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A Twinkle In His Eye

It takes a special way of thinking to come to grips with the central Australian landscape. It’s a big, harsh place that has been shaped over millions of years by powerful environmental forces. Mike is one of those rare characters whose intellect and personality seemed almost preordained for the task.

I recall in 1986, working on Mike’s crew excavating on the Lake Woods lunette in the central Northern Territory, and witnessing his remarkable ability to think “with” the landscape. Around our campfire at night he talked with us and the Traditional Owners about how he saw the stratigraphic layers in the trenches and how these related to each other and to the living landscape. My good friend Nugget Collins Jarpata later told me the creation stories about the lunette, and remarked to me that Mike also “knew” how the country came to be.

This was one of those very rare occasions when an Aboriginal person of high degree acknowledges a kindred soul from a very different culture. For me, this synchronicity of thought exemplifies Mike’s work as much as his formidable scientific achievements.

Many years later when I read his monograph about Aboriginal relationships with the Central Australian landscape, Peopling the Cleland Hills, those nights around the campfire at Lake Woods came back to me. I could see the twinkle in Mike’s eye as he told his creation stories about the landscape. I catch a glimpse of that same twinkle in my friends eye every time I look into a campfire.

Rob Paton


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