Don Watson Meet the Author

22 Feb 2023

ANU/Canberra Times. Meet the Author. Don Watson

6 -7 PM Thursday February 22. Cinema Kambri Cultural Centre ANU

Don Watson and Chris Wallace will be talking about The Passion of Private White, Don’s new book. The book describes the meeting of two worlds: that of the intensely driven Vietnam veteran and anthropologist Neville White, and the world of some hunter-gatherer clans in remote north-east Arnhem Land with whom he has lived and worked for half a century, studying their culture and language and mapping their lands and their history.

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 a near impossible array of obstacles, from insatiable mining companies and official incompetence to customs and philosophy 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 work in the clans’ 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.

‘No publisher or literary agent could have dreamt up or commissioned this remarkable book. It is wholly unexpected and original.’ Tom Griffiths, Australian Book Review, January 2023

Don Watson’s bestselling award-winning titles include Recollections of a Bleeding Heart: Paul Keating Prime Minister, Death Sentence, Watson’s Dictionary of Weasel Words, American Journeys and The Bush. An acclaimed speechwriter and screenwriter, he is also well-known for his columns and essays on Australian and American politics.

Chris Wallace, Professor, Faculty of Business Government and Law, University of Canberra, is the author of several books including How To Win An Election (2020) and Political Lives. Australian Prime Ministers and their biographers (2023). She was official Cabinet Historian, National Archives of Australia 2020-2022 and is formerly a longstanding member of the Canberra Press Gallery.

The vote of thanks will be given ANU Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Nicolas Peterson, whose doctoral research was with the Doyndji people before they settled down there.

This event is in association with Harry Hartog Bookshop. Books will be available for purchase on the evening in the Cultural Centre foyer. Pre-event book signings will be available from 5.30pm, and available again after the event.


• Registration is required for this event.

• Accessible parking spaces are available around campus should you require them.

• To help keep everyone safe, please ensure that you are familiar with, and follow, the advice from ACT Health regarding COVID-19.

• If you do not feel well, please refrain from attending this event.

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• A podcast will be made available after the event.

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