Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
May 2012

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Guest Reviewer: 
Salwah Kirk

My Khyber Marriage: Experiences of a Scotswoman as the Wife of a Pathan Chieftan’s Son

Morag Murray Abdullah

Long Riders' Guild Press.

I recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about the Afghanistan that existed long before the Soviet intrusion in the 1970s, the emergence of the Taliban and NATO’s intervention in a post 9/11 world.

Morag Murray, a Scot, married the son of a Pathan chieftain just after World War I, converted to Islam and followed her husband to his home near the Khyber Pass. She was an adventurous, independent young woman, unusual for those times, who enthusiastically learnt the language and customs of her husband’s people and entered fully into their life.

She has written a remarkable insider’s view of Afghan culture. The description of her extraordinary wedding and its preparations (worth reading for that alone), her life amongst the tribes, the exquisite manners expected of all people, and the affection and bravery of her new family and friends make this an exceptional memoir.

This account of her married life stands as a wonderful testament to the author, her husband and to her adopted country of Afghanistan. Her marriage lasted over forty years, until her death in 1960.

Murray’s grandson is the popular travel writer, Tahir Shah, who may be known to readers for his books including: The Caliph’s House: a Year in Casablanca, In Arabian Nights and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.


Seven Seasons in Aurukun: My Unforgettable Time at a Remote Aboriginal School

Paula Shaw

Allen and Unwin (Sydney), 2009. 

Aurukun is a remote area in Northern Queensland near the Gulf of Carpentaria. To describe life in this remote indigenous community as confronting and extremely difficult is an understatement. At the 2006 census, Aurukun had a population of 1,043. Of that number there are approximately 900 indigenous individuals belonging to five tribal groups; this often leads to tensions and violence.

As I read this book I could see clearly how the education system we take for granted elsewhere in Australia has little relevance to the children of Aurukun, and I found myself wondering what should take its place.

The author, Paula Shaw, is a born teacher and also happens to be my neighbour. Underpinning everything she does and in spite of her frustrations, exhaustion and tears, is the strong desire to help her pupils and not let them down. I found this book difficult to put down because so much of it showed an aspect of Australian life that is a world away from most of us. Shaw loves nature and has a huge respect for the way the children she taught live as part of the land and understand it in a way a whitefella never will.

Shaw’s book is a no-holds-barred memoir of her time spent in Aurukun. Some of the dialogue is ‘ripe’, reflecting the every day English of Aurukun. Her descriptions are full of gems like: ‘I’m a red soup of sniffling, sweat and sobs’ or ‘I want to take my brain out and rest from this’.

For freshness and candour, for information, and much more, this is a modern classic.


Over the Edge of the World

Laurence Bergreen

N Y. Harper Collins, 2003.

At school we learnt of Magellan’s voyage, the Straits of Magellan, the Magellanic Clouds, Patagonia, the Spice Islands, but nothing at all of the sufferings he, and the members of his expedition, endured.

This is a tale without heroes; indeed it seems impossible for anyone to be heroic in the face of three years of suffering including: deprivation, disease, mutiny, murder, and shipwreck, plus large doses of evangelistic zeal. Envisaging the conditions under which these sailors existed is almost impossible today.

Two hundred men set sail in five ships—only one ship and eighteen men returned to Spain; Magellan not amongst them. The survivors returned to Spain carrying large amounts of the cloves and nutmeg that formed a stronger basis for wealth than did gold, at the time.

In the course of their voyage, Magellan and his men encountered strange peoples with even stranger customs. I found these fascinating and bizarre tales helped counter the horror I felt when reading harrowing descriptions of how the sailors lived.

Magellan’s voyage is said to have bridged the old world and the new, bringing Europe into contact with ways of thinking, living and being that had never before been imagined. Of course its purpose was hardly altruistic; its purpose was to gain commercial, political and religious power. After reading this book there are times when one wishes they had saved themselves the agony and distress and stayed at home.

Salwah Kirk


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