Today I am pleased to offer an interview I conducted with author Camilla Chance, who brought the true story of a most amazing Australian aboriginal elder to print: Wisdom Man Banjo Clarke as told to Camilla Chance: The compassionate life and beliefs of a remarkable Aboriginal Elder.
Camilla and I were introduced via her Spanish translator, Laura Brandkamp. Though Wisdom Man Banjo Clarke has been published in German and Korean, a Spanish-language publisher has not yet been found. (With any luck this post will help them on that mission!)
Stay tuned for a future post, when I hope to feature an interview with Laura about her translation of this remarkable book.
**In the interest of full disclosure, Camilla and Laura sent me a copy of this book, free of charge, so that I could read it and interview them both.
Now, here is my e-mail conversation with Camilla.
Lisa: Banjo Clarke tells of your meeting in the introduction to the book, and you speak of it in the afterword. Can you briefly introduce us to Banjo and your friendship?
Camilla: Lisa, I want to thank you very much for your hospitality in having me on your blog. It truly is a great honor.
In 1975, a number of believers in a religion that sees all humankind as one family – the Baha’i Faith – were staying at my house in Warrnambool, Australia. One of them, a sixteen year old Aboriginal man, expressed the desire to meet local Aboriginals. So we drove to the Aboriginal Settlement, ten miles away. We obeyed Aboriginal custom and sat outside in the grass, waiting to be invited in. The Aboriginal teenager was the star, playing the guitar and singing while the rest of us hummed along. An Aboriginal woman came out and introduced us in turn to the dwellers in all the houses on the Settlement. Outside the Baha’i Faith, I had never met people so loving. We met Banjo Clarke, the most loving of all, in the last house. My four year old daughter ran to him, he picked her up and pretended to hug her as tightly as can be, exclaiming “Eeeeee!” Banjo and I instantly recognized universal love in each other.
Lisa: Why did you feel it was important to help Banjo write his life story?
Camilla: Aboriginal people are usually secretive about their spirituality, but Banjo was sure that the world would endure a terrible crisis if people didn’t change their hearts. He believed that understanding Aboriginal culture could prove to be the saving of the world.
As a Baha’i, I believe that indigenous people who are true to their old laws are living the closest to how God wants us all to live in future. They are really living and feeling every day the written laws that Baha’is have. Aboriginal people keep their integrity in the modern world, and they’ll always find an Aboriginal way of doing things.
Victorian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs said “I’ve met Nelson Mandela, and Banjo Clarke was the same quality of person.”
Banjo says in the book that he’d like to go to the funeral of every human being in the world, just to show his respect for that person for being a human being. And I believe that the people who truly manage to help change the world for the better are those who, like Banjo Clarke, have boundless compassion.
Lisa: Can you explain the process by which the book was written and published?
Camilla: First of all, in Banjo’s tribal culture, if you are not an Elder you must be a good listener. Your respect as a listener will be constantly tested. It is considered discourteous to ask questions – the speaker will give information when he or she is ready. This is why writing down Banjo’s story and philosophy took 27 years.
During Banjo’s lifetime, a reporter approached me with questions about my experience with Banjo. I replied that I couldn’t tell him much, because Banjo wanted the information in his book. After Banjo’s passing, the reporter told Penguin Australia that a manuscript existed.
Then a representative from Penguin came to our area, and we spent many days and nights discussing every sentence in the manuscript with Banjo’s children. Arguments went one way, then another – but, in the end, every one of us was satisfied that the final result was exactly what the spiritual realm wanted. That is the Aboriginal way of consultation.
Lisa: As I understand it, Wisdom Man Banjo Clarke has been very well received in Australia and abroad. It won an award from usabooknews.com for Best Multicultural, as well as an Australian Humanitarian Award, and you yourself are the first non-Aboriginal to receive a prestigious Aboriginal Award for your commitment to the Aboriginal people. Sadly, the book came out after Banjo Clarke passed away in 2000. How do you view this success, and how do you think Banjo would have seen it?
Well, actually, the book just received another award – Honorable Mention for Autobiography/Biography from the London [England] Book Festival. The Festival is run from the United States, and the Awards Ceremony was held in Boston, Massachusetts on 15th January, 2011.
How do I view this success? How would Banjo see it? I believe that, at this crucial time in our planet’s history, many great souls who have passed on are remaining close to the Earth to help our transition. As Banjo says in the book, we can have the world being one family the easy way or the hard way. Either we want to change our hearts now at the grassroots level – because it’s no use changing institutions until our hearts are opened, until our hearts change – or we will suffer an enormous calamity that will chasten us and we’ll want to have different priorities; we’ll just want to.
World peace is inevitable, as Banjo says in Wisdom Man. First there were tribes, then City-States, then nations, and it’s only natural that the next step is an international government – a government that has a selfless solution to the world’s economic problems, that can transport food rapidly from one end of the Earth to the other. To minimize misunderstandings, an extra, universal language should be taught in all schools. Yet we must keep and respect all the richness of local language, literature, art and culture in diverse villages, that will each have their own granary. Reading Wisdom Man is a step toward the world becoming one family.
