Books & Literature

Book Review: Two Cultures, One Story, by Dr Robert Isaacs

MEMOIR: Told with grace and strength, this memoir shares the inside story of a respected Elder, Dr Robert Francis Isaacs AM, OAM, PhD (Hon), and his drive to break down cultural barriers and improve the lives of his people.

Too much of this story is placed in the context of work for it to feel like a biography.

There are so many ways to describe Dr Robert Isaacs. A member of the Stolen Generation, a PhD recipient, a member of the Order of Australia, and an ambassador for Aboriginal people cover just a few. First and foremost, however, he is an Aboriginal Elder from the Whadjuk-Bibilmum Wardandi Noongar language group.

In Two Cultures, One Story, we hear how he collected these multiple titles. Most of them were earned, but some were simply fate. It is not an overly emotional book. Although many personal traumas and regrets in life are revealed throughout the book, these personal revelations are set in the context of work. For example, he talks about how his institutional upbringing at Clontarf provided him with a dogged determination to be a productive (Western definition) member of society.

However, this lack of emotional intensity is perhaps a reflection of his ongoing positive attitude as Isaacs barely has any negativity. Although he went through what is undoubtedly a traumatic experience—that of being stolen from his family and raised in an institution—his focus is on the few people he met along the way that were good people, rather than the fact his upbringing was largely devoid of love. He comes across as a happy-go-lucky kind of person that never plays the victim or remains stuck in the past. Rather, everything in his life has only made him grow stronger.

This strength gives him a unique ability to bridge the cultural gap to better outcomes for Aboriginal people in the areas of housing, health (including drug and alcohol abuse), employment, education, criminal law negotiations, and policing. As such, this book is perfect for people who want to learn how to utilise their unique Aboriginality in a work context.

Although this is valuable information, I found the level of work detail was a bit monotonous to cover in one volume, unless you are reading it for that specific purpose. As such for myself, I feel the novel could have been further edited to ensure more of an emotional connection and understanding of the author.

Nevertheless, as there are multiple practical examples of how his gift of being able to negotiate in both worlds led him to pioneer an amazing career path, Two Cultures, One Story is an effective guide for one considering this pathway.

Reviewed by Rebecca Wu

Distributed by: Magabala Books
Released: March 2021
RRP: $24.99

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not Glam Adelaide.

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