Last year I became obsessed with learning all I could about how Australia was settled. My interest in Australian history was inspired by an Australian author David Hunt who wrote Girt. I had gone to the publishing event of his second book True Girt at Black Inc in Hawthorn where the audience asked him questions about history and also his writing process. He regaled stories of Australian history that fascinated me and intrigued me to learn more. His books are written in a comedic style so they were a perfect introduction for me into my country’s history as all my years of high school Australian history brought up nightmares. Somehow our history never really did compare to the exciting history of the Tudors and the Stuarts so it was often the first subject to be tossed aside for something else.
Over the Christmas break, I spent time with family in Canberra and introduced my 11-year-old niece to the local library. I showed her how to get her own library card and demonstrated how to download the app BorrowBox onto her iPhone so that she could also borrow audiobooks. For the time I was in Canberra, I felt that I had “lost her” to a world of books and audiobooks as she closed herself in her room buried in another world.
As I was demonstrating BorrowBox, I decided to try an audiobook. I had downloaded a couple of Seth Godin’s books in the past because they were short and easy to digest but had never tried fiction. The idea of listening to a book never attracted me because I felt that I could read it quickly and most importantly, listen to my OWN voice in my head. I decided to give fiction another go especially as I had heaps of time in Canberra. I downloaded The Lieutenant by Australian author, Kate Grenville.
It was downloaded on a whim and part of me dreaded this idea that it was going to be a heavy text filled with evocative imagery and themes that may have been too difficult to comprehend for a holiday read. As I listened to the book, the idea that I may not have completely finished this book if I read it myself crossed my mind. However, listening to someone else read it to me made me appreciate the language in a whole new different way. I marvelled at Grenville’s use of language to convey the contrast between an ‘old’ world and the ‘new’ world – of Australian identity and cultural conflict. (You can read more about the book in this text review).
Themes of the Book Relevant to Us Today
It was a book that once I finished, I kept thinking about its themes and how close they are to the way we work nowadays.
The theme of taking some time to learn something new, to understand another’s point of view or culture makes you realise the limitations of your own thinking as well as your own culture too. You end up changed in the process and never going back to how you were before – it’s as if a fog is lifted and you can see things clearly which then creates a new path for you to follow.
It’s the story of a Marines lieutenant, Daniel Rooke (loosely based on William Dawes, lieutenant of First Fleet who has an extensive journal of the Aboriginal language), who takes the time to befriend a young Aboriginal girl who teaches him their language. As a scientist, astronomer and avid learner, he eagerly takes copious notes on the language into his journals but he also has to deal with the perceptions of his superiors and peers of this relationship who don’t seem to understand it – and instead, mock it.
It’s his story of how he started to question his own culture and how he has to make a decision as to whether he stands by allegiance to his own country and culture or whether he speaks up against it.
In a way, I felt that this book themes can be applied nowadays in how we work in organisations. Daniel Rooke was straddling between the old and the new world. He had taken the risk to learn something different and in the process, he started to question everything from his own culture, thinking and perspectives. In a way, this is how ‘Change Agents’ or ‘intrapreneurs’ feel like when they work within their own organisations – when you see the difference, you can never go back to how things were.
It’s a beautiful read – the language is breathtakingly evocative and you can picture the words on the page and wonder at how authors can masterfully portray the environment, the sensibility and the emotion so well.
It also made me wonder how the REAL people who came out in the First Fleet were changed in mind and spirit by this land and its harshness. Maybe the resilient ones are the ones who go on some personal journey themselves and submit to being in a state of constant learning, openness and wonder – and an acceptance of them having an equal part to play of being part of a cosmos. Not controlling it, not directing it, not forcing it. Just being.
Some quotes that resonated with me:
“Until you could put yourself at some point beyond your own world, looking back at it, you would never see how everything worked together.”
“Difference held no fear for him. He knew that strangeness was commonplace when you inhabited it.”
“It was a leap into the other”
“What he had not learned from Latin or Greek he was learning from the people of New South Wales. It was this: you did not learn a language without entering into a relationship with the people who spoke it with you. His friendship with Tagaran was not a list of objects, or the words for things eaten or not eaten, thrown or not thrown. It was the slow constructing of the map of a relationship.”