Edenglassie is the seventh novel by acclaimed Bunjalung novelist Melissa Lucashenko. Set in a brief historical window – a little-known interim of time and place after transportation of convicts had ended but before Queensland became an independent colony in 1859 – this narrative moves seamlessly between what whitefellas might call past, present, and near future. In this interface, Lucashenko creates characters that cause the reader to not only ask – what if? but also where to now?
The best literary short fiction gives the author an opportunity to stretch their limbs from poetry into abstraction, painting emotion in words without the need to make figurative or even internal sense. The story does not need to be a medium for delivering ‘story’, as such, but can become a container of emotion, for the feelings the artist intends to deliver. The emotion delivered by literary fiction teaches us to feel empathy for the characters, making the short form an effective empathy delivery vehicle.
Given the huge popularity of crime fiction, some readers might wonder why there are not more examples by Aboriginal authors. Perhaps it is because crime in general is too close to the bone. It was only coincidental to be reviewing Julie Janson’s Madukka the River Serpent amid the controversy that followed the ABC’s coverage of the recent coronation, yet the relevance was inescapable. For the tiny number of readers unaware, this is when the slimy gutter of social media-fuelled racism dragged journalist Stan Grant down to the point where the national broadcaster lost one of its best (temporarily, one hopes). Grant’s departure speech at the end of his final Q&A on 21 May was so moving and thought-provoking it will stand in history alongside other landmark speeches – Paul Keating’s Redfern address springs to mind – and may well prove to be a catalyst for reform. Though prompted by cruelty and hate, it responded with generosity and love – love of people, love of culture, love of country.
The handsome reissue in one volume, by Collins, of Australian Legendary Tales with illustrations by Rex Backhaus-Smith, is a most welcome addition to current publications for Australian enthusiasts and certainly well overdue.
Some stories are very familiar to us, as a society, stories whose ugly truths we seem to have accepted, may even have, belatedly, apologised for, but the story of Joy Janaka Wiradjuri Williams, as told by Peter Read, reveals how much White Australia still has to learn about the complexity of our national past and the tragedy of its continuing legacy. Eileen Williams, three weeks after her birth in 1943, was sent to the United Aborigines Mission Home at Bomaderry, where she was renamed Joy. She grew up in state institutions and was later incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals, spending many years struggling with alcohol and drugs. As a young woman she had a baby taken from her, a repetition of the trauma inflicted on her mother and her grandmother. Joy, a poet and activist, mounted a long and unsuccessful lawsuit against the New South Wales state government. She died of cancer, alone, in 2006.
It seems a world away since 1968 when Kevin Gilbert and Brian Syron got together a group of untutored Aboriginal actors in the back garden of Judge Frank McGrath’s house in Centennial Park, Sydney, to read the first draft of The Cherry Pickers. Amy and Frank McGrath, dedicated theatre-lovers, had turned their stables into the Mews Playhouse and, in that time of extraordinary theatrical nationalism, were, for a short space, one of its most innovatory influences.
If nothing else, Lionel Fogarty’s longevity as a poet should bring him to our attention. Kargun, his first work, was published forty-two years ago amid the ferment of utopian Black Panther politics, discriminatory legislation, and racialised police violence. Fogarty’s finest work, Ngutji, published in 1984, drew on his experience growing up in Cherbourg Aboriginal Settlement, but the breadth of his poetic vision was already evident. Some of the early poems such as ‘Jephson Street Brothers Who Had None’ and ‘Remember Something Like This’ originate in Fogarty’s experience of Cherbourg Aboriginal Mission and radical politics, but the poems’ truths are non-propositional and essentially human.
It opens with an enigmatic statement – ‘It might take two hundred years’ – (what might?) – and then presents an enigmatic situation. Amidst Australian bush images and scraps of Aboriginal sounding stories, there is someone called Fox wandering around.
Fox, we soon learn, is a young chap called Jim Fox who is making a mysterious trip to Sydney from a farm he once lived on somewhere up the Murray.
He’d expected to be able to just go to places and remain anonymous, for people to just accept his presence as easily as he did theirs, with only the questions which could be answered by your own observations.
He was wrong, of course. People do ask him where he’s from and where he’s headed for and why he’s going there. Fox never says much, but no one minds; people only say affectionately ‘you’re a strange bugger, Fox’ and buy him beers, and give him rides, jobs, money, places to stay, and all the best advice they know.
The brief and unpretentious biography of Noel Pearson on the dust jacket of Mission: Essays, speeches and ideas describes him as ‘a lawyer, activist and founder of the Cape York Institute’. Although surely accurate, this gives little indication of the stature this remarkable man has assumed in Australian public life over the past thirty years. If Pearson is an activist, it is of an unusual kind: one who has combined the roles of insider and outsider, agitator and wonk, intellectual and politician, in highly original and productive ways.
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.