Indigenous Writing

Aunty Ronnie is a Kurnai and Gunditjmara woman. She is also a mother of three, a grandmother of two, and one of Australia’s most underrated comedians. Black and Blue, her autobiography, is an enthralling book set primarily in three places: Bung Yarnda, Morwell (Black), and the Queensland Police Service (Blue), where Aunty Ronnie served as a member for ten years. The title is a play on the old saying ‘black and blue’, which commonly refers to someone covered in bruises.

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‘And what is wrong with sad stories? The world is always sad.’ So advises Little Red, the aged, marginalised, knowing female character in the title story of Tony Birch’s latest short fiction collection. As in Birch’s previous works, Dark as Last Night contains an abundance of sad stories, but with grief and trauma ameliorated by the main protagonist’s affection for at least one other character, be it a family member or neighbour.

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Homecoming by Elfie Shiosaki

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July 2021, no. 433

Noongar and Yawuru poet and academic Elfie Shiosaki writes in the introduction to her new poetry collection, Homecoming, that it is the story of four generations of Noongar women of which she is the sixth. The poems are ‘fragments of many stars’ in her ‘grandmothers’ constellations’. Shiosaki ‘tracks her grandmothers’ stars’ to find her ‘bidi home’. The introduction reads as a beautifully crafted prose poem that contextualises the works that follow.

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After Story by Larissa Behrendt

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July 2021, no. 433

In the latter half of this novel, one of its protagonists is viewing a collection of butterflies at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. This forms part of Jasmine’s holiday with her mother, Della, a tour of famous literary and other notable cultural sites in the United Kingdom. By this stage they have visited Stratford-upon-Avon, Brontë country in Haworth, and Jane Austen’s Bath and Southampton, and have been duly impressed or, in Della’s case, underwhelmed. But now Jasmine can only feel sadness: ‘We take the life of a living thing, hold it to display, because we feel entitled to the knowledge, entitled to the owning, the possessing.’

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On Thomas Keneally by Stan Grant & With the Falling of the Dusk by Stan Grant

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June 2021, no. 432

Let’s start with a portrait. The year is 1993. The book is My Kind of People. Its author is Wayne Coolwell, a journalist. Who are Coolwell’s kind of people? Ernie Dingo, for one. Sandra Eades. Noel Pearson. Archie Roach. And there, sandwiched between opera singer Maroochy Barambah and dancer Linda Bonson is Stan Grant, aged thirty. Circa 1993, Grant is a breakthrough television presenter and journalist whose mother remembers him coming home to read the newspaper while the other kids went to play footy. ‘[T]here was a maturity and a sense of order about him,’ Coolwell writes. The order belies his parents’ life of ‘tin humpies, dirt floors, and usually only the one bed for all the kids in the family’.

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There are two famous statues in the Gundagai area. One is the Dog on the Tuckerbox. The other is of two heroes, Yarri and Jacky Jacky, who, with other Wiradjuri men, went out in their bark canoes on many exhausting and dangerous forays to rescue an estimated sixty-nine people from the Great Flood of 1852.

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Set in colonial Australia in the 1960s and 1970s, Karen Wyld’s new novel Where the Fruit Falls examines the depths of Black matriarchal fortitude over four generations. Across the continent, Black resistance simmers. First Nations people navigate continued genocide and displacement, with families torn apart by the state. Where the Fruit Falls focuses on the residual effects and implications of such realities, though it presents a quieter narrative: one of apple trees, wise Aunties, guiding grandmothers, and settlers both malicious and kind-hearted.

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When you begin to read a book about a remote town heralded by the sign ‘Darnmoor, The Gateway to Happiness’, you know it’s not going to be a happy place. The opening chapter of Nardi Simpson’s first novel describes a neat, drab town of streets with names like Grace and Hope. Under a vast cerulean sky, a whitewashed war memorial lies at its ‘bleeding and dead centre’.

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In today's episode, listen to Mykaela Saunders read the entirety of her remarkable 'River Story', which won this year's ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize. Mykaela is a Koori writer, teacher, and community researcher. Of Dharug and Lebanese ancestry, she’s working-class and queer, and belongs to the Tweed Aboriginal community. Mykaela has worked in Aboriginal education since 2003, and her research explores trans-generational trauma and healing in her community. 

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Fire Front, edited by Gomeroi author and scholar Alison Whittaker, is an anthology of contemporary First Nations poetry. Featuring several eminent Australian writers – including Ellen van Neerven, Tony Birch, Alexis Wright, and many more – this collection serves as a testament to the contemporary renaissance of First Nations poetry. It is divided into five thematic sections, each introduced by an essay written by a prominent Aboriginal writer and thinker, such as Bruce Pascoe, Ali Cobby Eckermann, and Evelyn Araluen.

In this episode, listen to Declan Fry discuss Fire Front before reading his review of the book. 

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