The day so ignorantly dubbed 'Australia Day' (January 26th this year, but has had many dates before) is a day of immense mourning, pain, remembrance, ongoing and continuing survival for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia.
I personally refuse to acknowledge any "Australia Day" celebrations as anything more than a place marker for the beginning of hundreds of years of colonisation and grotesque crimes against First Nations people, and so, while doing my bit in other areas, (#PaytheRent is something I've heard recently and thought was pretty cool) I also wanted to take some time out today to share with people some of the works by Aboriginal authors I really enjoyed, and take a look at some of the works coming up this year I'm really looking forward to.
I'm very fortunate, and very grateful to live how and where I do. I live on the lands of the Wurundjeri people here in Melbourne, but I grew up on Gulidjan land. It's important, I think, to mark and learn all we can about the dispossession and marginalisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (that's continuing), while doing this, it's also important to celebrate and uplift the Indigenous voices, artists and writers with us here today.
I've loved some of these books and I'm sure the ones I haven't read yet, I'm going to love as well.
Books by First Nations authors coming out this year...
GROWING UP ABORIGINAL IN AUSTRALIA – Edited Anita Heiss | April 2018
What is it like to grow up Aboriginal in Australia? This anthology, compiled by award-winning author Anita Heiss, attempts to showcase as many diverse voices, experiences and stories as possible in order to answer that question. Each account reveals, to some degree, the impacts of invasion and colonisation – on language, on country, on ways of life, and on how people are treated daily in the community, the education system, the workplace and friendship groups.
Accounts from well-known authors and high-profile identities sit alongside newly discovered voices of all ages, with experiences spanning coastal and desert regions, cities and remote communities. All of them speak to the heart – sometimes calling for empathy, oftentimes challenging stereotypes, always demanding respect.
This groundbreaking anthology aims to enlighten, inspire and educate about the lives of Aboriginal people in Australia today.
BRONTIDE – Sue McPherson | June 2018
Rob; (and his brother Pen) white Aussies. Rob is completing Year 12, going to schoolies, working as an apprentice in his dad's company and loves his dog, Nig. Rob believes real men take risks. Pen; fifteen-years-old, storyteller, graffiti artiste extraordinaire with a penchant for male anatomy. Pen is liked by everyone. Pen and Benny Boy are mates. Benny Boy; twelve-years-old, Aboriginal, loves drawing, fishing and living with his awesome (white) foster Nan. Benny Boy doesn't trust Rob. Jack; white, male, finishing Yr 12, new to the area, from the bush and adopted into an Aboriginal family. Jack has met Pen and reckons he's a funny bugger. He has also just signed up as an apprentice working alongside Rob-the-knob. Brontide is a coming of age story about four boys and their lot in life. Recounted through storytelling sessions at their school over a period of five days, these boys chronicle their lives. They are at times demanding, occasionally rude, always funny and unexpectedly profound. The boys like to challenge themselves and the rules, and soon realise that not everything goes to plan...
CATCHING TELLER CROW – Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina | August 2018
Told through the alternating perspectives of two teenage Aboriginal protagonists. Bella Teller accompanies her father, a police detective, sent to investigate a fire in a children’s home that has left a body in its wake. But Beth died month before in a car accident and now exists between worlds, unable to move on until she is sure her father will be able to function without her. Her story intersects with that of Isobel Catching, a witness to the fire, who relates a tale of monsters and other worlds. As the murders escalate, Catching’s otherworldly tale intersects with Beth’s otherworldly reality to reveal horrifying violence lurking beneath the surface of the town.
Books by First Nations authors I've read and loved...
COLOURING THE RAINBOW: BLAK QUEER AND TRANS PERSPECTIVES – Edited by Dino Hodge
Colouring the Rainbow uncovers the often hidden world of Queer and Trans Blak Australia and tells it like it is.
Twenty-two First Nations people reveal their inner reflections and outlooks on family and culture, identity and respect, homophobia, transphobia, racism and decolonisation, activism, art, performance and more, through life stories and essays. The contributors to this ground-breaking book not only record the continuing relevance of traditional culture and practices, they also explain the emergence of homonormativity within the context of contemporary settler colonialism.
