At UQ, we talk a lot about creating change, but sometimes it can be hard to know where to start.
According to panellists at our recent ChangeMakers event – Black Lives Matter: an Australian Context – the best way for individuals to meaningfully contribute towards Reconciliation and justice for Indigenous peoples is to educate yourself, particularly by reading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors.
So, what better time to start the conversation? Read an Indigenous author and share it with a friend, or suggest it at your next book club. Hear their stories, voices, histories, concerns and solutions, and celebrate the unique and important perspective Indigenous authors contribute to Australian literature.
To get you started, we've curated a list of some of our favourite reads from UQ's Indigenous alumni and the Indigenous authors of UQP.
This fierce debut from award-winning writer Evelyn Araluen confronts the tropes and iconography of an unreconciled nation with biting satire and lyrical fury. Dropbear interrogates the complexities of colonial and personal history with an alternately playful, tender and mournful intertextual voice, deftly navigating the responsibilities that gather from sovereign country, the spectres of memory and the debris of settler-coloniality. This innovative mix of poetry and essay offers an eloquent witness to the entangled present, an uncompromising provocation of history, and an embattled but redemptive hope for a decolonial future.
The stories in Born Into This throw light on a world of unique cultural practice and perspective, from Indigenous rangers trying to instil some pride in wayward urban teens on the harsh islands off the coast of Tasmania to those scraping by on the margins of white society railroaded into complex and compromised decisions. To this mix Adam Thompson manages to bring humour, pathos and occasionally a sly twist as his characters confront racism, untimely funerals, classroom politics and, overhanging all like a discomforting, burgeoning awareness for both white and black Australia, the inexorable damage and disappearance of the remnant natural world.
Wise-cracking Kerry Salter has spent a lifetime avoiding two things – her hometown and prison. But now her Pop is dying and she’s an inch away from the lockup, so she heads south on a stolen Harley.
Kerry plans to spend twenty-four hours, tops, over the border. She quickly discovers, though, that Bundjalung country has a funny way of grabbing on to people. Old family wounds open as the Salters fight to stop the development of their beloved river. And the unexpected arrival on the scene of a good-looking dugai fella intent on loving her up only adds more trouble – but then trouble is Kerry’s middle name.
Gritty and darkly hilarious, Too Much Lip offers redemption and forgiveness where none seems possible.
By Tony Birch
Odette Brown has lived her whole life on the fringes of a small country town. Raising her granddaughter Sissy on her own, Odette has managed to stay under the radar of the welfare authorities who are removing Aboriginal children from their communities. When the menacing Sergeant Lowe arrives in town, determined to fully enforce the law, any freedom that Odette and Sissy enjoy comes under grave threat. Odette must make an impossible choice to protect her family.
In The White Girl, Tony Birch has created memorable characters whose capacity for love and courage are a timely reminder of the endurance of the human spirit.
In this ground-breaking book, Distinguished Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson undertakes a compelling analysis of the whiteness of Australian feminism and its effects on Indigenous women. From an Indigenous woman’s standpoint, as a Goenpul woman and an academic, she ‘talks up’, engages with and interrogates western feminism in representation and practice.
Through examining an extensive range of feminist literature written mainly by white scholars and activists, Moreton-Robinson shows how whiteness dominates from a position of power and privilege as an invisible norm and unchallenged practice. She illustrates the ways in which Indigenous women have been represented in the publications and teachings of white Australian women, revealing that such renderings of Indigenous lives contrast with how Indigenous women re/present and understand themselves.
Persuasive and engaging, this book is a necessary argument for the inclusion of Indigenous perspectives in the teachings and practices that impact on Australian society. This new edition proves the continued relevance of this classic work as a critique of the whiteness of western feminism.
Aboriginal lawyer, writer and filmmaker Larissa Behrendt has long been fascinated by the story of Eliza Fraser, who was purportedly captured by the Butchulla people after she was shipwrecked on their island off the Queensland coast in 1836. In this deeply personal book, Behrendt uses Eliza’s tale as a starting point to interrogate how Aboriginal people – and indigenous people of other countries – have been portrayed in their colonisers’ stories.
Exploring works as diverse as Robinson Crusoe and Coonardoo, Behrendt looks at the stereotypes embedded in these accounts, including the assumption of cannibalism and the myth of the noble savage. Ultimately, Finding Eliza shows how these stories not only reflect the values of their storytellers but also reinforce those values – and how, in Australia, this has contributed to a complex racial divide.
Throat is the explosive second poetry collection from award-winning Mununjali Yugambeh writer Ellen van Neerven. Exploring love, language and land, van Neerven flexes their muscles and shines a light on Australia’s unreconciled past and precarious present with humour and heart. Unsparing in its interrogation of colonial impulse, this book is fiercely loyal to voicing our truth and telling the stories that make us who we are.
Samuel Wagan Watson set the literary world alight in 1999 with his David Unaipon award-winning collection of poems Of Muse, Meandering and Midnight. His next volume, Smoke Encrypted Whispers, won Book of the Year at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards over Tim Winton.
