Professional Resources

Five Books by First Nations Writers

| 02 Mar 2019

By Karen Wyld

Originally published on Indigenous X 29 August 2018

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 – from recent times, right back to the invasion – 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

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 “This is a complex, thoughtful and exceptionally generous offering by a master storyteller at the top of his game.”

TRACKER BY ALEXIS WRIGHT

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

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

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

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’s writer Coral Vass. Through entwining two stories, the book highlights the importance of the Apology to the Stolen Generations – 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.

Approaching Indigenous characters and culture

| 23 Nov 2015

Interview with Tony Birch and Michelle McLaren

Learn how to write about Indigenous stories, issues and landscapes in a culturally-sensitive way. Author and academic, Tony Birch is leading a day of workshops at Writers Victoria as a part of our two-day Indigenous Places Intensive program (SOLD OUT). Intern Michelle McLaren asked Tony about some of the issues surrounding writing about Indigenous culture.

Should non-Indigenous fiction writers avoid writing about Indigenous culture and characters? What protocols should they follow if they do write Indigenous characters?

I’m not the person to ask on this issue, as surprising as it may seem. I would never give advice to another writer on this issue, except to pass on how I approach such issues. I couldn’t say that I would avoid writing characters from other cultures, as I have done it. If I don’t feel that I can create a character with authenticity, a character plausible for the reader, I back away. There is though something particular at play here. First Nations people and communities have not only had history denied to us, OUR stories have been both destroyed and misappropriated. I like the comment of the German writer, Bernhard Schlink, that those who have their history denied to them, are entitled to the dignity of telling and controlling their own narrative.

How can non-Indigenous writers create more authentic Indigenous characters?

The same question can be asked of any writer, Indigenous or non-Indigenous. Authentic characters are drawn from the development of craft, not identity. Having said that, my experience is that the majority of non-Indigenous writers produce Indigenous characters who are “stock”, limited in so many ways. Experience is not everything, but it does help to create nuanced and more rounded characters

What changes need to be made to Australian literary culture to allow Indigenous writing to further flourish?

Indigenous writers are out there, but they need more support – financial, development, mentoring, publishing advice to get the work to a wider readership. And, naturally, we also need an education system that fully values both Indigenous cultural intellectual knowledge, and provides the resources – health, welfare, economic – to keep Indigenous kids in school, and on to higher education. University itself is not a pathway to writing, but it does provide a beneficial and enriching experience.

How can non-Indigenous people become more engaged with Indigenous issues? Where’s the best place to start?

There’s no starting place, and no end. Just read, watch, look and listen to everything you can

Can you recommend a few Indigenous authors everyone should be reading right now?

Ellen van Neerven, Kim Scott, Alexis Wright, Melissa Lucashenko, Jared Thomas, Bruce Pascoe – and many, many more.

About Tony Birch

Tony Birch is the author of ‘Ghost River’ (2015), ‘Shadowboxing’ (2006), ‘Father’s Day’ (2009) and ‘Blood’ (2011), which was shortlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin award. His collection of stories, ‘The Promise’ was released by UQP in 2014. Tony also writes essays and reviews, and teaches at a community level. He recently joined Victoria University as a research fellow.

About Michelle McLaren

Michelle McLaren is a Program Intern at Writers Victoria. She works as a freelance copywriter and blogs about all things literary at Book to the Future.

This post was originally published in Writer’s Victoria. It is re-posted here with permission.

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>

Series: Social media for writers

| 27 Feb 2014

social-media-for-writers-bannerIf you”re a writer, most people assume you will be able to understand and manage social media quite easily. While you may be at some  advantage, it can still be incredibly confusing. There are so many different types of social media applications – blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr – how do you know which ones you should focus on? And do I really need to be online?

In this series of posts, Leesa Watego from Iscariot Media, will unpack some of the issues, emerging and published writers may have with social media. Continue reading