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The Proving Grounds - Benedict Allen (Book cover)

£8 + £2.50 p&p

The Proving Grounds – a journey through the interior of New Guinea and Australia (1991)

Launched out by the Niowra people of Papua New Guinea (see Into The Crocodile Nest), Benedict made first contact with the threatened Yaifo and with their help made a crossing of the Central Range. Then, largely by sea-faring canoe, he crossed the treacherous Torres Strait to Australia. Finally, among the Gibson desert, in an Aborigine community devastated by drink and highly suspicious of all "whitefellas," he gained an extraordinary level of acceptance.

Recommended for: those wanting something to get their teeth into. Those interested in the Aborigines of Australia, and more on the New Guineans.

Most exciting moment: meeting the uncontact Yaifo people, or being marooned amid the Torres Strait in a storm, or the gathering of the Aborigines for a ritual in the Gibson desert.

Benedict's comment: The concluding book in what was for me, if no-one else, a quartet. The central theme is "coming of age" – not necessarily me personally, but the process involving us all. (As usual, the territory tackled in this particular book was to reflect issues and themes encountered on the journey, rather than those imposed from home). In some ways the most ambitious work so far – taking me between two radically different cultures (a forest people in New Guinea and desert people in Australia) – I saw my job as to search out threads uniting them, and us all. Although perhaps the hardest of my books to tackle, I think The Proving Grounds also contains some of my best writing. My favorite passage occurs when I've fallen over while in the Gibson Desert, been concussed and light a fire to signal my plight. No-one comes and I find that, having wiped out life all around me with the fire, scorpions – or was it ants? – emerge from the burnt black and red soil around me. Life has a way of battling on of its own accord, and now it was up to me to do the same.

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