched people on Earth. But in reality they are far happier than we Europeans, being wholly unacquainted not only with the superfluous, but with the necessary Conveniences so much sought after in Europe; they are happy in not knowing the use of them.”
“They live in Tranquility. The Earth and the Sea of their own accord furnish them with all things necessary in life.”
Surely there’s a lesson here for those caught up in the desperate web of materialism.
“Lust of possession worketh desolation” — I didn’t make that up! One of these days I’m going to put it on a sandwich board and walk around the mall.