In Conversation with Ali Cobby Eckermann at Tarnanthi Festival

| 21 Oct 2015

Charmaine Papertalk Green reflects on her visit to the Tarnanthi Festival

I recently travelled from Western Australia to Adelaide to experience the inaugural Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art showcasing and celebrating Indigenous culture – Tarnanthi 2015. Whilst the visual arts dominated the festival scape, it is the incredible power of storytelling woven throughout the many creations and Tarnanthi that resonated with me. In this edition of FNAWN I share some insights from Ali Cobby Eckermann and on the Kapi Ungupayi/He gave us Water exhibition.

In Conversation with Ali Cobby Eckermann

I was particularly pleased to reconnect and spend some time with South Australian poet, writer and sculptor Ali Cobby Eckermann. Ali was involved in several Tarnanthi events – the Aboriginal Arts Fair held at Tandanya, Our Mob 2015 exhibition and writing response poetry to artist Yhonnie Scarce’s glass installation “Thunder raining poison” in the Art Gallery of South Australia.

In conversation we spoke of the place of writers and their books at these types of Festivals and Art Fairs, her inspirations behind creating the wire sculptures and writing a poetic response to Yhonnie Scarces installation.

It was refreshing to have a conversation around the place of Aboriginal literature in Festival and Art Fairs/Markets – many times literature is not mentioned let alone included in these events . Ali reinforced that writing is art therefore it had a place at these events and should be encouraged at all Art Fairs/Markets around Australia:

“I was invited to the Aboriginal Arts Fair by Nici Cumpston who encouraged all art forms to be present. The quality of all artists including all writers allowed me to place my books at the Arts Fair which was an opportunity to promote and discuss and allowed sales. I was asked if I had a Certificate of Authenticity to explain the background of my sculpture and I said “No I have a book which does the same thing”. I really felt that people at the Arts Market liked the combination of the art, literature and poetry. Most people would not have the money to buy the sculpture but 90% of people brought a book”.

Ali created two barbed wire powder coated fish trap installations for exhibiting at the Art Fair and the Our Mob 2015 Exhibition at the Adelaide Festival Centre Artspace Gallery. I asked Ali what her inspiration was behind creating the two sculptures:

“It was a visit back to the Eckermann Farm to a paddock called the ‘other place’, it was the only paddock with a red sand hill. That was a place I loved because it had a red sand hill. There was an old dump filled with old fencing wire. I got this glimpse of this fish trap. The healing part for me was to use old materials from my adopted families and recreate it into a beautiful Aboriginal sculpture which felt like it replicated my journey today. The sculpture reinforces my writing in a very personal way.”

 

Photo Credit, Charmaine Green 2015: Ali Cobby Eckerman Tarnanthi Art Fair SA

Photo Credit, Charmaine Green 2015: Ali Cobby Eckerman Tarnanthi Art Fair SA

The South Australia Writers Centre organised for 8 Aboriginal writers, 2 interstate and 6 South Australian, to write poetic response to selected Tarnanthi at the Gallery artworks at the Art Gallery of South Australia. I had a yarn with Ali over the phone about the readings:

“It was really well attended there were 8 writers responding to artworks organised by SA Writers Centre. The readings were very beautiful and profound. I wrote a poetic response to Yhonnie Scarce’s installation “Thunder rain and poison”. A lady came up to me after the reading and said that the poem changed the energy in the room- something happened. The profoundness of the poetry readings stayed with the writers for some time – we all hung out with each other for some time afterwards. It was healing, emotive and powerful.”

I would like to sincerely thank Ali for sharing for our FNAWN Newsletter.

“Kapi Ungupayi/He gave us Water” exhibition

On my last day in Adelaide I got a phone call from my AACHWA colleague saying “you better get down here Charmaine you will just love this exhibition”. When I walked into the SASA Gallery I was overwhelmed by what greeted me, and in a really good way. The exhibition was about the journey of five women in remote Western Australia (Blackstone and Wingellina), represented by the five tiny grass woven women figures greeting me at the entry point into the Gallery. One of the exhibition curators kindly spoke with me about the inspiration behind the exhibition and the stories woven into each exhibition element from the painted Toyota panel to the Sorry Business Camp stitched blankets.

