What’s On

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

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.


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>

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.

Albany Writers Workshop – Kim Scott with Jim Everett

| 14 Apr 2015

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Jim Everett and Kim Scott were guests at the Vancouver Arts Centre, Albany, Western Australia last month. Here is Jim’s round-up of their very busy and wonderfully engaging time.

Sunday 22nd February – 5.30 pm to 7 pm

Kim and Jim interviewed by local author Sarah Drummond at the Vancouver Arts Centre, Albany. This was an interesting interview where Kim’s background differed from Jim’s, and the discussions covered writing to politics, to family history and Country. Questions were taken and the ensuing discussions could have gone on for some time if not for the time limit for others to take the room.

Monday 23rd February

Kim and Jim held a 2 hour workshop with students from 4 schools – 19 participating students and their 4 teachers/carers. Kim has a teacher’s experience and led the workshops, which worked very well. The students were very attentive and showed great interest. We all enjoyed this first day of short story writing, and sharing stories written by students.

Tuesday 24th February

2 hour workshop – Kim led the workshops again, with Jim taking a role with writing exercises. The students came with some ‘homework’ for the workshop exercises of the day. Included music and song writing as a means of introducing a form of creative writing. Other writing exercises were undertaken on poetry, and discussions on ‘why write’, and ‘finding ways’ to write, ‘triggers’, and family characters etc.

The students were well pleased with the workshops, and said they wanted more, and longer workshops set on Country, and camps. I can say that we all enjoyed the experience of writing in a workshop, and that the whole event was well worth doing.

There was also a bit of a write up in the local press:

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A Passage to India: Reflections on Bangalore and Mysore

| 18 Mar 2015

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The wonderful Jeanine Leane attended the Bangalore Literature Festival with other First Nations Australia writers. Read her reflection.

September 2014 was to be my second visit to India – despite having majored in South Asian History in a Bachelor of Arts degree in the early 1908s. In 2012 I travelled to Hyderabad for a conference on Patrick White – and so I was prepared to some extent for the crowds and the traffic.

I travelled to Bangalore and later Mysore with three deadly Aboriginal writers: Marie Munkara, Dylan Coleman and Brenton McKenna. Conversations had and time spent with Marie, Dylan and Brenton was first and foremost the best and most valuable part of my journey to India.

Marie, Dylan, Brenton, Mridula and I arrived in Bangalore late on a Thursday evening. I was tired and eager to get to the hotel – but there is no point worrying about time in India because all things there take longer – a bit like Koori time and I quickly get used to the tranquil, clam atmosphere of those around me – our hosts in Bangalore and Mysore and it was a great way to come to know people better.

On first sight the Bangalore Literature Festival looked huge. There were large stages and marquees in a very scenic park just across the road from where we were all staying. What I like about the BLF is that it was very warm and friendly and there is a tremendous amount of interest in Aboriginal writings and scholarship. I enjoyed panels I did with Dylan and Marie and with three very impressive Dalit writers. Brenton’s presentation for children on his graphic novel was great to sit in on. And despite the initial appearance of being large – there was lots of space and time to get to talk to Indian writers and activists.

FNAWN’s 2014 US Road Trip

| 04 Feb 2015
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Cathy Craigie with Tim Tingle, a Choctaw writer at the US National Book Festival.


In late August last year, the Executive Director, Cathy Craigie and FNAWN’s Tony Duke did a 10 day road trip in the USA. Here is Cathy’s Report:

FNAWN had previously identified the USA as a key market and we were keen to pursue opportunities to promote our writers. We met with publishers, festivals, writing centres and other literary organisations and met with much enthusiasm and interest. We met so many interesting people on the trip but for me there were a couple of highlights.

We visited Poets House at Battery Point, a magnificent centre right on the water and funded entirely from philanthropic and private funding. We wondered what could be achieved at home with the same kind of philanthropic support. We also attended the US National Book Festival in Washington. The sheer size and scale of this one day event is hard to image back in Australia. With over 200,000 people attending, I was overwhelmed by the number of families who came and the interest in encouraging kids to read.

FNAWN are now working on getting our writers exposure in the USA and will be following up on the contacts we made in the USA. We are hoping to facilitate a program beginning in 2015 so keep an eye out for news on our US projects.