In this, his first new volume of poetry in nearly a decade, he once again excites, inspires and shocks. Woven into this collection is a dark, satirical take on contemporary Australia, with its acquisitiveness and materialism, Wagan Watson shows an intense political engagement. The poems are dynamic, vivid and powerful, containing the clear language of witness reminiscent of Indigenous song-writers such as Kev Carmody and Dr Yunupingu.
This is an extraordinary story of courage and faith. It is based on the actual experiences of three girls who fled from the repressive life of Moore River Native Settlement, following along the rabbit-proof fence back to their homelands.
Assimilationist policy deemed these girls should be taken from their kin and their land in order to be made white. Never having seen the ocean before, the three girls’ experience of transportation by boat to the settlement was tormenting. But their torment was just beginning. Settlement life was unbearable with its chains and padlocks, barred windows, hard cold beds and horrible food. Solitary confinement was doled out as regular punishment. They were not even allowed to speak their language.
Of all the journeys made since white people set foot on Australian soil, the 1931 journey made by these girls born of Aboriginal mothers and white fathers speaks something to us all.
Lesley Williams was forced to leave the Cherbourg Aboriginal Settlement and her family at a young age to work as a domestic servant. Apart from pocket money, Lesley never saw her wages – they were kept ‘safe’ for her and for countless others just like her. She was taught not to question her life, until desperation made her start to wonder, where is all that money she earned? And so began a nine-year journey for answers.
Inspired by her mother’s quest, a teenage Tammy Williams entered a national writing competition with an essay about injustice. The winning prize took Tammy and Lesley to Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch and ultimately to the United Nations in Geneva. Along the way, they found courage they never thought they had and friendship in the most unexpected places.
By Chris Sarra
Chris Sarra is best-known nationally as the school principal who turned around the toxic culture and poor attendance rates at Cherbourg State School in Queensland. Slowly, Sarra’s ‘Strong and Smart’ vision lifted community expectations and transformed Cherbourg into a school with below-average rates of truancy, growth in student numbers and low levels of vandalism. Under Chris’ leadership the school became nationally acclaimed for its pursuit of the ‘Strong and Smart’ philosophy and Chris’ work there was featured on ABC’s Australian Story (2004). In November 2009 he was named Queensland’s Australian of the Year.
Good Morning, Mr Sarra is the story of the ordinary, yet extraordinary, life behind this vision. From his childhood as one of ten children in a country town, to the galvanising of his educational philosophy at university, to its support at a national level. Now with his Stronger Smarter Institute, Chris Sarra is pursuing and achieving improved outcomes in literary, numeracy and attendance for Indigenous children across the country. By providing leadership and education to a new generation of Aboriginal students, he is offering them the means to determine their own futures.
When May’s mother dies suddenly, she and her brother Billy are taken in by Aunty. However, their loss leaves them both searching for their place in a world that doesn’t seem to want them. While Billy takes his own destructive path, May sets out to find her father and her Aboriginal identity.
Her journey leads her from the Australian east coast to the far north, but it is the people she meets, not the destinations, that teach her what it is to belong.
Swallow the Air is an unforgettable story of living in a torn world and finding the thread to help sew it back together.
Nearly twenty years ago, Ruby Langford Ginibi’s remarkable talent for storytelling grabbed the attention of both white and black Australians when she released Don’t Take Your Love to Town, which has gone on to become a bestseller and is now a seminal work of Indigenous memoir.
Don’t Take Your Love to Town is a story of courage in the face of poverty and tragedy. Ruby recounts losing her mother when she was six, growing up in a mission in northern New South Wales and leaving home when she was fifteen. She lived in tin huts and tents in the bush and picked up work on the land while raising nine children virtually single-handedly. Later she struggled to make ends meet in the Koori areas of Sydney. Ruby is an amazing woman whose sense of humour has endured through all the hardships she has experienced.
A special feature by our moderator
Edited by Anita Heiss
What is it like to grow up Aboriginal in Australia? This anthology, compiled by award-winning author Anita Heiss, showcases many diverse voices, experiences and stories in order to answer that question. Accounts from well-known authors and high-profile identities sit alongside those from newly discovered writers of all ages. All of the contributors speak from the heart – sometimes calling for empathy, oftentimes challenging stereotypes, always demanding respect.
This groundbreaking collection from the Growing Up series will enlighten, inspire and educate about the lives of Aboriginal people in Australia today. Contributors include: Tony Birch, Deborah Cheetham, Adam Goodes, Terri Janke, Patrick Johnson, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Jack Latimore, Celeste Liddle, Amy McQuire, Kerry Reed-Gilbert, Miranda Tapsell, Jared Thomas, Aileen Walsh, Alexis West, Tara June Winch, and many, many more.
This list was curated with the support of UQP and panellists from the UQ ChangeMakers event, Black Lives Matter: the Australian context. The discussion explored the issues that the global Black Lives Matter movement has brought to the fore in Australia, including deaths in custody and wrongful conviction, but also broader inequality, such as how race manifests healthcare, academia and media.