The story tellers were five desert women who had gone out bush to gather punu (wood) for carving and their Toyota ran out of petrol stranding them for five days out in the desert. The women had to draw upon the cultural teachings and traditional knowledge handed down to them to find water and food to survive. The women describe this journey as the creation of a new tjukurpa (dreaming story), and every element of this new tjukurpa was present in the exhibition. They survived on goanna for food – there were grass woven standing goanna’s. They recalled being told stories of how finch birds would gather where there was water (holy water), they followed the finch birds, dug for water and found the holy water – there were finch bird paintings and an installation with hand woven finch birds gathering for water. A panel from the Toyota they drove into the bush was painted and exhibited – the vehicle part of this new dreaming story. Their traditional knowledge and stories handed down gave hope as the women sung songs in their country and to their country – a powerful video presentation was beautiful with calming sounds of singing flowing throughout SASA Gallery.

Additionally, “Kapi Ungupayi/He gave us water” is a response to the governments and others to understand living on remote communities is not a ‘lifestyle choice’ there is a reason for being in and on ancestral country:

“The people are here for a reason: to look after the land and the culture, and to keep that strong…”

Roma Peterman Butler, Ivy Laidlaw, Jennifer Mitchell, Tjawina Roberts and Mrs Woods. Tarnanthi 2015

FNAWN visit to Junee Goal

| 21 Oct 2015

Mukky Ken and Barb

A busy time for FNAWN Director Ken Canning and former Director Barbara Nicholson.

‘Ken’s of to Junee Gaol today for the start of the writing workshops with the Koori lads in there. This is being run by the South Coast Writers Group’s, Black Wallaby’s program. It’s sure to be a great day. He’ll be back in Sydney late in the week.’

Congratulations to all involved.

Dub Leffler’s Reflection on FNAWN USA 2015

| 28 Sep 2015

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Dub Leffler, illustrator and FNAWN member, reflects on the recent FNAWN delegation to the United States.

It was an absolute honour to be included in the first FNAWN delegation to go to the United States. The logistics of such a journey was not an easy task – something I have to thank the combined team behind the scenes from FNAWN led by Tony Duke and Cathy Craigie for organising & delivering.

The delegation itself showed a broad range of the what we do as writers – from informed works Science & Agriculture, Young Adult novels of faction and meta fiction to Picture books & University papers,prose & poem.

The opportunities we were afforded were defining highlights in my career to date – being welcomed at The Australian Embassy, featuring at The National Book Festival in Washington Dc, attending gala dinners with America’s literati, visiting the Kluge Ruhe Australian Aboriginal Art Gallery, meeting with The Author’s Guild to reading work at the prestigious Poets House in New York – all were highlights and vital to expanding our literature into international markets.

We were made most welcome by all parties involved and was amazed at the burgeoning interest in our culture & work -something i’m sure will continue. Tours like this, reinforce the feeling that the writings of our culture, history & future are important and a welcome part of the global village.

Poetry readings at Department of Health – NAIDOC Week 2015, Canberra

| 29 Jul 2015

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On Friday 10 July, Kerry Reed-Gilbert (FNAWN Chairperson) and Samantha Faulkner (Us Mob Writing) joined staff at the Department of Health to celebrate NAIDOC Week. This was the third NAIDOC Week event that the Department of Health, based at Woden, held.

Kerry and Samantha both read their work from By Close of Business and other publications. They shared their personal perspectives, experiences and background to the poems and engaged in discussion with the audience. One of the staff members also shared his poetry which was well received by the small and intimate audience.

Copies of By Close of Business were also given to the Department’s staff who expressed interest in doing something similar in the near future. The poetry reading was a great way to finish NAIDOC Week and was appreciated by Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff.