Anita Heiss and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra

| 04 Feb 2015


Last month, Dr Anita Heiss with ARIA award-winning performer, composer and didgeridoo player William Barton joined the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to perform Peter Sculthorpe’s Beethoven Variations and Barton’s Birdsong at Dusk. These performances were highlighted with poetry and prose readings by Anita.

Anita performed Shake by Romaine Moreton, Unity by the late Kevin Gilbert, Sydney Real Estate for Sale by Brenda Saunders, and A New Day Dawning by Richard Frankland.

Anita says

I felt very blessed by the experience and was honoured to share the stage with Uncle Max Eulo, William Barton, Mayrah Sonter and conductor Johannes Fritzsch.

Yellamundie: National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Playwriting Festival 2015.

| 10 Jan 2015


Every time a story by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is told, the story itself and the act of telling that story is a very real confirmation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that our culture is alive and strong and continuing to survive.

Moogahlin Perfoming Arts with presenting partner Carriageworks, is delighted to announce the launch of Yellamundie: National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Playwriting Festival 2015.

Yellamundie [a Dharug word meaning storyteller] is a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and culture and is an initiative of the National Indigenous Theatre Forum held in Cairns, Queensland in 2010.

The central aim of the Yellamundie Festival is to discover, develop and promote new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander playwriting that displays potential for further creative development and/or production. Yellamundie provides both emerging and established playwrights with a meeting place to have their work developed within a supportive and nurturing artistic and cultural context, showcasing their skill and talent and gaining access and connection to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal theatre industry networks.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander playwrights from across Australia, will have the opportunity to submit new work, with a final six scripts chosen for creative development, with a director, dramaturge and actors.

Each script will also receive a public reading to an audience of community, general public and invited industry.

Yellamundie 2015 will run from Monday 27th July to Saturday 8th August 2015.

Applications open on Wednesday 3rd December and application and guidelines forms will be available to download from the Moogahlin website (www.mooghalin.com).

Applications close on Wednesday 4th February 2015 and successful applicants will be notified by Friday 6th March 2015.

For further information please contact festival artistic director Frederick Copperwaite at either yellamundie@moogahlin.com or 0422 049 333.

Click to download the following documents:

Tony Birch delivers the David Hunter Memorial Lecture 2014

| 04 Dec 2014
Tony Birch. Photo Credit: Joseph Lafferty

Tony Birch. Photo Credit: Joseph Lafferty

Dr Tony Birch, the Miles Franklin nominated writer, delivered the keynote 2014 Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) ACT David Hunter Memorial Lecture in Canberra on Thursday 20 November.  The theme was Reconciliation and Identity and Tony spoke of his writing and research into the life of Bessie Rawlings, the mother of William Reginald Rawlings, who was awarded the Military Medal for bravery during World War I.  Bessie wrote a number of letters to relevant Ministers for 40 years on her and her family and communities rights, but she was not unique in this regard.  Tony said,

“Aboriginal women are the face of the struggle.  We need to speak their names and lift them up.  These women are heroes.”


Tony’s keynote was followed by local poets Michelle Bedford, Joyce Graham and Samantha Faulkner members of Us Mob Writing, who read poems from By Close of Business, a collection of poetry and prose.  It was a great turn out supported by the Canberra community and followed by some interesting discussions on a lovely spring evening.

Joyce Graham, Samantha Faulkner, Michelle Bedford Photo Credit: Joseph Lafferty

Joyce Graham, Samantha Faulkner, Michelle Bedford Photo Credit: Joseph Lafferty

Anita Heiss features Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature at Corroboree 2014

| 04 Dec 2014


There are few more passionate about showcasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander excellence than author Dr Anita Heiss.

Last week I was lucky enough to be in Sydney and headed down the Rocks Boatshed at Circular Quay to see Anita yarn with Torres Strait Islander author Sam Faulker. One of a series of yarns that week with ‘celebrities’, this session gave Sam an opportunity to talk about some of the issues involved in creating memoir and biography with family members. She noted importantly, that it’s possible to argue the book had many authors, and is a story that belongs not just to her or the subject, her Grandfather, but to who whole family.

Other sessions during that week included yarns with Dub Leffler, Larisssa Behrendt, Michael O’Loughlin, Terri Janke, and Wesley Enoch.

Ever the energetic blogger, Anita has written up her questions with a few of her guests. Read more here: