Sovereign People, Sovereign Stories: Five Books by First Nations Writers

This piece was originally published on Indigenous X 29 August 2019

Over seventy Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers, poets and playwrights recently gathered in Canberra. From 23 to 26 August 2018, this third national gathering presented by First Nations Writers Network (FNAWN) provided spaces for writers to talk craft and aspirations

The workshop theme Sovereign People: Sovereign Stories was apt, given many First Nations writers use story to highlight issues of relevance to their communities ‚Äď from recent times, right back to the invasion ‚Äď and to imagine a fairer future.

FNAWN also co-presented an inspiring evening with Canberra Writers Festival at the National Library of Australia on 25 Augusts. Introduced by Chella Goldwin from Us Mob Writing, poets Ellen van Neervan, Charmaine Papertalk Green, Jeanine Leane and Yvette Holt read poems in response to the NAIDOC 2018 theme Because of Her We Can.

This was followed by a panel discussion hosted by Cathie Craigie with Alexis Wright (via Skype), Kim Scott and Melissa Lucashenko, on the theme Sovereign People: Sovereign Stories.

Observing new writers talking passionately at the FNAWN workshop with some of Australia’s most awarded writers, it’s evident that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers have established themselves as an unstoppable force within Australian literature.

To present a complete list of publications by the writers that attended the FNAWN workshop would be a daunting task. Instead, I have compiled a short list of recent books by a few of the presenters.

Taboo  by Kim Scott
Pan Macmillan (2017)

Kim Scott is a Noongar man from Western Australia and an established writer of much esteem. Kim is Chair of the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Story Project and Professor of Writing in the School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts at Curtin University.

He has been shortlisted for three Miles Franklin Awards, and the recipient of two. Taboo, Kim’s fourth book, was the recipient of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Book of the Year and Indigenous Writers Prize.

Taboo explores facing up to the past, no matter how difficult that might be. Set in rural south-west WA, it tells the story of a group of Wirlomin Noongar people who revisit a massacre site after many generations. They have been invited by the elderly owner of the farm on which the colonial violence occurred, who wishes to fulfil his wife’s dying wish for reconciliation.

Parts of the story are brutal, overlapping past violence with a current generation that is dealing with racism, abuse, addiction and incarceration. This is balanced with language revival, reconnecting with land, decolonisation, and a sense of hope.

In¬†reviewing Taboo, Melissa Lucashenko¬†stated ‚ÄúThis is a complex, thoughtful and exceptionally generous offering by a master storyteller at the top of his game.‚ÄĚ

Tracker by Alexis Wright
Giramondo Publishing (2017)

Alexis Wright, a Waanyi woman, is an award-winning writer from Queensland. A past recipient of the Miles Franklin, Victoria and Queensland Premiers’ Literary Awards, Alexis Wright’s latest book, Tracker, was awarded the 2018 Stella Prize and 2018 Magarey Medal.

She is currently the Boisbouvier Chair in Australian Literature at the University of Melbourne.

Tracker is a biography of Tracker Tilmouth, an Aboriginal activist and visionary who passed away in 2015.

Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko
University of Queensland Press (2018)

Melissa Lucashenko, a Goorie writer, has set her latest novel on Bundjalung country in New South Wales. Melissa was awarded the 2016 CAL Fellowship to work on Too Much Lip.

Melissa is the past recipient of the Deloitte Queensland Literary Award for Fiction and the Victorian Premiers Prize for Indigenous Writing. She is also a Walkley Award winner for non-fiction.

Released in August 2018, Too Much Lip has already received strong reviews. Melissa’s sense of humour and intellect shines though in this modern story, as does hidden histories. Melissa has said that she felt as if her great-grandmother was her muse throughout the writing of this novel.

The protagonist Kerry Salter returns home on a stolen motorbike to pay her respects to her grandfather, who is dying. Amongst the drama of family dysfunction and Kerry’s attraction to an outsider, there is the fight for the Salter’s ancestral lands.

False Claims of Colonial Thieves  by Charmaine Papertalk Green and John Kinsella Magabala Books (2018)

Charmaine Papertalk Green is a Wajarra, Badimaya and Yamaji woman from Western Australia. A visual and installation artist, Charmaine has been writing poetry since the 1970s.

