Elena Govor, My Dark Brother, Sydney, 2000




About the author


Contents and excerpts


National Biography Award nomination

TV documentary


The Ngadjon people

Мой темнокожий брат


Hero and anti-hero



Nikolai (Kolia) Ilin with his mother, Courtesy of Sam Mackay

...The painter depicted Kolia as a little adult, in the style usual for a provincial portrait of the time. Even Kolia’s blue frock with its belt echoes in colour, fashion and decoration his father’s hussar uniform. Was not it about himself that the adult Kolia would write years later: ‘A five-year-old child with the carriage and manners of a self-possessed adult dandy — such is the ideal modern child’. The serious expression on his face is not like a child’s, and only the tilt of his little fair head gives an impression of delicacy, while the hoop he grasps in his hand tells us that he is supposed to be a boy.

     The wheel of this boy’s life will turn, like the revolutions of the hoop in his hand, and sixty-five years later it will bring him to the other end of the globe, to the bank of a nameless, dried-up creek, which later will become known as Illin’s Gully. There, on another sunny day like this one, his dark grandsons Ginger, Dick and Tom, his Australian Aboriginal grandsons, will be running up and down a bush track bowling a wheel, just like the way he used to bowl his hoop. But, barefoot, scantily dressed, sleeping on dry grass in a humpy, these boys will have nothing, in comparison with what he had at their age. He was a young landlord, an owner of dozens of human souls; despite that, they will be richer — they will have freedom. And, watching them there, he will realise that these boys playing and laughing on this bush track are his main achievement in life. The wheel of fortune, the roulette wheel, the wheel of life ... Indeed, nearly all his life will lie between these two sunny days in Ilinka and Illin Gully.1

     On that sunny day in Ilinka nobody would have suspected that Kolia, this delicate boy who poses with such a solemn expression for the family portrait, has come into this family, not to continue the family traditions but to break with them, to be the last landlord of Ilinka; that his coming into this family has been in order to expiate the sins of his forefathers ...

The Illin family coat of arms