Ali Cobby Eckermann at the International Writing Program

| 29 Jul 2015
Ali Cobby Eckerman with Gillian Triggs launch of the Intervention anthology

Ali Cobby Eckerman with Gillian Triggs launch of the Intervention anthology

In the autumn of 2014 Yankunytjatjara poet Ali Cobby Eckermann was the first Aboriginal Australian writer to attend the prestigious International Writing Program in the USA. The program is run by the University of Iowa located in Iowa City, and was a 3 month residency spent with 28 other writers from 28 countries from around the world.

The onus of the residency is flexible, although there was much opportunity to listen to and interact with the other writers at various lectures and readings. Social invitations were extended by generous Iowan personalities, and the IWP staff arranged free trips to iconic American sites eg the Effify Mounds ancient burial grounds and national park.

For Ali the main benefit of the residency was the friendships she made with the other writers, sharing conversations of story and the influence of genre. Many of the writers live in war torn countries, and their poetry was captivating.

During the residency Ali travelled to participate in the City of Asylum Jazz Poetry Concert in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, New Orleans and Chicago, gave a lecture at the University of Denver and spent a day in the Rocky Mountains, delivered a 3 hour workshop at the Diagnostic & Correctional Prison south of St Louis in Missouri, toured Washington DC, and read at the Poets House in New York City.

Whilst in America Ali’s award winning verse novel Ruby Moonlight was published in the US by Flood Editions in Chicago. Ali is looking forward to her return to America in 2016, to attend a forum between contemporary Australian poets and activist American poets in the San Francisco area, to be held at the University of California, Berkeley.

Next month Ali will be guest Distance Learning facilitator for the IWP Narrative Witness Indigenous Peoples: Australia-America exchange. Ali will share this role with Cree poet Jennifer Foerster. The IWP is currently recruiting Aboriginal persons who are interested in this exchange using both the mediums of literature and photography.

Please check out the link, and and contact Samantha Nissen samantha-nissen@uiowa.edu or Ali Cobby
Eckermann tjinguru@yahoo.com.au

The Intervention Anthology released June 2015

| 18 Jun 2015

Intervention_Cover_72ppi-margin“The Intervention to us was like Australia declaring war on us and in the process they demonised and dehumanised Aboriginal men, women and children.”
– Rosalie-Kunoth Monks – Elder and Northern Territory Australian of the Year.

June 21 will mark eight years since the introduction of one of Australia’s most racist government policies, – the Northern Territory National Emergency Response package – otherwise known as the NT Intervention.

Many Australians are still waiting for the outcry over the suspension of the Race Discrimination Act which allowed this legislation to pass, not once, but twice. In 2012, the Intervention was renamed “Stronger Futures” and designed to impinge further on the human rights of those in remote communities for another decade.

Award-winning and internationally recognised Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian authors and commentators have taken a stand the best way they can, by using the power of their writing to generate much needed discussion and debate – in homes, universities and in work places.

Edited by Rosie Scott and Anita Heiss, the Intervention Anthology includes statements by Elders, poetry, commentary, fiction and non-fiction as a means of reaching out and speaking to as many Australians as possible.

“A powerful collection of views from Aboriginal Elders, experts, lawyers and some of the nation’s finest writers. And an indispensable contribution to the urgent question of the wellbeing and dignity of Aboriginal Australians. As Rosalie Kunoth-Monks puts it ‘We are your people and you are our people.’ We can’t not listen to each other,’ said Anna Funder, an international award winning author.

Contributors to the anthology include: Debra Adelaide, Pat Anderson, Larissa Behrendt, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Eva Cox, Brenda L. Croft, Lionel Fogarty, Djiniyini Gondarra, Yingiya Mark Guyula, Rodney Hall, Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, Deni Langman, Melissa Lucashenko, Jeff McMullen, PM Newton, Christine Olsen, Bruce Pascoe, Nicole Watson, Samuel Wagan Watson, Rachel Willika, Alexis Wright, Yalmay Yunipingu and Arnold Zable.

The Intervention: an anthology will be launched by Gillian Triggs in Sydney on 1 July at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence in Redfern.