False Claims of Colonial Thieves is a collaboration between Charmaine and John Kinsella, a well-known Western Australian poet.

This book of poetry explores identity, colonisation, politics, hope and country by weaving together the voices of a Yamaji and non-Indigenous writer.

Sorry Day by Dub Leffler and Coral Vass
National Library of Australia (2018)

Dub Leffler, a descendant of the Bigambul people of south-west Queensland, is a writer and illustrator of children’s literature. His award-winning books are sold internationally. He has written two books and illustrated 23.

Sorry Day was developed with Melbourne-based children‚Äôs writer¬†Coral Vass. Through entwining two stories, the book highlights the importance of the Apology to the Stolen Generations ‚Äď Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children removed under past government policies. Sorry Day is suitable for readers aged 5+ and is suitable for starting discussions about Australian history.

 

When being a writer is no longer fiction

20170905_140449Spring is here – in theory. And August is finally over. Its my least favourite month of the year. Now that September has arrived, the weather might still scream winter but there are strong signs of new beginnings.

Post-bookshop, I’m finally getting back on my feet. I’m still in debt, but not as severe, and I’ve almost caught up with mortgage arrears.

There is a mountain of books on my dining room table, which I really need to clear. Now that I’ve mastered the set up of a basic eCommerce site, I am selling the leftover books at discounted prices. Shipping is set for Australia, but if you send me an enquiry I can give a quote for overseas shipping (note: it won’t be cheap).

If you were wondering – yes, that is a photo of me. For those that know me offline, you’d know how much I hate photos of myself. So this is a very rare photo. But this week I had to bite the bullet, do a quick read up on ‘how to take selfies for the middle-aged & ugly’, and then just do it! Because I had an opinion piece accepted by Al Jazeera, and they insisted on a bio photo. So the choice was to run and hide (like I usually do when the word ‘photo’ is mentioned), or to just do it. This time, I made the choice not to hide.

Talking about being published, I’ve had a piece published on the Indigenous X site. It’s about ongoing administration issues with government funding for First Peoples in Australia. This article was updated and republished¬†on Independent Australia as¬†Not ‚ÄėClosing the Gap‚Äô: Nigel Scullion and Indigenous Funding Failure¬†.

Seems like I’ve become an accidental journo. Later this month I have a reporting assignment at the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association’s conference. In addition to being a great Indigenous-led organisation, its their 20th year, so I am really looking forward to their conference.

The conference reporting I am doing is in collaboration with Croakey news services. The first conference I reported on was for First Peoples Disability Network in June. I wrote two pieces on that event, including a conference wrap up, as well as tweeting and live video interviews.

I’ve had some consultancy and freelance writing work post-bookshop, but its not resulting in enough income to support a household. So I’ve started applying for jobs. I’ve had a couple of interviews, but not landed a job as yet. Looks like I need to keep promoting my consultancy services.

I recently started managing the newsletter, blog/website¬†¬†and twitter account (@FNAWN_) for First Nations Australia Writers Network. FNAWN is a great organisation, and I’m pleased to be contributing to their growth.

And time for the really exciting news Рlast week I discovered that I had made the long-list for the 2017 Richell Prize! This was such an unexpected surprise. I entered the first three chapters of my work-in-progress, Where The Fruit Falls. The prize includes mentoring, to help shape a draft into a manuscript that is hopefully publishable.

The Richell Prize is presented by Hachette Australia, in memory of Matt Richell who passed away suddenly in 2014. Partners in this prize include The Guardian and Emerging Writers Festival.¬†The short-list will be announced early October, and the prize winner in November. I’m not expecting to make it to the next stage, but that won’t stop me from feeling very pleased to have got this far.

And it gives me renewed inspiration to finish this manuscript. Its been put on hold for far too long, due to sorry business, family responsibilities, financial crises and, in general, the ups and downs of now being a member of the sandwich generation.

Anyway – onwards and upwards. And, now that spring is in the air, perhaps I can even dare to dream of getting back on a motorbike…….

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