Alitji in Dreamland

Alitji in Dreamland

Alitjinya Ngura Tjukurmankuntjala

An Aboriginal version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland / adapted and translated by Nancy Sheppard illustrated by Donna Leslie ; notes by Barbara Ker Wilson

First Published in 1975. The copy I have is published in 1982. In this retelling of the Alice in Wonderland story set in Aboriginal Australia, the white rabbit becomes a white kangaroo and the red queen is a witch spirit. I love that the caterpillar is now represented as a large witchety grub.

As we are so familiar with the start of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’,  I thought I would put in the same three extracts, the original text, Nancy Shepard’s version and Aboriginal interpretation in Pitjantjatjara Language.


DOWN THE RABBIT-HOLE   (Original Verse)

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do. Once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?” So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her. There was nothing so very remarkable in that, nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” But when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket and looked at it and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and, burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it and was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole, under the hedge. In another moment, down went Alice after it! The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well. Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time, as she went down, to look about her.


DOWN THE HOLE   (Alitji in Dreamland)

Alitji was getting very tired of sitting in the creel-bed. She and her sister had been playing milpatjunanyi, a story telling game. They each had a stick and a pile of leaves, and took in turn to tell a story about their family. The sandy ground was their stage; the leaves where the people. As they told the stories, each softly tapped her stick in time to the rhythm of her rising and falling voice, and every now and then they would sweep the sand smooth with the backs of their hands. Alitji had become very bored as her sister’s voice went on and on, and her eyelids began to droop. “Well,” she said to herself, “perhaps I’ll collect some *tjinjulu berries to decorate my hair.” This she did, and then began to pierce the berries with small sticks, and poke them through the strands of her hair. Suddenly a kangaroo hopped paste her, saying “oh dear, oh deary me, I’m Late,” And the extraordinary thing was that he was white. A white kangaroo! He hurried on anxiously, clutching a dilly-bag and a digging-stick, and disappeared from view down a hole in the ground, In great surprise. Alitji jumped up and followed him, the tjinjulu berries bouncing about her head: down she went into that hole in the ground, never stopping to think how she would get out again.


* tjinjulu – are shiny bright, inedible berries, about the size of a pea. Aboriginal girls twine strands of hair around tiny sticks and then push them into the tjinjulu. This is a very decorative way of dressing hair.


Pitingka Tjarpantja   *(Pitjantjatjara Language)

Alitjinya karungka rawa nyinara pakuringangi. Kangkurra pula nyinara milpatjunanyi, ka Alitjinya Ka:rkararingu kangkuru rawa wanngkanyangka, munu kulingka kunga pilupiluringangi.

Awarinatju wanyunatju puta tjinjulu mantjila wakaningi, ka wati wirjapakanu malu, watjara, “Awari, awarinatju, malaringuna.” Ka wangu kulila, malu paluru piranpa –piranpa alatjiyu. Munu kunyu iluru-ilururira yakutja wana kulu witira ma-tarararira pitingka tjarpangu. Ka tjitji panya kungkangku nyakula urulyarara pakara wananu, munu ma-wanara pitingka tyjarpangutu, piruku pakantjikitiangku kulilwiya alatjitu. Munu kunyu tjarpara piti unngu ankula punkanu, munu kunyu rawa punkaningi kulira. Ngati pulka manti nyangatja, munta, ngati wiya. Purkarana punkani, “ Munu palurutjaruringkula para-nyangangi, munu walu-nyangangitu, palu putu kungu nyangangi marungka, piti panya unngu.

* Pitjantjatjara, one of the Western Desert group of languages, is widely spoken in the west of South Australia and across its borders into Western Australia ad the Northern Territory. It is expressive of the rich culture of the people of the Musgrave and Mann Ranges, and is gentle to the ear.


Below are images from the book.

Front  Cover

0_32b2e_729c73e7_orig (Large)


The balls for this game were echidnas and they were being hit with storks.



The North Wind Spirit and Alitji walked off arm in arm.



A great crowd had assembled.



Alitji woke up to find it had all been a strange dream.



Alitji gazed up into a tree and saw a large witchety grub.



Alitji and her sister were playing in a creek-bed when a white kangaroo hopped past and disappeared into a hole in the ground.



Alitji, now small again, found herself swimming in a pool of her own tears – and so was a Hopping Mouse.



They were indeed a miserable party that climbed out of the water, wet and bedraggled.



Alitji tried to help the White Kangaroo find his woomera and dilly bag.



Inside the wurlie the spirit of the North wind was nursing a baby, while another woman was cooking itunupa roots. A wild cat lay by the fire, grinning.






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