Marlo Morgan—Mutant Message Down Under: Timeline

Mutant Message is a highly disputed book. Here is a timeline of the events, including M. Morgan’s apology to the Aboriginal people.

  1. 1990

    The first book

    M. Morgan self-publishes the book for the first time. The title is presumably “Walkabout Woman: Messenger for a Vanishing Tribe” [1][2][3]. The book supposedly has sold 37,000 copies [4][5].

    To emphasise support by Aboriginal people Morgan includes a statement by a Yorta Yorta Aboriginal man called Burnum Burnum, described as an activist, actor, author and dreamer. He later retracts in a letter in which he states, “I am a non-initiated, non-traditional, urbanised, Aboriginal from the East Coast of Australia”.

  2. 1992

    No republication—First doubts on author’s claims

    Stillpoint Publishing of Walpole, N.H., decided not to republish the book when they could not verify the author’s claims of having doctorates in biochemistry and oriental medicine, nor her itinerary in Australia, or anything else she claims [6].

    Stillpoint focuses “on creating books that speak to the very frontiers of spiritual discovery”. This publisher put Morgan’s book into the New Age category.

  3. 1993

    Lectures and speeches

    Morgan travels through the United States giving speeches about her book. A rare description of such a promotional evening exists on Native Net [7].

  4. 1994

    The hardcover version—Opposition starts

    28 August: Harper Collins Publishers releases a hardcover edition [1]. A US journalist who has read the press kit “smells a fake” [1] and asks for more information.

    It is the second edition of the book, which Harper bid $1.7 million to republish [1][8]. Morgan has written a revised introduction to “protect the small band of Aboriginals from legal involvement”. [8]

    The New Age Journal (July/August 1994) reports a growing number of problems with the book [8] and the authors of this article report critical voices such as “rubbish” (Australian journalist Paul Whittaker) and filled “cover to cover” with “fantasies, misinformation, and distortion” (Aboriginal activist Bobby MacLeod) [1].

    Burnum Burnum’s support seems not to be very trustworthy as he “has been associated with a number of ‘new age’ style enterprises which would not meet the normal criteria of rigorous scholarship” [5].

    28 September: Morgan claims that “none of it is made up” in a critical interview with “The KUNM Evening Report” with Catalina Reyes [9].

    December: Morgan says in the interview [9] that she’s going back to Australia in December “to be on a panel with Aboriginal people to face these people that - the white people - who believe that I’m a racist. And to try and solve all of this thing.” It is not known whether she actually went.

    The Common Ground online magazine publishes an interview with Marlo Morgan in its Winter 1994 edition which makes no mention of the controversy (because it is a New Age magazine?) [10].

  5. 1995

    Dumbartung organises Aboriginal resistance

    Newspaper article: 'Aborigines Want Bestseller Ban'. Nyoongar elders and Dumbartung want to ban the book.[11] Large version (117kb).

    29 March: Aboriginal elders and heads of Aboriginal organisations meet, condemn the book as a hoax and call for it to be withdrawn from sale [11][12]. Meetings extend well into May.

    The group around Robert Eggington, head of the Perth-based Dumbartung Aboriginal Organisation, has prepared a 90-page document setting out its objections [13].

    21 April: Dr John Stanton, from the University of Western Australia’s Berndt Museum of Anthropology, concludes in an expert assessment commissioned by Dumbartung that Morgan’s book seriously insults the religious beliefs of desert Aboriginals [13]. The report has been published on the Dumbartung homepage [14].

    Newspaper article: 'Another story grows in the telling: Fightback: Aborigines take on an American bestselling author'. A good article summing up the events prior to the apology.[13] Large version (162kB).

    In the same month the Magical Blend Magazine publishes an interview with Marlo Morgan, but this interviewer, too, though acknowledging that there is a controversy going on, skirts around it [15]. Is it because this is a New Age magazine?

  6. 1996

    Morgan apologises to Aboriginal people—
    Book support retracted

    Newspaper article: 'Mutant Author says she's sorry'. Morgan apologises to the Aborigines.[16] Large version (56kB).

    26 January: A delegation of 8 Aboriginal Elders leave for the United States to defend their religion and culture and to block the move by Hollywood executives at United Artists to turn Marlo Morgan’s claims into a major motion picture [17][18]. Morgan sold the film rights for U$1.8 million [13].

    31 January: The elders receive an apology. “Morgan admitted for the first time to the eight elders that her work was fiction and a fabrication” [19][18].

    Newspaper article: 'Elders receive apology'. Morgan admits her work is fiction.[20] Large version (62kB).

    I would like to say that I'm terribly sorry and my sincere, my sincere apologies to any Australian Aboriginal person if I have offended them in any way.—M. Morgan in her apology [16]

    Dr. John Stanton (Berndt Museum of Anthropology, WA) “said the book contained misleading and damaging information about Aboriginal people” [21].

    4 March: Burnum Burnum retracts support for Marlo Morgan [22] in a letter to the Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation [23].

  7. 1997

    Aboriginal people protest during lectures in Japan

    Newspaper article: 'Destroy Books: Black Group'. Morgan is one of three authors Dumbartung wants to see banned.[24] Large version (107kB).

    25 March: Eggington calls for “Mutant Message” and the books of two other authors to be taken from all Australian bookshelves and destroyed [24].

    7 April: Dumbartung coordinates protest against Morgan’s lectures in Japan. Eggington and a Bardi Elder travel there, give press conferences and appear painted and with didgeridoo and boomerangs at two venues. Morgan comments that “they represent all that is bad, and I represent all that is good”. Eggington and the elders leave Japan on April 21st [18].

