Book Review by Sylvie Nantais: Wisdom Man by Camilla Chance

Book Review by Sylvie Nantais: Wisdom Man by Camilla Chance
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In honor of the French publication of Wisdom Man Camilla Chance on October 20, 2017, we’d like to share this review by Sylvie Nantais. A French version also appears on the Huff Post at

When Henry James 'Banjo' Clarke passed away on 14 March 2000, his championing of unity, his all-encompassing love for all peoples regardless of race and social standing, his great spirituality and outstanding stewardship of the land, the goodness he saw in all people despite a lifetime of tragedy and racial discrimination, inspired thousands of people to attend what had become a state funeral for a revered Aboriginal Elder.

Banjo Clarke, Wisdom Man of Australia

In 1975, while recovering from a recurring bout of pneumonia, contracted due to his work in the basalt mines, Banjo received a hospital visit from Camilla Chance. That meeting would ultimately lead to a deep and profound friendship between this Aboriginal man and a woman with a "blue blood" pedigree.

A few years later, Banjo asked Camilla Chance to help him record the story of his life, in secret, so that he could not be swayed by outside influences. It was to become a testament to his beliefs and a cry to his people to hold onto their own beautiful culture, and to humanity to fully embrace their spiritual reality and nurture their own goodness. The result was a 27-year collaboration that was published by Penguin in 2003 and re-launched in 2005, as Wisdom Man: Banjo Clarke, as told to Camilla Chance.

The book received critical acclaim and coverage in various media, was a bestseller in Australia and has been translated into several languages. A documentary on Banjo Clarke's life was produced by ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) and its author, Camilla Chance has given talks on Banjo Clarke's life, philosophy and beliefs in several countries and on the internet. Camilla Chance is a Baha'i, a faith that Banjo Clarke later embraced as his own, believing that it most clearly paralleled his own Aboriginal beliefs and held the greatest hope for the future.

Beyond the Didgeridoo, the Nulla-Nulla and the Dreamtime

This book is not for the faint of heart. Recorded faithfully in Banjo Clarke's own words, he details not only his own life (made difficult by the very fact that he was Aboriginal), his battle with alcoholism and his various occupations in order to prevent starvation from affecting his family, but that of his ancestors as well – a history of bloodshed, massacre, dispossession, deep-seated racial attitudes and shocking inequalities.

He talks poignantly about his people – both the "Old Ones" who transmitted their culture to him, and those who have lost their identity, their culture and their spiritual bearings as a result of exterminating government programs – known as the Stolen Generations. However, there is never a trace of self-pity or righteous anger towards the oppressors of his people, only a sadness and puzzlement as to why all peoples cannot live as one.

Banjo's storytelling skills are superb and he provides fascinating insights into the Australian Aboriginal mind and the highly-evolved spiritual values that sustain his culture, which believes that there is effectively no separation between the spirit world and the material world: great respect must be accorded to both. Woven into his stories are birds of omen, animals carrying blessings, whispering trees and an acute understanding of dream symbols.

The power of the human spirit and of the natural world around him come alive in a most unsettling way - readers clearly glimpse the "Dreamtime Land" that he and his people embrace, and feel the throbbing of the spirit world in his words. Truth here is infinitely stranger than fiction, and far more fascinating. The past, present and future are all in the 'now' according to Aboriginal belief – in short, a cornerstone of quantum physics. There is a constant mystical conversation going on between these two worlds, one that humanity would do well to initiate itself to in its own off-kilter universe.

The Power of Love and Inclusiveness

Banjo Clarke's life spanned nearly the entire 20th century, and there wasn't much that he did not experience of its tumultuous history. This Aboriginal man, despite his many life challenges, radiated love and compassion for all who crossed his path. He has been compared to Nelson Mandela: both men emerged from the darkness of their lives shining with forgiveness and inclusiveness. That one acquired more fame does not mean that the other was any less transformative in his contacts with people and his environment.

Banjo Clarke opened his home to the dispossessed and the suffering at all times, and was as much friend to the street person as he was to eminent people, like Malcolm Fraser, Prime Minister from 1975-1983, who often sought Banjo's wise counsel on various issues and concerns. However, Banjo stated "I am not a politician, just a man of nature. White children come to the bush and I tell them stories about the bush. I tell them about the spirits of the forest that are still there and about the Dreamtime Land."

Wisdom Man is available in English in an Amazon Kindle Edition

Un Homme De Sagesse is available October 20 at:

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