Elena Govor, My Dark Brother, Sydney, 2000

 

 


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Diane Carlile, Nick Walker, From cosmic chaos to colonial conservation [Extract], The Australian, 3 January 2001.

An amazing family biography so unlikely that, save for the author's abundant endnotes and evidential photos, it could pass for a superior magic-realist confection.

Progressive patriarch Nicholas Illin, an anti-tsarist member of the pre-revolution Russian landed classes, gripped by wanderlust and abetted by circumstance, successively settled his family in Patagonia, then far north Queensland and finally Honduras. Recently, Russian Australian author Elena Govor has traced this journey and the lives of successive generations of Illins especially Leandro, his Aboriginal wife Kitty (Ngadjon) and their several children.

Having inherited from his father Nicholas a strong sense of idealism and justice, Leandro a hardworking, respected member of the Little Siberia farming community on the Atherton Tablelands battled so-called Aboriginal Protection authorities for permission to marry his pregnant indigenous girlfriend.

So began a long paper war with the local protector, a bureaucrat dutifully opposed to miscegenation and empowered to relocate to distant Palm Island any of his charges guilty of this or other deemed infractions.

Although viewed as something of a troublemaker by authorities, Leandro is shown to be a loving son, husband and father, a reliable friend to any Aborigine or

immigrant experiencing the sharp end of the White Australia Policy, and a keen independent participant in local politics.

His surviving children and grandchildren, although identifying as Aboriginal rather than Russian, retain the Illin drive and idealism, and have recently renewed contact with the Hon-duran branch of the family.

Govor's style unusually but effectively splices oral history from surviving family members and researched records or other material evidence, with the one supplementing and amplifying the other. Significance and deeper understanding is remarkably extracted from all details, even the apparently trivial (such as family traditions for personal names) or contradictory (as in various versions of an incident). Useful foreword by Ken Inglis.