”My Dark Brother” by Elena Govor
Russians in Australia
“My great-grandad Leandro taught his children to be proud, he told that all the people, black and white, are equal, he taught us to help the downtrodden and underprivileged and to distinguish between right and wrong”.
My Dark Brother is the tale of an Aboriginal family that can trace its line of descent on one side from the earliest Russian czars, and on the other from a deeply ancient tribal group of Ngadjon-ji that has lived on the Atherton Tablelands since time immemorial.
The book focuses on two characters: Nicholas Illin, a Russian intellectual, obsessed with ideas, an Utopian, and his son Leandro who managed to put these ideas into practice. He migrated to Australia at the turn of the century, fell in love with an Aboriginal woman and married her in the face of adversity, subsequently raising their six children after her premature death in outback Queensland. Becoming one of the first European champions of Aboriginal rights in later years he was heard to quote; ‘I fought for every black that I seen wronged’.
Beginning in Russia, the book follows the family to Central Asia, Europe, North and South America and ultimately to Australia where Govor finishes the book in conversation with the present generation of the Illin family, some of whom have stood at the forefront of the movement for Aboriginal rights and reconciliation since the 1960s. Eddie Mabo was first introduced to the movement for Aboriginal rights by Richard Hoolihan, Leandro’s Aboriginal son-in-law.
Govor cleverly interweaves descendants’ memories of both their Aboriginal and Russian relatives’ lives with documentary evidence to form an incredible tapestry of interconnecting stories, myths, facts, anecdotes and ultimately a powerful work of mingling voices to convey the unique experience of this family.
My Dark Brother is not only a beautifully written and fascinating biographical account of a unique Australian-Aboriginal-Russian family, it is also a documentary-style novel that explores a powerful and direct legacy, conveyed through generations of Aboriginal descendants who have crafted a practical working philosophy and way of life. Despite the difficulties and hardships this family endured, the general feel of the novel is optimistic, it gives a profound insight into Russian and Aboriginal mentality and is a book for anyone interested in Aboriginal reconciliation.