Imagine the document you have before you is not a book but a map. It is well-used, creased, and folded, so that when you open it, no matter how carefully, something tears and a line that is neither latitude nor longitude opens in the hidden geography of the place you are about to enter.
Since the publication of her prize-winning memoir Craft for a Dry Lake, in 2000, writer and artist Kim Mahood has been returning to the Tanami desert country in far north-western Australia where, as a child, she lived with her family on a remote cattle station. The land is timeless, but much has changed: the station has been handed back to its traditional owners; the mining companies have arrived; and Aboriginal art has flourished.
Comedy and tragedy, familiarity and uncertainty are Mahood's constant companions as she immerses herself in the life of a small community and in groundbreaking mapping projects. What emerges in Position Doubtful is a revelation of the significance of the land to its people - and of the burden of history.
Mahood is an artist of astonishing versatility. She works with words, with paint, with installations, and with performance art. Her writing about her own work and collaborations, and about the work of the desert artists, is profoundly enlightening, making palpable the link between artist and country.
This is a beautiful and intense exploration of friendships, landscape, and homecoming. Written with great energy and humour, Position Doubtful offers a unique portrait of the complexities of black and white relations in contemporary Australia.
Review by Caroline Baum
Kim Mahood has the explorer gene. She has a spiritual and artistic connection to country. It nourishes her, and she has found a way to fit in with Indigenous communities through being unobtrusive, respectful, with lots of listening and laughter around campfires over bits of charred goanna. She has a great eye, and an easy-going sensibility, allied with practical skills and gifts as an artist and writer. It’s a unique combination, making her the ideal navigator.
She is on her own journey of discovery, thinking about the ways of mapping country from colonial days to more modern times, and contrasting that with the way the Aboriginal people see and make their way across the land through story, hunting, ceremony and painting. In academic circles, this stuff is known as psychogeography. Mahood does it instinctively and with sensitivity to people and nature. A quiet jewel of a book.
'There is something profound about the directness and clarity with which Kim Mahood writes about her art, and her life, in particular her relationship with the land she grew up in and on, and her relationship to the indigenous people who have lived on that land much longer than she. As Mahood writes of - quite literally - building a map that is both geographic, social and cultural, you feel that she has, ever so gently, shifted your view of the world. Position Doubtful is a remarkable, intelligent and mature work. I really loved it.' - Sophie Cunningham;'Position Doubtful leaps straight onto the shelf occupied by the great accounts of inland Australia. Theatrical, confessional, masterly descriptive, it is hard to find one word to sum up the achievement. Possibly it lies in the word character: in the brave character of the author herself, and in the spacious, beautiful, and unforgiving character of the Australian landscape and the people who dramatically take on its shape in these pages.' - Roger McDonald;'Kim Mahood is an astonishing treasure: an accomplished artist and writer who is equally well-equipped to navigate both Aboriginal and settler Australia. Her lyrical yet unsentimental memoir is a story of honouring the knowledge that two cultures have mapped upon each other, a lesson the entire globe needs to learn.' - William L. Fox, Director, Center for Art + Environment, Nevada Museum of Art;'[Kim Mahood's] clear-sighted journey across the cultural fault-lines of her past also resonates with a contemporary political edge, deepening our understandings of identity and the human condition.' - 2013 Peter Blazey Fellowship judges;'The rich pulse of country makes the heart quake with recognition. Mahood belongs to country and it blesses her with that most refined human sensitivity, doubt. She is not tempted to improve or judge the communities of her country because she prefers to love them; the whole buckled, lovely and jumbled chaos of the land.' - Bruce Pascoe;'With her artist's eye, Kim Mahood tracks the small quotidian details of lived life in the desert, but it is her poet's voice which brings that land to life in ways that are entirely new and unexpected.' - John Wolseley;'Position Doubtful, like Chloe Hooper's The Tall Man, is required reading for anyone interested in contemporary Aboriginal Australia. Mahood has lived too long among Indigenous people to idealise or peer through theoretical rose-coloured glasses at what should be. She is also honest about her own shortcomings when approaching Aboriginal culture and life. This is a memoir that opens the heart to understanding.' - Books + Publishing