When we look back on what has brought us to here, we may recognise the many people who helped us to develop a passion or the skills for writing: that primary school teacher who spent just a few extra minutes, a grandparent who could weave a fine tale, a parent who appreciated the value of an active imagination, fellow writers who showed you a trick or two, neglected family members who patiently gave you space. Without them, who knows, we may not have become writers.
Then there are the people we admire: famous writers from whom we happily soak up every word from both their pen and lips, or authors we secretly wish to emulate. When pressed, we can all drop a name or more, confess to which writers have inspired us.
Today I pay tribute to a writer that inspires me. For some readers, her name will be familiar. Or perhaps her books. For others, it will not be the books that they remember her for, but for her selfless work as an advocate.
On Thursday 10 April 2014, Doris Nugi Garimara Pilkington AM passed away after another fearless battle with cancer. She leaves behind a large family who loved her, many friends, and a lasting impact on countless others from around the world.
How does one measure a life well-lived? Is it through success or accolades? By the accounts of those who have shared your life, love and home? Or through stories of overcoming adversity? Maybe its making a difference, being a voice for others and bringing about change? Is it through physical expressions of creativity that inspire, confront and reach out to others? Aunty Doris achieved all of this, and more.
Aunty Doris won many awards, as both a writer and advocate for the stolen generations. In 1990, she won the David Unaipon Award for her book Caprice: A Stockman’s Daughter. The Western Australian government honoured her as one of the state’s Living Treasures in 2004. In 2006 she was made a Member of the Order of Australia, for her contributions to the arts and literature. And she was awarded a Red Ochre Award in 2008. Further reading on her success as a writer can be found at Austlit and The West Australian.
For me, Aunty Doris is more than a source of inspiration. She is someone who I admire – as a woman, mother, grandmother, aunty, social advocate, writer and much more.
It has often been said that we ride on the shoulders of those that go before us. If so, I have many that have gone before me, in my family, that I can look up to and learn from. I am proud to say that I come from a line of very strong women – such as my mother, both my maternal and paternal grandmothers, and Aunty Doris.
Against trends, Aunty Doris published her first novel in her early 50’s. And she continued to write, producing two more books in a trilogy which was loosely based on the lives of family members, set amidst some of Australia’s darkest secrets. With her second book becoming a well-known movie, directed by Phillip Noyce, Aunty Doris achieved something that will continue to impact on the lives of many.
Finally people were paying attention, more began to question the past and to acknowledge that the Government’s treatment of Aboriginal peoples was highly regrettable.
The books, and movie, highlighted the generational impact on Australia’s first nations peoples’ social and emotional well-being due to the policies that saw countless children forcibly removed from their parents and communities.
Aunty Doris was not a lone voice in the wilderness, for there were many strong advocates and champions, but her stories touched hearts and minds around the world.
I have expressed in earlier posts how I would like to one day become a writer whose work challenges people’s thinking, to be able to shine a light on injustices and inspire others to make a change. In other words, to write like Aunty Doris.
My recently published novel is not that book. My first book is a bit of frivolous fun, which has its place. My next three novels will perhaps be different, for they all explore issues such as racism, white Australia policies, stolen generations, displacement, loss of land, identity and belonging.
I don’t envision making the huge impact that Aunty Doris’ work did, but I know that by writing these themes I will be melding my writing skills with my life-long passion for social justice and human rights.
At 50, I am a late first-time writer, something that has always concerned me. Looking back on Aunty Doris’ writing path, I know I shouldn’t worry – I have time to achieve both my writing aspirations and other goals. It is, of course, about both finding balance and juggling many balls.
Aunty Doris was not only a later-in-life writer, but she produced highly acclaimed works whilst being a mother, wife, nanna, sister, aunty, friend and more to so many people. On top of that, she was a fearless social advocate, in high demand as a guest speaker worldwide. She humbly spent time with some of the greatest thinkers and change-makers of this time, such as the late Nelson Mandala.
If I am ever asked that question which writers inspired you, I won’t need to think about my answer. One of my strongest inspirations will always be Aunty Doris. Unfortunately, I never had many opportunities to have known her better, but such is the ongoing impact of the policies and actions that resulted in the stolen generations.
May one day these ripples of pain be stilled, and may everyone find their way home. My Aunty is one of many voices that will ensure justice is achieved. I hope that one day my shoulders will be as strong, to properly carry those who follow after me.