A new warrior for a new age
John M Wenitong is a perfect example of Australia’s cosmopolitan culture: he is parts Scottish, Aboriginal, Nepalese, Sri Lankan and Indian. Born in Gladstone in 1955, he did not discover his ancient Australian heritage until 23. At 36 he finished his degree in Literature and Aboriginal Studies and moved with his family to Cape York. He met politician Noel Pearson there and they created the Higher Expectations Program (personal interview, 22 April 2022). Wenitong ran the scholarship program in Cape York, Yarrabah and Palm Island and educated the partner boarding school staff and teachers. Wenitong was deeply impacted by his native Australian identity and became an educator. Through his writing, he strives to educate not just the kids in Cape York or his extensive family, but through his books to everyone who can read.
He notes in his Anzlitlovers interview that he writes anywhere: in the car, with his dog, travelling the country, and at any time of the day or night: the stories pour out of him and being retired is a definite boon (Hill, 12 July 2028). His focus on published stories is The Fethafoot Chronicles, a growing series based within ancient Australian culture and set anytime within the last ~50,000 years of ancient Australian history. Currently he contributes to social media and is preparing several stories simultaneously. Wenitong is an example of how Indigenous people adopt whatever technology is useful (Carlson, 11 June 2020).
A selection of non-serialised instalments are presented in The Fethafoot Chronicles, an on-going collection of narratives in the genre of traditional oral ancient Australian story telling. At present there are 10 instalments but there may be more on the way (Bookseriesinorder, n.d.). These stories are imbued with the traditions, daily life practices, know-how and magic of the Dreaming, providing the reader with a view of the world as it was before the British Isles emerged from underneath the last ice age. Wenitong currently manages The Kurdaitcha Mob on facebook, and his Twitter account, both platforms of positive ancient Australian identity and representation.
Wenitong began writing The Fethafoot Chronicles just before he turned 60 and was encouraged by his daughter Yeady (Hill, ibid). Inspired by David Unaipon, genius ancient Australian inventor, writer and preacher (Jones, n.d.), Dr Eric Willmot AM, ancient Australian scholar, educator and engineer (University of Canberra, n.d.), and Pemulwuy, the ancient Australian leader who defended his country against British invaders for 12 years (Soverign Union, 13 April 2022). Adopting the pen name ‘Pemulwuy’ and viewing the people who inspired him most, The Fethafoot Chronicles encapsulates the positive telling of story which Unaipon (p.4) wished for in 1951:
‘Perhaps some day, Australian writers will use Aboriginal myths and weave literature from them, the same as other writers have done with the Roman, Greek, Norse, and Arthurian legends.’
The Fethafoot Chronicles, Book 1: Nyarla and the Circle of Stones reveals the pervasive morality of traditional culture, how it may be perverted, and how it is restored. Quite similar to Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek series from the 1960s to the 1990s, the story hinges on the use of diplomacy and correct behaviour to solve problems. Violence is used only in the defence of moral behaviour:
‘And once more, Nyarla felt the old sadness come upon her – the Fethafoot burden of becoming judge and jury and of taking a wasted shameless life to spare more virtuous, deserving lives.’
One quote Wenitong sent me clarifies the cultural void which many ancient Australians have experienced since their countries were invaded and people displaced. Qualified as ‘anomie’ by the originator of sociology, Émile Durkheim, is the psychological state where traditional values have been lost yet have not been replaced. Elder Pemulwuy, the leader of the late 1700s, was fighting the British invaders to protect the values of his people; ‘anomie’ is the experience of the survivors, to one degree or another; author Pemulwuy, Wenitong’s pen name, is writing to resuscitate traditional values of correct behaviour and the moral worldview of sustainable coexistence on and with this planet.
Here we reach the core influence of Wenitong’s writing: Pemulwuy of the Bidjigul clan, Darug nation. Elder Pemulwuy was a carradhy, a man with initiate esoteric knowledge: he therefore was the person responsible for exacting justice on misdeeds on his lands, including those committed by the settlers. Perhaps of the worst offences, initially, was white settlers stealing children (Kohen, 2006), an activity still engaged in by the Australian government today (Aboriginal Legal Service, 2022). Elder Pemulwuy gave his life protecting his people from the invaders of his lands: he was murdered in 1802 and his head was cut off and sent to England (ibid). Elder Pemulwuy was an agent of justice.
Each instalment of the Fethafoot Chronicles specifically revolves around the fundamental issues of morality, how morality is disgraced, and how justice is meted out. Wenitong depicts all characters, major and minor, in terms of their moral behaviour. Shame is placed in opposition to morality with the villain referred to as the ‘shameless one’ (for example, p. 57). Wenitong clearly conveys this great insight into the morality of ancient Australian culture. Let us briefly juxtapose Western culture’s negative definition of shame (Larnia, 4 April 2011), and its egotistical definition: ‘when shame is chronic, it can involve the feeling that you are fundamentally flawed’ (Cuncic, 27 May 2021).
