From the bestselling author of The Bush, the story of a fifty-year relationship between a Vietnam veteran and an isolated clan in north-east Arnhem Land – a unique window into Australia’s deep past and precarious present, by one of our master storytellers.
Longlisted for the 2023 Mark & Evette Moran Nib Literary Award
The Passion of Private White describes the meeting of two worlds: that of the intensely driven anthropologist Neville White, and the world of hunter-gatherer clans in remote northern Australia with whom he has lived and worked for half a century, mapping their culture and history in breathtaking detail.
As White began to understand this ancient culture struggling between the demands of Western modernity and the equally pressing need to preserve their lands, customs, laws and language, he was also trying to transcend the mental scars inflicted on the battlefields of Vietnam.
Eventually, scholarly observer crossed the line into activist, advocate and defender of the clans’ effort to create a safe and healthy homeland, a seat both of traditional culture and contemporary skills and education. The enterprise meant overcoming everything from insatiable mining companies and official incompetence and neglect, to customs that were fundamental in the old way of life but dysfunctional in the transition to the new. When White began taking his old platoon mates to the homeland, two wildly different groups found in each other some of the solutions and some of the therapy they both needed.
Don Watson has had his own fifty-year relationship with Neville White, since meeting him as an undergraduate in Melbourne. This book is the result: moving, enlightening, devastating and inspiring, it is a towering achievement, a profound insight into both our recent and our deep history, the coloniser and colonised – indeed into the human condition itself.
Don Watson's bestselling titles include Recollections of a Bleeding Heart: Paul Keating Prime Minister, Death Sentence and The Bush, which won the Indie Book of the Year and the NSW Premier's Literary Award. An acclaimed speechwriter and screenwriter, he is also beloved for his columns and essays on Australian and American politics.
Publisher: Scribner Australia (November 3, 2022)
Length: 336 pages
Raves and Reviews
'In case you're wondering what should be the book of the year, here's my nomination. [The Passion of Private White is] at various times enlightening, challenging, tear-inducing, enraging and always beautifully written (of course). Extraordinary that a master story teller was on hand to witness it.’
– Michael Pascoe
How to sum up this story? It’s uncontainable. It wrangles worlds. It keeps getting wider and deeper like a stone in a pond. At its heart – an extraordinary telling of an extraordinary friendship.
– Paul Kelly AO
'A truly magnificent achievement'
– Peter Carey
'Wholly unexpected and original ... a gritty cross-cultural parable that ends with a fragile glimmer of hope.'
– Tom Griffiths, Australian Book Review
'A witty and compassionate book about friendship, Indigenous self-determination and people under stress.'