Truth goes walkabout in outback? Aborigines outraged as US author makes a million with `New Age fantasy' of lost tribe in the bush

ONE OF the publishing sen- sations of the year has landed its author in a furious argument with Australian Aborigines, who claim that her account of walking barefoot through the outback with a ``lost tribe'' is a hoax.

The dispute centres on Mutant Message Down Under, by Marlo Morgan, 59, a divorced mother-of-two from Kansas. The book, her first, has made her a millionairess. Three years ago, unable to find a publisher, she paid for it to be printed herself. Her daughter did the illustrations. After an initial print run of 300 copies, the book became a runaway hit among devotees of New Age spirituality and self-discovery in the US, selling mo re than 300,000 copies.

Morgan acquired an agent, and this year the giant publishing house HarperCollins paid her a reported $1.7m (£1.13m) for the rights and embarked on a $250,000 marketing campaign. The book has sold a further 350,000 copies since the company published it inthe US in September and in Australia last month. It will be published in Britain in March. Two Hollywood producers are preparing a script, with Susan Sarandon and Goldie Hawn being considered for the role of Morgan.

The problem is that the ``true'' story which has made Morgan a celebrity may not actually have happened. As Morgan tells it in Mutant Message Down Under, she was a health education worker in Kansas City when she received a telephone call from an Australian, whom she had met at a conference, inviting her to Australia to see how "socialised medicine" worked.

On arrival she was distressed by the lot of young urban Aborigines, who seemed to spend their lives sniffing petrol. She helped 22 young blacks set up a successful business making window fly screens. Then came a telephone call from an Aboriginal man who told Morgan she was required to attend a tribal meeting. She flew 2,000 miles across the continent and was met by the the man, ``Ooota'', who then drove her in a Jeep for four hours into the outback. He introduced her to a tribe of 62 Aborigines, adornedin feathers and paint, who spoke no English and had never seen a white person before.

"They were the last of the hold-outs," she wrote. They called themselves ``the Real People". Ooota informed her that she had been chosen for the singular honour of meeting the Real People because her work with the dispossessed urban Aborigines showed she"seemed to care".

The Real People ritually cleansed her with smoke, then made her undress and throw her clothes, credit cards, jewellery and every other aspect of her Western identity into a fire. They named her ``Mutant'', and beckoned her to join them in a walk across the empty outback, the length of the continent. "It is what you were born to do," Ooota told her. In bare feet she spent four months learning to live off kangaroos, wild horses, lizards, snakes, grubs and giant ants that tasted like orange blossom honey, washing in crocodile-infested lagoons. At the end of her walk the Aborigines took her to a secret, sacred cave where an elder explained the real purpose of her journey.

The Real People, he said, were the last of the ``pure human race'', but had decided to become celibate and die out because the Earth was being destroyed. "You have been chosen as our messenger to tell your kind we are going. We are leaving Mother Earth to you. We pray you will see what your way of life is doing to the water, the animals, the air..."

By any stretch of the imagination, Morgan's story is a fantastic one. She gives no clues to when her journey happened, or where it started and ended. The names she gives the tribe members- Great Stone Hunter, Spirit Woman, Female Healer, Sewing Master - smack more of a Hollywood version of American Indians than Aboriginal reality. She bestows a supposedly Stone Age tribe with an astonishing awareness of New Age-speak: they teach her to replace her Western material values with "Divine Oneness" and to learn through them the meaning of "my own beingness''. In Morgan's self-p ublished book she insisted that her story was true. But the HarperCollins dust jacket describes it as a ``fictional account of (a) spiritual odyssey".

Outraged Aborigines are calling on Australians to boycott the book. They say that, while Morgan may have visited Australia and met some Aborigines, her story is a fantasy. They are scornful of her depiction of Aborigines as cannibals. They say she portrays an inaccurate picture of their culture and history to a naive American public in order to make money.

"There is no such tribe as the Real People," said Paul Behrendt, director of the Aboriginal Research and Resource Centre at the University of New South Wales. "There are no longer any `lost tribes'."

In a review in the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Behrendt's daughter Larissa, a lawyer, wrote: "Morgan manipulates our culture's values and ideas in support of her own beliefs, hoping her audience will know no better. The book, replete with cultural insensitivity, perpetuates myths and stereotypes."

Writing in the Australian, Francoise Dussart, an anthropologist from the University of Connecticut who has worked with Aborigines, described Mutant Message Down Under as "a book about... spiritless, white middle-class, mid-life-crisis feel-goodism. It belongs to a cynical tradition in Western publishing that profits from a readership that thirsts for books offering a balm to millennial fears."

Morgan insists she is telling the truth and that she agreed to HarperCollins marketing the book as fiction only to save the Real People from discovery. Perhaps the real clue to her credibility lies in the last paragraph of her book. "I intend to spend the rest of my life using the knowledge I learned in the outback," she wrote. "Everything! Even the magic of illusion!"

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Digital Content Officer - Central London - £33,000

£28000 - £33000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive (Digital Marketi...

SSIS/ORACLE DBA

£400 - £401 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SSIS Administrat...

The benefits of being in Recruitment at SThree...

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform