Every 2-9 July, Australia celebrates National NAIDOC Week to acknowledge and recognise the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC Week is an opportunity for all Australians to learn about First Nations cultures and histories and participate in celebrations of the oldest, continuous living cultures on earth.
Each year NAIDOC has a theme, this year's being 'For our Elders', portrayed in the NAIDOC poster below.
Image: 2023 NAIDOC Poster by Bobbi Lockyer (Source, NAIDOC Website)
The NAIDOC poster is the result of a national competition, which was won this year by Bobbi Lockyer, a proud Ngarluma, Kariyarra, Nyulnyul and Yawuru artist, born and based on Kariyarra Country in Port Hedland, Western Australia.
"Where there is knowledge, there are our Elders. Our Elders paved the pathways for us, taught us our knowledge, our history, they passed down their art, stories and wisdom. Our Elders are the foundation of our communities and role models for our children. With this poster, I wanted to showcase how important our Elders are in passing down traditions and culture to our children and future." said Lockyer.
NAIDOC week is also an opportunity to pause and acknowledge the considerable and growing number of terrific Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors. Perhaps the rich history of storytelling that goes back at least 50,000 years contributes to such talent in this space. Whatever the reason, we are very fortunate to have such a wealth of literary talent to enhance our cultural landscape. I've listed a few that I would recommend.
1. I have referred to authors by their surnames, as is the custom. This is not intended to be disrespectful in any way. I apologise in advance if anyone takes offence.
2. I acknowledge that I have referred to authors and family that may have passed away. Please be aware of this cultural sensitivity.
3. This list of books is not meant to be extensive. It is my list of books that have moved me in some way. If you feel that I have missed a book by an Indigenous author that I should have included, please let me know, and I will publish an addendum.
Dark Emu. Bruce Pascoe
'Dark Emu' was a non-fiction work that changed my thinking. Not just on Indigenous issues but much more widely. The premise that was transformational was Pascoe's description of the night sky. Though this is something we have all seen many times, it wasn't until I read Pascoe's work that I understood that the vista could be seen in terms of the spaces between the stars rather than the stars themselves. This is pretty obvious when it is plainly stated, but we are so accustomed, through the Southern Cross, Evening Star and even via horoscopes, to see the sky as a series of lights. Pascoe points out the Indigenous dark emu as the image formed by the darkness. It is so apparent when it is pointed out. Seeing the obvious emerge when viewed through a different lens is a recurring theme throughout 'Dark Emu', none more so than with the Budj Bim Eel Traps in regional Victoria. To only recently learn about this remarkable feat of engineering and aquaculture that has been dated to be at least 6,000 years old is incredible. Perhaps it is yet another sad testament to the suppression of Indigenous Peoples since colonisation. Every Australian should read Dark Emu.
Image: Dark emu in the night sky (Source, Bush Heritage Australia)
My Place. Sally Morgan
I don't know if Sally Morgan sings (she probably does). If she did, she would be the artistic equivalent of a 'triple threat'. This is a term usually used to describe an actor equally proficient at singing, acting and dancing. Not only is Morgan a terrific author, she is also an acclaimed artist. Her book covers, as well as the words between them showcase her immense talent. I first read 'My Place' many years ago, but I am often reminded of the story, as I work so close to where the story occurred in Perth's southern suburbs.
'My Place' tells the story of Morgan's growing up in Perth, being told your family had Indian origins and then later finding that her family had Indigenous roots. It wasn't until her mid-teens that she learnt that she and her sister were of Aboriginal descent from the Palku people of the Pilbara. 'My Place', published in 1987, tells her story of discovery through reconnection with her Aboriginal culture and community. That the book has sold over half a million copies in Australia is a testament to its power and authenticity.
Image: 'My Place' by Sally Morgan (Source, Google Images)
That Deadman Dance. Kim Scott
I confessed to being a Kim Scott fan in a previous blog after reading 'Taboo'. Here is another novel by Scott that doesn't disappoint. That Deadman Dance is set in and around Albany, Western Australia, in the 1800s and tells the story of early interaction between American Whalers, Europeans and Noongar People. It describes the conflict and sees characters caught between living in the past or embracing the future. 'That Deadman Dance' won the Miles Franklin Award (2011), the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal (2011), the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (2011) and was shortlisted for many other awards. Scott also won the Miles Franklin in 2000 for his novel 'Benang' (on my to be read pile).
As I have said before, Scott should be recognised as a National Treasure.
Image: 'That Deadman Dance' by Kim Scott (Source, Goodreads)
Talking to My Country. Stan Grant
Stan Grant has been hammered by the same industry to which he has given so much. He has been a stoic, wise and sensitive journalist for years. I believe he was set up by his colleagues when he was asked to provide commentary on the recent coronation of England's King. Did his fellow journalists genuinely expect him to kowtow when his whole career had been built on truth-telling?
Grant's speech in 2015 on how racism and bigotry were ruining the Australian dream was turned into his second book, published in 2016, Talking to My Country. This is Grant's personal story of growing up in an intolerant country and the urgent need to transform society. The book was a reaction to the disgraceful and racist end to another incredible Indigenous man's exit from his chosen profession, Adam Goodes premature departure from the AFL.
