True Stories of the Top End
Ken White
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True Stories of the Top End

Ken White
Indra Pub.
200 pages
April 2005
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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If you’re not from there, you’re probably not aware that the northern portion of Australia is known as the “top end” and is not a state but a self-governing territory, comprising the town of Darwin, its largest population center, and a great deal of what is called “outback” (which to an American sounds like some form of pioneer plumbing).

The denizens of the Top End have to accept the fact that they’re not taken particularly seriously, that the refusal to grant statehood implies a sense of superiority from “real” Australians. They are okay with that. Many of them are immigrants from Asia, and others are the original inhabitants of the continent, the Aboriginals. Some are just, well, Australians, tough and gritty, able to live by a slightly different standard than the rest of us, an amalgam of British courtesy and frontier justice.

Ken White, a journalist who lived in Darwin for four years, has collected a few tales of Top End jurisprudence to highlight this peculiar quality of life and morality. If you know nothing else about the Top End you might recall the notorious dingo/baby murder case made famous by Meryl Streep’s remarkable performance in the film A Cry in the Dark.

The real-life protagonist, Lindy Chamberlain, was portrayed, correctly, as a rather cold individual whose religious beliefs made her seem unconcerned about her infant when in fact she and her husband were distraught but unwilling to express their feelings in public. They became victims of virulent popular sentiment: "Many ‘knew’ the accused woman was guilty because she didn’t display any outward emotion. She didn’t break down and cry.” The Chamberlains were pilloried in the press and in court, but later exonerated. White reveals that when the couple demanded and were awarded more than one million dollars in compensation after their exoneration, they were still objects of harassment and scorn in the form of letters to the court. One letter stated that the Lord “clearly states that they will not receive compensation.”

White is quick to point out the backward and biased judgments which target Aboriginals who tend to receive far harsher sentences than white Australians because “Aborigines must be taught not to act in this way.”

There is also an infusion of humor, as in the case of a thief who said, in response to why he stole a chicken, “I took it for a lark,” and the judge replied, “No resemblance whatsoever. Fined fifty dollars.”

Though these tales concern a small and relatively obscure place, there is much to be enjoyed in this well-written compendium.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2005

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