Why did the White Fella Climb the Rock?

Published in 2006, Why did the White Fella Climb the Rock is the culmination of my more than two decades of travels across five different continents. It expresses my thoughts, at the probable mid-point of my life, on the enduring legacy of European colonialism and how different peoples in different parts of the world think about life and death, God and nature in very different ways. But it also explores the connections, across both time and space, that bind us together. It is both cynical and optimistic and I hope at times, thought-provoking and entertaining.

The book’s title comes from Fred Perry, a Nyungar man from Western Australia who like me had always been puzzled by the desire of white fellas such as myself to climb up the sacred site of Uluru in central Australia when its Indigenous owners specifically ask them not to.


Uluru photographed by Niccolò Ubalducci, 2010, available at Flickr.com under a creative commons licence

At its most basic level, I argue, the urge to climb the rock reflects the long-standing desire of white Europeans to conquer and dominate other peoples’ lands but also to seek to recreate those lands in their own image. The European invaders sought to impose order and civilization on what they saw as savage and chaotic. But you can’t really control chaos and everything you do in an attempt to control it has unintended consequences.

It is this spirit of chaos the drive’s the book’s narrative as it weaves across time and space, exploring connections between individuals who never met, and the stories people tell each other to make sense of the world.

There are 19 chapters:

Why did the White Fella Climb the Rock? set in my home town of Folkestone in England and Perth, Australia.

The Cunning use of Flags, set in Cambodia, Zimbabwe and Mexico.

A Superior Sense of Inferiority, set in China, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Remembering the Dead, which retraces our steps back through the Killing fields of Cambodia, My Lai in Vietnam and Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

White Man in Africa and Sea, Land and Sky, both chapters located in South Africa.

Cementing a Place in Space, which links the village of Nieu Bethesda in South Africa with Watts in Los Angeles.

Cementing a Place in Time, located in Mexico, Prague and Berlin.

Life and Death in America, set in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Acoma Pueblo.

Immortality in America, set in Roswell, Sedona, Hollywood and the Sequoia National Park.

Africa, Animals and AIDS, located in Botswana.

Also, it Takes Much Longer to get Up North, the Slow Way, set in Botswana, Cambodia and New York City.

Exodus, set on Long Island, Prague and LA.

The Crossing, set in LAX, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Swaziland.

Lessons from Hue, located in Vietnam.

Down in the Delta, set in the Mekong and Mississippi deltas.

Tank Boy, set in San Diego and Detroit.

Aussie Rules, set as the name suggests in Australia, specifically Alice Springs and the central desserts.

White Fella Dreaming, in the central desserts, Flinders Ranges, and Shark Bay on the western coast of Australia.

Why did the White Fella Climb the Rock is available as an eBook on Lulu.com at no charge or for US$9.30 plus shipping for the printed and bound version.