A Guardian of Aboriginal Culture?
Imagine if someone spent a few months in Tibet and came back claiming to have been chosen as the “true” Dalai Lama.
Would anyone take it seriously?
Well, meet Marlo Morgan.
After spending a few months in Australia she claimed to be the Spiritual Guardian of the earth’s most ancient living culture, and its messenger to the world.
Ms. Morgan claimed she met the last “true” Aborigines, and that they have decided to voluntarily die out, as their mission on earth is finished.
Her book, Mutant Message Down Under is now the world’s most widely read book about Australian Aborigines. It has been translated into more than 20 languages and sold tens of millions of copies world wide.
Morgan claims to have been contacted by a tribe who carry the last remaining essence of humanity, uncorrupted by civilisation. They kidnapped her and took her with them through the desert, where she learned their spiritual secrets, mastered their culture, mastered life in the desert, and ultimately was chosen to bring this message to the world.
Despite being exposed repeatly as a liar and a fraud, and despite trenchant and unanimous opposition from Aborigines themselves, Morgan continues to promote her deeply racist and damaging lies to a world wide audience.
For anyone who has been in Australia, or in a desert, or had any contact with any indiginenous people, the story is instantly recognisable as a fake, and an extremely poor one at that.
For example, at the start of her desert journey, she suffers horrendous wounds to her feet from walking on spinifex grass. One look at the photo below reveals the absurdity of such a claim – what was she doing, leaping from clump to clump? But readers unfamiliar with the Australian landscape must simply take Morgan’s word. After days walking “on” this grass, her blistered feet hardened into the kind of “hoof” that members of the tribe have developed – toughened up by years of leaping through the desert, obviously.
No one who has been in the desert could make such a mistake, but mistakes as stupid as this appear on nearly every page.
In fact, Morgan’s time in Australia was spent working in a Brisbane pharmacy run by a certain Leon Brosnan, who kindly confirmed the truth and allowed his name to be used in debunking Morgan’s lies. She had some fleeting contact with some Aborigines, and may have attended a daytrip for tourists.
It appears that on returning to the US, Morgan invented the story to entertain her family. She was eventually persuaded to write it down, and after it was rejected by a publisher (who couldn’t verify any important details), Morgan published it herself. Her extraordinary “true” story was an immense success. Rupert Murdoch’s Harper Collins Publishing House bought the rights, slapped a “fiction” label on it to avoid prosecution, and turned it into a phenomenal bestseller worth hundreds of millions.
Despite the fiction label, the book included Morgan’s original “Note From the Author” assuring the reader the story is factually true. Now tens of millions of readers around the world believe that Australian Aborigines want to die, and that their culture lives on in Marlo Morgan.
Unfortunately, Morgan’s “message” is deeply racist as well as profoundly ignorant. Aborigines don’t want to die out, and they don’t need any middle class Americans with delusions of grandeur to protect them.
Their continuing survival after more than 200 years of genocide depends largely on international awareness of their plight, and international respect for and interest in their culture. It is this respect and interest which Morgan (and Murdoch) exploit. It’s an extraordinary case of identity theft and cultural assassination, a fraud unparalleled in the publishing world.
Of course, Morgan’s cliches and fantasies are easier to understand than real factual information. Aboriginal culture and spirituality is not a plain-label product for instant consumption. To pretend to have mastered its deepest mysteries in a few short months is beyond absurd.
During the early 1990s so many people had been approaching the Aboriginal community in Australia and asking about Morgan’s tribe, that Robert Eggington, a Nyungar Elder and director of a cultural support centre for Aborigines, decided to find out exactly what was going on. He traveled in the areas where Morgan claimed to have walked through, to see if anyone had heard of Morgan or her famous tribe.
Now, if you look at a map of Australia it looks vast and empty enough for a large group of people to remain undetected for long periods. But the map below, showing Aboriginal territories, offers a very different impression.
Before entering the territory of another tribe, members of a different tribe ask permission. Morgan’s story takes her tribe over vast distances. Her tribe would have needed to ask many times for permission to enter new territory.
Robert Eggington spent 26 months traveling the areas Morgan claimed (in numerous vague and contradictory statements) to have travelled through. He asked the inhabitants if they had met Morgan or knew anything of the “tribe” she claimed had been living for millenia amongst them. (See map below.)
No one heard of Morgan or her tribe, and all were horrified by Morgan’s claims of their voluntary extinction. They empowered Robert Eggington to represent all Aborigines in publicly condemning the book.
In 1996 a small group of Aborigines including Eggington, travelled to Hollywood in an effort to persuade film producers not to go ahead with their planned film version of Morgan’s tale. A script had already been written and Meryl Streep was considering the lead role.
Extraordinarily, this small group of unknown Australians succeeded in convincing the filmmakers not to proceed. They also managed to extract a tearful confession from Morgan that the story was a hoax. (She swiftly recanted after her publisher intervened to prevent her signing a statement.)
Morgan then went on an international lecture tour, continuing to promote herself as guardian of the true Aboriginal culture. The same small group confronted her in Japan, interupting her lectures by walking through the hall in full ceremonial paint. After a few minutes of didgeridoo playing, Robert Eggington would then read a statement denouncing Morgan as a fraud and a spiritual thief, and then leaving.
Reactions from the New Age Movement
The Aboriginal campaign has generally been received sympathetically, but was met with open hostility from the New Age movement.
Many members of the New Age movement, instead of realising they’ve been conned and played for fools, continue to defend Morgan’s work (and of course, their own fragile egos). Some argue that the story is “inspirational, even if it is fiction”, and have even criticised Aborigines for being “negative” about Morgan, (unlike Marlo’s tribe who were so peaceful!).
Others, including university lecturers who continue to use the book in their courses, argue that the story is indeed true, and claim that modern physics proves that miracles like the ones Morgan claims, can happen.
One of many such miracles: Morgan’s tribe use their psychic powers to call two crocodiles out of a water hole. Now, while it is true that the Nullarbor Plain (where Morgan claims she was) holds many dangers for the unwary traveler, being eaten by a crocodile is NOT one of them. Any crocodile wanting to visit would need to waddle one or two thousand miles over burning desert sands. Crocs are only found in the wet areas of the far north.
One New Age reviewer sees it like this:
One only needs to read a Quantum Physics textbook to delve into the strange, mystical world of sub-atomic particles. None of the seemingly extra-ordinary events depicted in Mutant Message Down Under can be refuted by modern science…
Sorry, but a crocodile is not a sub-atomic particle. Nor are human beings, nor is the Australian Outback.
In reality, Morgan spent three or four months in Australia in 1985, doing unpaid work in a Brisbane pharmacy. The owner, Leon Brosnan, said, “I knew she wasn’t kidnapped before she worked for me, and after she worked for me she went to Sydney, and then went home to America. There wouldn’t have been four months to go walk about.”
Maybe we can explain Morgan’s miracles without perverting quantum physics. Like, maybe she made the whole thing up?
Morgan’s act of cultural assassination (claiming they will soon be extinct) and identity theft (claiming to be their messenger) is totally immoral. It has also damaged international understanding of Aborigines. She has exploited the widespread fascination with Aboriginal culture – something Aborigines have themselves earned through their survival, and replaced with with false information. Now millions of people think they know something about Australian Aboriginal culture; and they believe Morgan is bringing them their last message before they die out.
This world-famous book, deeply racist – even subtly white supremacist, profoundly ignorant of its subject matter and hostile to even the most basic code of ethics, holds a mirror up to the culture that favours it.
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