Other events include: 9 July at Ashfield Town Hall; 4 August at Charles Darwin University. Events are also being planned in Newcastle, Melbourne and other locations.

The Intervention will be available to purchase online from Booktopia.

This project would not have been possible without the support from WITA (Women Inspired to Action) for crowdfunding, ‘concerned Australians’, the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund, and extensive in-kind support from Curtis Brown, Kirby Brown and Booktopia.

Yimbama Book Launch

| 18 Jun 2015

yimbama-300wide-72ppi-margin Yimbama is the second collection by Indigenous Australian poet Ken Canning, also known as Burraga Gutya. Canning is one of the strongest voices in contemporary Indigenous Australian activism. The poems collected here offer an unflinching examination of the lasting damage done to Indigenous Australia by European colonization and the continuing political struggle. As unflinching and uncompromising these poems are in their protest and dissent, love for country, community and tradition remains central. These poems give witness and insight to the reality of contemporary Aboriginal Australia and demand to be heard. There is wisdom here, hard-won, lived and told true.

“In writing I try to cover a diverse range of topics while writing about issues that I have experienced. As an Aboriginal man in my 60’s, I have seen a lot of political deception I have suffered imprisonment and having all dignity stripped away. I have seen our Peoples lost forever in institutions and finally because of this, in later years I was diagnosed with a schzio-efective disorder. I have survived this and live a normal life. Some of my poems reflect my feelings of political treachery, oppression and the mental state this leaves. Yet in the text their remains a love of our Culture and Our Mother Earth. A gentleness survives and overcomes the bitterness. It is important to note that while I am writing about my experiences, I am writing about the First Nations Peoples of this country’s survival against some horrific experiences. In address mental health issues, I was fortunate to be able to write some of these poems while I was ill. I want ALL peoples to know such an illness is not the end and please do not let it define you. I have learned via my wife Cheryl, love overcomes all adversity.” – Burraga Gutya

 

Ken Canning is from the Kunja Clan of the Bidjara Peoples of South West Queensland. His language name is Burraga Gutya. Poet and playwright, he started writing over 40 years ago from a prison cell in the old Boggo Road Jail in Brisbane, learning how to read and write from a fellow inmate. He worked for many years in Aboriginal Education, and was a founder and former Academic and Cultural advisor at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning.

Yimbama is available from Vagabond Press.

The Bennelong Letter – Voice of a Wangal Diplomat

| 25 May 2015
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The Bennelong Letter Photo: Kylie Martin.

 

The AIATSIS Collection holds a very precious copy of what is considered to be the first known use of written English by an Aboriginal Australian. It is a copy of what is known as the ‘Bennelong Letter’ and represents a seminal work in Australian Aboriginal literature and an authentic Aboriginal voice. It is also the first time that an Aboriginal author has appeared in print.

The letter is contained in the 1801 German publication: “Monatliche Correspondenz zur Beforderung der Erd and Himmelskunde” (“Monthly Correspondence for the Promotion of Geography and Astronomy” edited by Franz Xaver Freiherr von Zach. Von Zach was a Hungarian astronomer who accepted the letter for publication from the German anatomist Johan Friedrich Blumenbach having received it from Joseph Banks who in turn acquired a copy from Governor John Hunter.

The original letter was dictated by Bennelong on August 29 1796 from Sydney and is addressed to “Mr. Phillips, Steward to Lord Sidney [sic]”. Historians have not been able to find a steward to Lord Sidney named Mr Phillips and this has led to speculation that the letter may in fact have been aimed at former Governor Phillips as his second wife nursed Bennelong when he was ill in England and this is referenced in the letter.

Woollarawarre Bennelong was a Wangal man from the south shore of the Parramatta River, who is believed to have been born about 1764. He formed a friendship with Governor Arthur Phillip who took him and his kinsman Yemmerrawanne to England in 1792. He spent three years in England where he took reading and writing lessons and would have been exposed to various other elements of English cultural life.

John Hunter points to Bennelong’s fascination with writing when at Governor Phillip’s one night “Bannelong went into the house as usual, and finding the governor writing, sat down by him” (Hunter, Chp XIX).

