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



Kim Manhood, Walking different paths in a rich and strange land, The Age, 2 December 2000.


"... It is the story of the intersections between the pioneer settlers in the wet forested tableland country, its Aboriginal population, and the ideologies and revolutions of Eastern Europe. It gives a glimpse into the prejudice, racism, pragmatism, stoicism and generosity of Australian society in the early part of the century, and the appalling inequities of the government policies towards both Aboriginal and migrant Australians..."


Kevin Murray, Australian Book Review, December-January, 2000-2001, pp. 25-26.


"... The tale of the Illins is so rich in Tolstoyan allusion that you could be forgiven for suspecting its authorship to be another case of literary false pretences. Actually, it is—but a more interesting one than Darville’s conceit. I can testify that Elena Govor does actually exist—I met Elena and her husband Vladimir Kabo soon after their arrival in Australia, when they were gazing with wonder at the gum trees they had only read about in books..."


John Docker, Russian connection, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 December 2000.


"We're not, perhaps, used to thinking that Australia could be a cherished object of desire for others. Elena Govor, the author of this remarkable book, had long had in the old Soviet Union an intense scholarly and imaginative interest in Australia. In 1990, she emigrated here and is publishing works on Russian-Australian connections and interactions...."


Diane Carlile, Nick Walker, From cosmic chaos to colonial conservation, 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....."


Book tribute to 'bush lawyer', The Herbert River Express, 18 January 2001.


"... Mr Hoolihan, Flora's son, affectionately remembers his grandfather as a driven man. "He got me to read books," Mr Hoolihan said. "He was very strong and made us behave and tow the line. He would always go into bat for his children against the authorities if something were happening to them. He did a lot for Aboriginal people and used to go along with them and make sure, where ever possible, that they knew what they were signing for. In those days their wages were paid to a 'Protector' who was a local policeman or member of the clergy. They called Leandro a 'bush lawyer' and a lot of other things as well. They tried to make out that he was there for his own benefit, trying to get money out of the Aborigines and all that sort of business but that wasn't the case..."


Francesca Beddie, History written from the heart, The Canberra Times, 20 January 2001.


"... Govor interviews her [Flora] and other members of the family, eager to "learn how myth and fact interweave in the lives of ordinary people". She checks the stories against the documents, not to point out mistakes but to explain how memory itself becomes important historical material..."


Ian Frazer, The Russian connection, Townsville bulletin, 24 February 2001.


"... Ernie Hoolihan, who spent lots of time with his grandfather as a boy said this week he welcomed Dr Govor's interest. He said Nicholas and Leandro both deserved recognition for defending the poor and needy. He thought old-timers in Ingham could probably still remember Leandro's trips to town from his place on the Stone River, carrying a folding writing desk and paper to write letters on behalf of settlers with poor English. But he thinks few knew his true, aristocratic background and his descendants had not paraded it either. "It's not much use jumping up and saying you are half Russian," Ernie said "Once you have dark skin, they don't care where you come from," he said with half a grin."


Regina Ganter, Australian Historical Studies, no. 117, 2001, pp. 355-356.


"... Blending the best of the Russian literary tradition with painstaking research, Govor has created a family saga. .. Leandro becomes a 'defender of the people', not the anonymous mass of oppressed of the 'narodniks', but of the named and known people around him, his 'dark brothers' and recent immigrants. We understand through this family what a burden of racism was shouldered by those who tried to  make  their mixed  marriages  work..."


Ann Curthoys, Immigration and colonisation: new histories, The UTS Review, vol.7, no. 1, 2001, pp. 170-179.


"...There are many meanings we can tease from this history, but the quite simple point I want to draw from it here is the contradictory experiences of this Russian family. Their immigration, for a multitude of reasons, political, cultural, and economic, is part of a history of colonisation, settlement, development, and displacement. Yet, in the cultural diversity it helped bring to Queensland settler society, and in Leandro's marriage to Kitty, their migration was also a harbinger of decolonisation. In interpreting and understanding these migrant histories, we do not need to choose between the status of agent or victim, coloniser or ethnic minority, for it is and was perfectly possible to be both."


Nicholas Rothwell, Beyond the frontier, The Weekend Australian, 20-21 April 2002.


"... Nothing quite like it has been written before; it lingers long in the memory. The author applied for a modest grant from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, which subsidises many a book and research project. They turned her down. My Dark Brother appeared a year ago, and looms above its field: it is nothing less than a new way into the indigenous world."


Bernadette Brennan, A question of voice. (Writer and Reader), Southerly, June 2002.


"... My Dark Brother has a double agenda. The author's primary concern is clearly signposted on the opening page: "In Search of the Hero" is emblazoned upon a map of Russia. This is a quest romance and Nicholas and Leandro are the undisputed "heroes". The quest involves, quite literally, the mapping of Russia and Russian literature onto the Australian landscape. One chapter is even entitled: "The `Cherry Orchard' on the Atherton Tableland". The second and more problematic agenda, involves Govor's desire to chart the relationship between Leandro Illin and Kitty Clarke in terms of the romantic love of nineteenth century Russian literature, and to use that relationship as a point of departure for her investigation of Aboriginal experience in twentieth century Australia..."