    18 August: Burnum Burnum dies [23].

    In this year another interview is published in the Golden Age (New Age magazine). Lorraine Mafi Williams, “a traditional teacher and custodian of Aboriginal culture and wisdom” talks about whether the journey was authentic and how the Aboriginal community reacted: “I honestly don’t think this woman ever took a walk with anyone except perhaps as a tourist on a tour into the outback.” [25]

  8. 1998

    Morgan publishes a second book

    3 July: Harper Collins publish “Message From Forever, A Novel of Aboriginal Wisdom”, by Morgan, which she claims “is really written by Aboriginal friends telling me to please do this”.

    October: phenomeNEWS conducts an interview with Marlo Morgan [26] in which she claims to “have gone back periodically” to the tribe she claimed to have travelled with in the first book. Despite all the uproar there has already been up to that time, phenomeNEWS claim they “were unaware of the controversy surrounding Ms. Morgan and her book” when they did the interview.

  9. 1999

    Aboriginals outraged again

    Newspaper article: 'Disgraced author offends again'. Writing for dollars without paying respect?[27] Large version (126kB).

    January: Morgan seems not to have learned from the experiences with “Mutant Message”. Her new book again outrages the Aboriginals in Australia. Morgan describes a woman giving birth, but “that is private women’s business. For someone to (describe a birth) is insulting and offending to people and their cultural beliefs,” says Ms Jo Willmot, chairwoman of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta board of management [27].

    May: Film producer Michael Taylor (together with Barbara Boyle) is said to have “entered into agreements for the production of ‘Messenger’, based on the best seller Mutant Message Down Under” [28]. The production company seems to be nextwavefilms.com, however, to-date the movie was never begun.

  10. 2001

    Morgan a ghostwriter?

    “Rocket” (apparently a radical mag) reveals “that the author of Pauline Hanson The Truth is none other than Marlo Morgan”. Her intention should have been to “hit back” against the discreditation of her book [29].

  11. 2008

    Harper Collins apologises for girl’s book

    While publisher Harper Collins never took any action on the disputed Mutant Message Down Under, they apologised for another book.

    Complaints by Aboriginal academics led Harper Collins to apologise for including a section on how to play the didgeridoo in ‘The daring book for girls’ and to remove it from later editions [30]. Aboriginal people consider it inappropriate for women to use the yidaki (didgeridoo) and believe it makes them barren.

Do you know about another detail? Contact me to update this timeline.

Further information

Footnotes

View article sources (30)

1. ^ a b c d e ‘Walkabout Woman: Messenger for the Vanishing Tribe’, http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/091329991X/wwwcreativesp, Amazon.com
2. ^ Marlo Morgan’s books on LeufBookLists, leuf.net/ww/wikibook?MarloMorgan
3. ^ ‘Walkabout Woman:Messenger for a Vanishing Tribe’, BookHQ, http://www.bookhq.com/compare/091329991X.html
4. ^ Catalina Reyes, Native Net, August 1994
5. ^ a b Dr Richard Howitt, Native Net, August 1994
6. ^ The last publication by this publisher was presumably in August 1992 [[#24
7. ^ Message from the Aboriginals, Native Net, July 1993
8. ^ a b c NHNE News Brief 1, http://www.nhne.com/newsbriefs/nhnenb01.html#mutant, October 1994
9. ^ a b Interview with Marlo Morgan, The KUNM Evening Report, September 28, 1994
10. ^ “The Legacy of an Ancient Race”, http://www.commongroundmag.com, Common Ground Magazine, Winter 1994
11. ^ a b Aboriginals want best-seller ban, The West Australian, April 1st, 1995
12. ^ Dumbartung Campaign Report, March 1995, http://www.dumbartung.org.au/report1.html
13. ^ a b c d ‘Fightback: Aboriginals Take on an American Bestselling Author Over Her Mutant Message’, The Bulletin September 26, 1995
14. ^ An Anthropologist’s Perspective, Dumbartung site, April 1995, http://www.dumbartung.org.au/stanton2.html
15. ^ Marlo Morgan interview, Magical Blend Magazine, April 1995
16. ^ a b 'Mutant Author Says She's Sorry', The Weekend Australian, January 27-28, 1996
17. ^ ‘Australian Aboriginal Elders in US to protest movie deal’, article in newsgroup alt.native, February 1996
18. ^ a b c Dumbartung Japan Report, April 1997, http://www.dumbartung.org.au/report3.html
19. ^ Elders receive apology, Nativel-L list (and The West Australian, January 31st, 1996).
20. ^ Gary S. Trujillo, article on Native Net, March 1996, nativenet.uthscsa.edu/archive/nc/9603/0106.html
21. ^ He was not sure, he said, “whether the damage the book had done to the overseas image of Aboriginal culture, which was complex, diverse and vibrant, could be ever undone.” Morgan promised a written apology, which she actually never produced [[#6
22. ^ Burnum Burnum retracts support, WHO Magazine, March 1996
23. ^ a b Burnum Burnum’s letter, Dumbartung site, and nativenet.uthscsa.edu/archive/nc/9603/0106.html
24. ^ a b 'Destroy Books: Black Group', Sydney Morning Herald, March 25, 1997
25. ^ ‘Interview with an Aboriginal Woman’, http://www.seizethemagic.com/lol/05worldinfo/05abowom.html, Golden Age, 1997
26. ^ phenomenews.com, interview with Marlo Morgan, October 1998 (archived version available - please ask)
27. ^ a b 'Disgraced Author Offends Again', The Age, January 6th, 1999
28. ^ ‘INSTINCT’ production information, http://www.dumbartung.org.au/stanton2.html, search for “Morgan”
29. ^ ‘The Truth’ in Rocket magazine, 2001
30. ^ ‘Nicole Kidman warned after breaking Aboriginal taboo: report’, Yahoo News, 16/12/2008