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Book Review - Sand Talk

By Kingsley Gittins

RARELY WOULD I DESCRIBE a book as both well-written and difficult to read at the same… Tyson Yunkaporta’s Sand Talk definitely falls into this category. 

Chock-a-block full of philosophical concepts and interconnected global issues, Yunkaporta attempts to tackle them by combining his own radical ideas with knowledge from his Indigenous ancestral past. And, to a large extent, he succeeds.

One theme that permeates through his work is the lack of sustainability in Western systems, being based on a model of constant growth. Quite rightly, he points to the resource-guzzling nature of modern cities and their subsequent effect on the environment, and then contrasts this with sustainable practices employed by Indigenous people for generations. He argues that we are failing to learn from this deep well of knowledge, despite the impending climate catastrophe.

What most struck me was, not the content of Sand Talk, but the approach Yunkaporta took in conveying it. He uses discussions or ‘yarns’ with fellow truth-seekers, both inside and outside his community, to give his ideas weight and depth. He takes the concepts developed from these yarns and incorporates them into drawings and symbols throughout the book.

A novel and effective method that supports the founding premise of the work, to analyse and suggest improvements on Western systems from an Indigenous-knowledge perspective.

Sand Talk is an interesting book, well-researched and deeply respectful of culture, but not afraid to suggest change and innovation, or highlight hypocrisy and racism even within Yunkaporta’s personal experience of community. This struggle of ‘us versus them’ thinking – or ‘greater than/less than’, as he describes it – is at the heart of the book.

Shadows of intersectional politics may not affect some readers, but overall, the quality of the work demands your time and attention.

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