B. Wongar

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BornSreten Božić
NationalitySerbia, Australia

B. Wongar (born 1932 as Sreten Božić[1]) is a Serbian-Australian writer.[2] For most of his literary career the concern of his writing has been, almost exclusively, the condition of Aborigines in Australia.[3] His style is largely fictional, written as an Aborigine, though based on general indigenous experience. This aspect, as well as inconsistencies in the life story, have lead to controversy and allegataions of literary fraud.

Early life[edit]

Božić grew up in the village of Gornja Trešnjevica, near Aranđelovac, Serbia, then Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In the mid-1950s, he started his writer's career by writing poetry which he published in the Mlada kultura and the Novi vesnik literary journals. He was a member of the "Đuro Salaj" workers-writers group in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. At the same time he worked as a journalist in Serbia. Yugoslav communists found his writing politically incorrect and banned him from journalism for lifetime. In 1958 he moved to Paris, France, where he lived in a Red Cross refugee camp. There he met Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir who helped him to publish his literary works in Les Temps Modernes.[4]

Literary career[edit]

Božić arrived in Australia in 1960. In his search for a job (construction worker, miner) he bought a camel in order to cross the Tanami Desert. He got lost and was close to death when he was saved by a tribal man. Božić lived with tribal Aborigines for ten years. The name B(anumbir) Wongar, which means morning star and messenger from the spirit world, was said to be given to him by his tribal wife Dumala and her relatives. However, he later stated in an interview that the B is in recognition of his Serbian name.[5]

From Dumala he learned about Aboriginal poetry and their traditional way of life in the bush. This way he was introduced to Aboriginal culture suppressed and treated as worthless by British colonial power for centuries. His first book The Track to Bralgu is a collection of stories based on traditional Aboriginal stories belonging to the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land, NT, Australia. The book was translated into French as Le Chemin du Bralgu , from the original manuscript and published in Les Temps Modernes (1977), a magazine which was edited by Sartre and de Beauvoir. When the book appeared in the English edition a year later (Jonathan Cape, UK; Little, Brown, USA), it heralded a new genre of creative writing and brought international fame to the author.[6] In Australia however Wongar was criticized by some white people for his portrayal of the Aborigines and there was a campaign to discredit his work as "fake".

He was not allowed to stay any longer in the Northern part of Australia and had to move to Melbourne. His wife Dumala and the children were to follow but they died from drinking water from a poisoned well, as claimed later in Dingoes Den, his autobiography (at the end of Chapter 12).

While he was in the Northern part of Australia Wongar worked on his Totem and Ore photographic collection known also under the title Boomerang and Atom. The collection contained several thousand black-and-white photographs portraying the impact of uranium mining and the British nuclear testing on tribal Aborigines. In 1974 Wongar was asked to send some of the Totem and Ore photographs for an exhibition in the Parliament House Library in Canberra. The exhibition was banned by order of the Australian parliament only a few hours after the official opening.[7]

Wongar settled on his bush property Dingo Den in Gippsland, south of Melbourne where, helped by photographic images from his Totem and Ore collection, he wrote the nuclear trilogy (novels: Walg, Karan and Gabo Djara).[8] The trilogy was first published in Germany, translated from the original manuscript by Annemarie and Heinrich Böll. The English language edition first appeared in 1988. It was launched at the Aboriginal Research Centre, Monash University, where Wongar at the time was serving as writer-in-residence. While he was at work, police raided B Wongar's home at Dingo Den and took some of his work, including the sole copy of the manuscript of his new novel Raki. In 1990, the Australian author Thomas Shapcott spoke about the case at the opening of the Adelaide Arts Festival. He circulated a petition asking the state authorities to see that the confiscated manuscript Raki be returned to B.Wongar. About 200 writers at the festival signed the petition.[9] It took Wongar about 5 years to write Raki again.[citation needed] This was followed by his new book Didjeridu Charmer, which will complete the nuclear cycle, thus making the series a quintet.