FNAWN members Jeanine Leane and Samantha Faulkner with AIATSIS Collection Manager Barry Cundy on a visit to view the Bennelong Letter. Photo: Kylie Martin

FNAWN members Jeanine Leane and Samantha Faulkner with AIATSIS Collection Manager Barry Cundy on a visit to view the Bennelong Letter. Photo: Kylie Martin

It is believed that the letter was dictated to a scribe rather than written by Bennelong himself and it states:

“Sir, I am very well. I hope you are very well. I live at the governor’s. I have every day dinner there. I have not my wife; another black man took her away. We have had muzzy doings; he speared me in the back, but I better now; his name is Carroway. All my friends alive and well. Not me go to England no more. I am at home now. I hope Mrs Phillips is very well. You nurse me madam when I sick. You very good madam; thank you madam, and hope you remember me madam, not forget. I know you very well madam. Madam, I want stockings, thank you madam. Send me two pair of stockings. You my good Madam. Thank you Madam. Sir, you give my duty to Lord Sidney. Thank you very good my lord, very good. Hope very well all Family, very well. Sir send me you please some handkerchiefs for pocket. You please Sir send me some shoes. Two pair you please. Bannelong.”

Whilst the letter is written in English, the Aboriginal voice of Bennelong comes through in expressions such as “his name was Carroway”. As Smith points out ‘’carraway” or “caruey” (white cockatoo) was a young uninitiated Cadigal man who appropriated Bennelong’s wife Kurubarabula (Smith, 2012, pg 3). The word “muzzy” is thought to represent a transcription error of the word “murri” which means “big” in the Sydney language.

The request for stockings, a handkerchief and shoes may seem inappropriate in this context, but from an Aboriginal etiquette point of view it reflects the practice of reciprocity and gift exchange that he would have expected from his English hosts.

Smith has successfully argued that Bennelong was a master politician, brokering alliances among various factions via marriages for himself and his sisters in order to secure, and later extend, his leadership within his Wangal clan (2009). This account challenges the oft told story that Bennelong was shunned by Europeans and his own people alike on his return from England.

Bennelong died in 1813 and is buried in the orchard of brewer James Squire in the present day suburb of Putney in Sydney.

The original of the letter has never been found.

You can listen to the story of the AIATSIS Bennelong Letter.

References:

Hunter, John 1793. An Historical Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island, John Stockdale, Piccadilly. <http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks/e00063.html#ch-20>

Smith, Keith Vincent 2012. Bennelong’s letter expresses authentic Aboriginal voice. The Australian, Dec 29. < http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/bennelongs-letter-expresses-authentic-aboriginal-voice/story-fn9n8gph-1226544151916>

Smith, Keith Vincent 2009. Bennelong among his people. Aboriginal History, Vol. 33, pg <http://press.anu.edu.au/apps/bookworm/view/Aboriginal+History+Volume+33/9921/ch01.html>

| 11 May 2015

The inaugural First Nations Writers’ Australia Network National Workshop was held in 2013 in Brisbane at the State Library of Queensland.  Our goal is to hold this event every two years.

Us Mob Writers at Noted Festival

| 14 Apr 2015

Noted Festival

Us Mob Writers (UMW) recently participated in Canberra’s first ever experimental writing festival, Noted held from 20-22 March. UMW held a workshop session on Sunday 22 March in the Mabo Room at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).

The workshop – Where the Deadly Words Are: Us Mob, began with an ochre ceremony by Kerry Reed-Gilbert. UMW members also participating included: Lisa Fuller, Michelle Bedford, Samia Goudie, Jeanine Leane, Marissa McDowell, Joyce Graham and Samantha Faulkner.

About 50 people attended and participated in writing exercises, sharing their poetry and listening to readings from By Close of Business by UMW.

Thanks go to Russell Taylor, Principal of AIATSIS for providing the venue and Rita Metzenrath for her assistance with the workshop.

Dr Jeanine Leane also spoke during Noted Festival on Indigenous Literature Today.