Colouring the Rainbow is a real, searing and celebratory exploration of modern culture in post-apology Australia.
This was a really powerful compilation of stories, experiences and histories, both looking toward the future and back at the past. Necessary reading for all queer people (and you non queers too!)
SONGS THAT SOUND LIKE BLOOD – Jared Thomas
Roxy May Redding’s got music in her soul and songs in her blood. She lives in a hot dusty town and is dreaming big. She survives run-ins with the mean girls at high school, sings in her dad’s band and babysits for her wayward aunt. But Roxy wants a new start. When she gets the chance to study music in the big city, she takes it. Roxy’s new life, her new friends and her music collide in a way she could never have imagined. Being a poor student sucks... navigating her way through the pressure of a national music competition has knobs on it... singing for her dinner is soul destroying... but nothing prepares Roxy for her biggest challenge. Her crush on Ana, the local music journo, forces her to steer her way through a complex maze of emotions alien to this small town girl. Family and friends watch closely as Roxy takes a confronting journey to find out who the hell she is.
One of the first books by an Aboriginal author I can remember reading, throughly loved this, loved Roxy, her vulnerability, strength and the steps she takes to self discovery are very relatable and smartly written.
SISTER HEART — Sally Morgan
A young Aboriginal girl is taken from the north of Australia and sent to an institution in the distant south. There, she slowly makes a new life for herself and, in the face of tragedy, finds strength in new friendships.
Poignantly told from the child’s perspective, Sister Heart affirms the power of family and kinship.
After reading Morgan's MY PLACE I had to jump onto her other work. SISTER HEART had me crying, absolutely bawling by the end, a powerful and effective read.
THE INTERROGATION OF ASHALA WOLF — Ambelin Kwaymullina
Ashala Wolf has been captured by Chief Administrator Neville Rose. A man who is intent on destroying Ashala’s Tribe — the runaway Illegals hiding in the Firstwood. Injured and vulnerable and with her Sleepwalker ability blocked, Ashala is forced to succumb to the machine that will pull secrets from her mind.
And right beside her is Justin Connor, her betrayer, watching her every move.
Will the Tribe survive the interrogation of Ashala Wolf?
Another one of the firsts, I was lucky enough to grab a copy of this this year after having read it in high school. Aussie Dystopia and sci-fi done right, truly compelling.
CALYPSO SUMMER — Jared Thomas
Calypso Summer is a story told by Calypso, a young Nukunu man, fresh out of high school in Rastafarian guise. After failing to secure employment in sports retail, his dream occupation, Calypso finds work at the Henley Beach Health Food shop where his boss pressures him to gather native plants for natural remedies. This leads him to his Nukunu family in southern Flinders Ranges and the discovery of a world steeped in cultural knowledge. The support of a sassy, smart, young Ngadjuri girl, with a passion for cricket rivalling his own, helps Calypso to reconsider his Rastafarian façade and understand how to take charge of his future
Another winner by Jared Thomas, seriously an amazing capturing of Calypso's voice here, going forward, looking back. It's a book that buries into tough themes/ideas in a way that carries you along and entertains.
THE PROMISE — Tony Birch
Across twelve blistering stories, The Promise delivers a sensitive and often humorous take on the lives of those who have loved, lost and wandered.
I had an Australian Literature class in my second year of uni and had the awesome opportunity to have Tony Birch take a couple of our classes and omg, yep, I fell in love with Tony's style and way of beautifully dragging out the ugly underbellies of his characters in a way that's simply human.
BLOOD — Tony Birch
From the moment he saw her wrapped in a blanket at the hospital, Jesse knew that he’d be the one to look after his little sister. When their mother's appetite for destruction leads the little family into the arms of Ray Crow, Jesse sees the brooding violence and knows that, this time, the trouble is real. But Jesse is just a kid and even as he tries to save his sister, he makes a fatal error that exposes them to the kind of danger from which he has sworn to protect Rachel. As their little world is torn to pieces, the children learn that when you are lost and alone, the only thing you can trust is what's in your blood.
As you can probably tell from above I amassed a Tony Birch collection since discovering him in uni and, the only thing I love more than his short fiction is his long form, BLOOD was a fab read, totally YA (despite the 'literary critics' and a really great example of it.