For not knowing any English when he arrived to Australia, when he begin writing in the early 1970s, his written English followed no standards.[10]

Translation of B. Wongar's books was made into 13 languages. Estimates of his books international sales (as of 2006) are over one million. His books are the most widely known literary representation of Australian Aboriginal culture.[2]

Reception of Wongar's work in Australia[edit]

Reception of Wongar's work oscillated between praise, sceptical inquiry and moral condemnation. Within Australia there is a widespread obsession with Wongar's biographical credentials to the extent that it eclipses any review of the fictional texts as part of Australian writing. There are a variety of Wongar's moral indictments ranging from being a white who usurped Aboriginal culture to the claim saying that all artists are charlatans, who con the public.[11] Susan Hosking accused Wongar that not only he did not speak as an Aborigine but who pretended to be an Aborigine. Aboriginal writers were finding their own voice and, she claims, there was a strong resistance against such (European) writer for it was seen as a cultural imperialism. Australian critic Maggie Nolan responded that a reductive demand for an authentic Aboriginality functions as a cultural imperialism. Far from being labelled as a cultural imperialist, Wongar shall be congratulated for subtly manipulating expectations of authenticity in his work. Wongar questions the systematic closure of Aboriginality as an imperial construct, its pretensions to its authenticity, autonomy, and purity.[12]

Wongar has received harsh criticism to the point of being labelled a literary fraud. [13] Much of this centers around his identify as there are many discrepancies regarding the identify of Wongar in the forewords of his books. In his book The Track to Bralgu the foreword mentions that the author B. Wongar is part Aborigine, while in his book The Sinners, the foreword mentions that the author B. Wongar is in fact a mixed race American Vietnam veteran.[14]

Comparing the German translation of the Walg by Annemarie Böll (Der Schoß[15]) to its English version published by Brazier in 1990, T. Caiter[16] wrote that the English edition was censored. The English edition was substantially and carefully purged of colonialist pornography and pseudo-Aboriginal mythology. In his autobiography Dingoes Den Wongar wrote that the German translation remains the only complete text and unabridged version.

Works by B. Wongar[edit]

  • Raki: a novel (1997), London: Marion Boyars ISBN 978-0-7145-3031-4
  • Totem and ore: a photographic collection (2006), Dingo Books, Carnegie, Victoria 2006 ISBN 9780977507801
  • The New Guinea Diaries (1997) — English translation of "The New Guinea Diaries 1871–1883" by Nicholas Miklouho-Maclay, Dingo Books, Victoria, Australia ISBN 978-0-9775078-1-8
  • The Trackers: a novel (c1975), Outback Press, Collingwood, VIC. ISBN 0-86888-032-9

Appearances on television and film[edit]

  • "Dingoes, Names and B. Wongar" – interview with Jan Wositzky, for ABC Radio National's 'Books and Writing' program[17]
  • Sorena Productions, Australia, Director/Writer John Mandelberg (1994) "A Double Life. The Life and Times of B.Wongar" 56-minute video documentary on his life.


  1. ^ Meyer 2006, pp. 151-153.
  2. ^ a b Meyer 2006, p. 149.
  3. ^ David Matthews: B. Wongar (Sreten Bozic), University of Newcastle
  4. ^ Aleksandar Petrović: DVE POVESTI I JEDNA PRIČA Uvod u delo B. Vongara| Koraci Časopis za književnost, umetnost i kulturu, Kragujevac, Serbia 3 November 2011
  5. ^ David Matthews: B. Wongar (Sreten Bozic 1932 -), University of Newcastle
  6. ^ New York Times Book Review, 25 June 1978
  7. ^ "Cold War spy, the photographer, and hidden history from a big land", The Age, 11 November 2006
  8. ^ Ross, Robert: "The track to Armageddon in B.Wongar’s Nuclear Trilogy," World Literature Today, Winter 1990
  9. ^ Pullan, Robert: "In Police Custody: 200 Pages of B. Wongar's novel", The Australian Author, Vol 21, No 4, Summer 1989/90
  10. ^ David Matthews: B. Wongar (Sreten Bozic 1932 -), University of Newcastle
  11. ^ Sneja Gunew: Culture, gender and the author-function: 'Wongar's' Walg in Australian Cultural Studies: A Reader, by John Frow, Meaghan Morris (ed), University of Illinois Press, 1993
  12. ^ David Callahan: Contemporary Issues in Australian Literature: International Perspectives, Routledge, 25 February 2014, p. 56
  13. ^ Meyer 2006, p. 132.
  14. ^ "Wongar:a white speaking for blacks" (PDF). The Canberra Times. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  15. ^ Bahumir Wongar: Schoß: Roman aus Australien, Lamuv-Verlag, 1983, ISBN 9783921521786
  16. ^ Censored creativity: B Wongar's original version of Walg by Tess Caiter, Journal of Australian Studies Vol. 27 , Iss. 77,2003
  17. ^ "Dingoes, Names and B. Wongar". Archived from the original on 4 May 2009. Retrieved 2007-03-25.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link). abc.net.au


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