Cuncic’s was a very long article which briefly mentions that shame can also be positive when it indicates behavioural boundaries, and this is the value that shame has when supporting moral behaviour. Wenitong’s writing weaves morality through the narrative as an obvious fact to all characters and shame is the ability to know when the boundary of correct behaviour has been crossed.
Cultural analysis may elucidate these different applications of ‘moral’:
– Ancient Australian worldview: the land is sacred; everything is connected; comfort is derived from interpersonal relationships
– Modern Australian worldview: the land provides exploitable resources; each person is an individual; comfort is derived from productive successIndigenous Corporate Training, 26 January 2016
There is a chasm between these two cultures in terms of values. When reading stories based within a different worldview, becoming familiar with ‘cosmopolitanism’ may help. This idea elevates the experience of multiracial, multi-identity people into a value system of cross-cultural cooperation and diversity (Warf, 2020). Wenitong facilitates diversity by presenting ancient Australian culture in a pure state, with its worldview intact. This allows the reader to experience multiculturalism directly through the insights provided by the narrative and this positive representation works sans two centuries of dispossession. The reader gains know-how of ancient Australian culture.
In oral cultures teaching is done via story and Wenitong’s dedicated history as an educator is apparent through his writing. Prefacing the story, knowledge of the written word, a written language, is stated an amazing tool for sharing stories across borders and across time (The Fethafoot Chronicles, p. 6). He invites the reader into the world of the story, to become immersed in the worldview of the narrative, and to learn to see through the eyes of ancient Australians. John Wenitong wanted to create positive stories for not just children to read, but for all peoples to understand cultural differences. I believe he succeeded. I wonder what Elder Pemulwuy would make of author Pemulwuy’s effort to educate, to connect, to protect and to strengthen Australia.
Perhaps he may agree that the pen is mightier than the sword.
Aboriginal Legal Service, 28 March 2022, Aboriginal organisations urge parliament: if you support our kids, support the Family is Culture Bill, Aboriginal Legal Service (viewed 25 April 2022), <https://www.alsnswact.org.au/aboriginal-organisations-urge-parliament-to-support-family-is-culture-bill>.
Book Series In Order, n.d., Pemulwuy Weeatonga Books in Order (viewed 22 April 2022), <https://www.bookseriesinorder.com/pemulwuy-weeatunga/>.
Carlson, B 11 June 2020, Ten Twitter accounts you should be following if you want to listen to Indigenous Australians and learn, The Conversation, viewed 25 April 2022), <https://theconversation.com/ten-twitter-accounts-you-should-be-following-if-you-want-to-listen-to-indigenous-australians-and-learn-140353>.
Connecting with Country, 13 April 2022, All About Pemulwuy, Sovereign Union (viewed 25 April 2022), <https://www.facebook.com/SovereignUnion1/photos/a.586516584802059/4995697050550635/>.
Cuncic, A 27 May 2011, What is Shame? Very Well Mind (viewed 26 April 2022), <https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-shame-5115076>.
Hill, L 12 July 2018, Meet an Aussie Author: John Wenitong, ANZ Lit Lovers (viewed 23 April 2022), <https://anzlitlovers.com/2018/07/12/meet-an-aussie-author-john-wenitong/>.
Indigenous Corporate Training, 26 January 2026, Indigenous People’s Worldviews vs Western People’s Worldviews, Indigenous Corporate Training (viewed 26 April 2022), <https://www.ictinc.ca/blog/indigenous-peoples-worldviews-vs-western-worldviews>.
Jones, P n.d., Unapion, David (1872-1967), Australian Dictionary of Bibliography (viewed 25 April 2022), <https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/unaipon-david-8898>.
Kohen, JL, 2006 (published first in hardcopy 2005), Pemulwuy (1750–1802), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University (viewed 25 April 2022), <https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pemulwuy-13147/text23797>.
Larnia, MC PhD, 4 April 2011, Shame: a Concealed, Contagious and Dangerous Emotion, Psychology Today (website viewed 26 April 2022), <https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intense-emotions-and-strong-feelings/201104/shame-concealed-contagious-and-dangerous-emotion>.
LinkedIn, n.d., John Wenitong profile (viewed 25 April 2022), <https://au.linkedin.com/in/john-wenitong-374ba559>.
Unaipon, D 1954, My Life Story, Adelaide: Aborigines Friends Association.
University of Canberra, n.d., Eric Willmot AM, Alumni Excellence Award Eduction, Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths Winner, University of Canberra website (viewed 25 April 2022), <https://www.canberra.edu.au/alumni/home/our-community/distinguished-alumni/2015-distinguished-alumni-award-winners/profiles/eric-willmot-am>.
Warf, B 2020, ‘Cosmopolitanism’, International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (Second Edition), pp419-422, University of Kansas, USA, doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-102295-5.10167-2 (viewed 26 April 2022), <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780081022955101672>.