Grant's latest book, with the provocative title of 'The Queen is Dead: The Time has Come for a Reckoning' (2023) will make for interesting future reading.
Terra Nullius. Claire G. Coleman
Okay. I'm unsure if you have seen my personal bias creeping in yet. I admit it. Great Indigenous authors from Western Australia unashamedly dominate this list!
Claire G. Coleman is a Wirlomin-Noongar-Australian writer and poet from WA. Growing up, her family lived in the Perth region (Gnangara?). Coleman now lives and works in Naarm (Melbourne) and on the road. During one of her extended road trips – doing a "circuit of the continent"- she wrote 'Terra Nullius'. 'Terra Nullius', meaning land belonging to no one, and once used to describe Australia before white settlement, examines colonisation, race and resilience. Coleman's book takes place in the near future and tells a story of "Settlers and Natives," but with a big twist.
The book has been described as "something new, but all too familiar. This is an incredible debut from a striking unique Australian Aboriginal voice. I would add that it is much more.
Image: 'Terra Nullius' by Claire G. Coleman (Source, Goodreads)
Rabbit-Proof Fence. Doris Pilkington
This book, and the movie of the same name, tells the remarkable true story of three young girls, stolen from their parents, who cross the harsh Australian desert on foot to return to their home.
In 'Rabbit-Proof Fence', Pilkington traces the story of her mother, Molly, one of three young girls uprooted from her community in Southwestern Australia and taken to the Moore River Native Settlement (Mogumber). At the settlement, as was the legal mandate of the times, Indigenous People were forbidden to speak their language and forced to abandon their heritage.
The three girls headed for the nearby rabbit-proof fence and followed it to find their way home. They walked along the fence for 1,500 kilometres for over a month. Their story is an incredible but true tale of defiance, resilience and the strong ties that bind families.
God, the Devil and Me by Alf Taylor
As mentioned in a previous blog, I have had the honour of meeting Mr Alf Taylor several times. Once was at the launch of his book 'Cartwarra – or what?' However, his previous work, 'God the Devil and Me,' is, in my opinion, his best work to date. His cheeky sense of humour in the face of cruel treatment permeates. In 'God, The Devil and Me,' Taylor talks about his life at the hands of the Benedictine Nuns and Brothers at New Norcia, 130 km north of Perth. [I know another WA author – but they're so bloody good.]
As a child, Alf sought refuge in books. I suspect the library was a place where he could find solitude and warmth that was lacking elsewhere. The young Taylor tells of his 'mateship' with Shakespeare and others. He wonders if He writes with joy about the camaraderie of the boys, their love of sport and their own company, but also notes that many descended into despair upon leaving. Most of his former schoolmates at New Norcia have died early. Alf Taylor considers himself to be one of the 'lucky ones'.
Image: 'God the Devil and Me' by Alf Taylor. I love the cover with the single, coloured marble. (Source, Goodreads).
Smashing Serendipity: The Story of One Moorditj Yorga by Louise K. Hansen
Hansen's work is a slightly fictionalised account of her life. She has changed many names, but those in the know can readily identify themselves and others without too much trouble. Smashing Serendipity is the yarn Lavinia (Louise) tells her children and her grandchildren, gathered by the fire on the banks of the river where she grew up – the story of one good woman – one moordtj yorga – that reflects the stories of so many strong, determined women of her time.
We were extremely fortunate to have a work event where Louise's daughter Alice Kearing introduced Hansen's work and read a particularly poignant passage. The book is powerful in that it tells a no-holds-barred account of the time and environment of a recent period of our history.
Debessa – by Cindy Solonec
Confession: I haven't read this one – yet. I have, however, had the pleasure of meeting Dr Solonec, and this one is high on my TBR list. Hence, I quote Magabala Books' website.
'Debessa' is an "extraordinary and heartfelt story chronicles the lives of the Rodriguez family of 'Debesa' Station in the West Kimberley; their livelihood through difficult times, love of family, place and culture, and the challenges of day-to-day living on a small sheep station amid huge pastoral properties.
Spanning four generations from the 1880s when the author's maternal great-grandfather, Indian deckhand Jimmy Casim, met and lived with Nigena woman, Lucy Muninga on Yeeda Station near Derby, 'Debesa' centres on the unlikely partnership of Cindy's parents: Frank Rodriguez, once a Benedictine novice monk from Spain, and Katie Fraser, who had been a novitiate in a very different sort of abbey – a convent for 'black' women at Beagle Bay Mission, 130 kilometres north of Broome.
Frank and Katie Rodriguez established 'Debesa', where Cindy and her three siblings grew up with the rich cultural heritage of their Spanish, Nigena and English ancestors.
'Debesa' is a sweeping social history of one family's struggles and triumphs set against the backdrop of the beauty of the West Kimberley."
Image: 'Debessa' by Cindy Solonec (Source, Magabala Books)
I live as a guest of the Wadjuck Noongar people in Boorloo (Perth). I respectfully acknowledge that in this land now known as Australia, we exist on the unceded lands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of many nations. I pay my respect to all Indigenous members of our community, recognise their strong connection to country, family and culture and pay my respect to elders past, present and emerging.