Lisa: Was it ever a consideration for you to have Wisdom Man translated into other languages?
Camilla: Yes, indeed – Wisdom Man has now been published in Germany and Korea in the languages of those countries. I have given many talks in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, where the people report that they have lent English-language copies of Wisdom Man to friends in several other Spanish-speaking countries. When, oh when, they ask, will the book be available in Spanish? Laura Brandkamp has now translated the work into Spanish, but we do not yet have a publisher.
Lisa: How did you and Laura meet, and what has your collaboration on the translation been like?
Camilla: Many years ago, I was requested by the editor of Shaman’s Drum to write an article on my experience of Aboriginal spiritual life. I wrote the article, but it was not published due to the editor leaving that magazine. Then, recently, out of the blue, I received a copy of Shaman Portal on my computer. I assumed this was because I had written for Shaman’s Drum. Immediately I wrote asking if the editors could recommend someone who would translate Wisdom Man into Spanish. They supplied Laura’s name, and I wrote to her. I definitely felt that I was being guided by the spiritual realm.
Our collaboration has been totally harmonious. Laura wrote to me that she felt we were spiritual sisters under Banjo’s wings.
Lisa: Since Banjo is gone, Laura must turn to you for any clarifications she needs. Are you able to resolve most of her doubts or do you ever have to consult with Banjo’s family and other Aboriginal Elders?
Camilla: Laura has had very few doubts. I was led to choose a person who would be sensitive to the Aboriginal spiritual outlook. The world has a spiritual sickness, and it is ironic that the only serious instance of Laura having doubts was over her translation of the Australian expression “feeling crook”, which means “feeling ill”.
Banjo spoke beautifully, from the depths of himself, and there is a video of him speaking in English on my website. There are a huge number of things on my website, and one can order the book from it. But although Banjo was fluent in a type of English, he was proficient in his own tribal language too. There are absolutely no equivalent words in any European language for the perpetual spiritual sensations that Aboriginal people experience. We just have to approximate the Aboriginal words. For example, to indicate the Eternal Present in English, they use the word “the Dreaming” or “the Dreamtime”; but if an Aboriginal person passes on, they say “He [or she] has gone to his/her Dreaming.” That means “to the spiritual realm”. And yet, at the same time, the spiritual realm is in and through and all around them. Aboriginals live in the Dreamtime.
Lisa: What are your hopes or expectations for the Spanish translation of this work?
Camilla: I am hoping that the Spanish translation will chiefly be read by the many Spanish-speaking people in both North and South America. The Baha’i writings state that eventually America will lead the world spiritually, and I believe that Wisdom Man can really contribute to this.
Lisa: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Camilla: Well, I’ve read a lot of Aboriginal autobiographies, and almost always they say, “The old people did not trust me; they didn’t hand anything on to me of their wisdom” – because that was forbidden by the white invaders. But Banjo’s Elders singled him out when he was a little boy to receive their wisdom. His tribe was interfered with much less than most. And this is most important, because Aboriginal culture is a really, really beautiful thing – traditional Aboriginals have an enormous sense of unity and huge compassion. They looked upon the white people who massacred them not so long ago as immature children who had not been trained. Aboriginals are trained from birth in compassion – a mother might point out an insect and say, “Oh, poor thing; it’s not going the right way for its food.”
People are transformed by Wisdom Man. Everywhere I go, I meet people who say, “I used to be very angry; but, after meeting Banjo’s character so thoroughly in the book, I have forgiven everybody who harmed me.” If they don’t say that, they say “I have a friend who was always angry, then he [or she] read the book and now he [or she] is peaceful.” So there’s something there; Banjo forgave people a hundred times a hundred; he was just all forgiveness and all compassion and love.
Banjo said, “When forgiveness and love of the planet, and the love of the people that walk upon it, are your main priorities in life, then things get easier between people; then the disputes tend to fade away; and the ultimate goal is, the laughter returns.”
He believed that humankind should wipe their slate of interracial torment clean, and meet as if for the first time in peace and unity. Above all, for the sake of the children. Banjo adored children.
Camilla Chance, who joined the Baha’i Faith at the age of 22, met Aboriginal Elder Banjo Clarke in 1975, and at his request wrote down his story and philosophy. Even though these close friends came from completely different backgrounds – Camilla having been brought up as an aristocrat (and presented as a debutante to the Queen and Prince Philip on their thrones in Buckingham Palace), and Banjo as an Australian Aboriginal – it did not destroy the deep connection of humanity they found in one another. Camilla’s website is www.wisdommanbook.com. She believes that indigenous people who are true to their old laws are living the closest to how we all need to live now, for our planet to survive.
**If you have questions for Camilla or would like to say anything about the book or the interview, please do so in a comment. She would love to hear from you!**