COMMON PEOPLE — Tony Birch
Tony Birch introduces a cast of characters from all walks of life. These remarkable and surprising stories capture common people caught up in the everyday business of living and the struggle to survive. From two single mothers on the most unlikely night shift to a homeless man unexpectedly faced with the miracle of a new life, Birch's stories are set in gritty urban refuges and battling regional communities. His deftly drawn characters find unexpected signs of hope in a world where beauty can be found on every street corner - a message on a T-shirt, a friend in a stray dog or a star in the night sky. Common People shines a light on human nature and how the ordinary kindness of strangers can have extraordinary results.
Birch's latest release, COMMON PEOPLE was a really fab read, very effecting and moving and really did settle me into a sense of place and location. COMMON PEOPLE couldn't have been written anywhere else, by anyone else.
BECOMING KIRRALI LEWIS — Jane Harrison
For Kirrali, life in 1985 was pretty chill. Sure, she was an Aboriginal girl adopted into a white family, but she was cool with that. She knew where she was headed - to a law degree - even if she didn't know 'who she was'. But when Kirrali moves to the city to start university, a whole lot of life-changing events spark an awakening that no one sees coming, least of all herself.
Story flashbacks to the 1960s, where her birth mother is desperately trying to escape conservative parents, give meaning to Kirrali's own search for identity nearly twenty years later. And then she meets her father...
I feel like I read this at the right time, right in the early uni days, and it really helped me get my head out of my arse a bit and take some steps to become a better ally. Though Kirrali said and thought and did some stuff throughout this I don't think I could (in the same position) say and do and think, it really speaks well to Harrison's writing with empathy. I really empathised with Kirrali.
LEMONS IN THE CHICKEN WIRE – Alison Whittaker
It is an audacious, lyrical and linguistically lemon flavoured poetry debut that possesses a rare edginess and seeks to challenge our imagination beyond the ordinary. Alison Whittaker demonstrates that borders, whether physical or imagined, are no match for our capacity for love.
I don't read a lot of poetry (I listen to it mostly) but Whittaker's rawness with this work, and the really fab title drew me in and kept me speeding through, unable to put this collection down.
MY PLACE - Sally Morgan
Looking at the views and experiences of three generations of indigenous Australians, this autobiography unearths political and societal issues contained within Australia's indigenous culture. Sally Morgan traveled to her grandmother’s birthplace, starting a search for information about her family. She uncovers that she is not white but aborigine—information that was kept a secret because of the stigma of society. This moving account is a classic of Australian literature that finally frees the tongues of the author’s mother and grandmother, allowing them to tell their own stories.
Probably the book I was most familiar with before reading, I read this during uni and really loved it so much I chose to do my major project for philosophy on it, a powerful memoir of placement, displacement and how one can fit not only within their own family but within their own history.
THE SWAN BOOK - Alexis Wright
The Swan Book is set in the future, with Aboriginals still living under the Intervention in the north, in an environment fundamentally altered by climate change. It follows the life of a mute young woman called Oblivia, the victim of gang-rape by petrol-sniffing youths, from the displaced community where she lives in a hulk, in a swamp filled with rusting boats, and thousands of black swans, to her marriage to Warren Finch, the first Aboriginal president of Australia, and her elevation to the position of First Lady, confined to a tower in a flooded and lawless southern city. The Swan Book has all the qualities which made Wright’s previous novel, Carpentaria, a prize-winning best-seller. It offers an intimate awareness of the realities facing Aboriginal people; the energy and humour in her writing finds hope in the bleakest situations; and the remarkable combination of storytelling elements, drawn from myth and legend and fairy tale, has Oblivia Ethylene in the company of amazing characters like Aunty Bella Donna of the Champions, the Harbour Master, Big Red and the Mechanic, a talking monkey called Rigoletto, three genies with doctorates, and throughout, the guiding presence of swans.
This was a hard book to read, probably the hardest book I have ever read (and not just because it was assigned reading for one of my third year uni classes) it was mentally, emotionally, technically and internally challenging, more so an experience for me in reading (I don't want to spoil anything) than just reading. If you've every wanted to read something and come out different on the other side, read THE SWAN BOOK. Vivid, poetic, incisive, intelligent and memorable.