I’ve mentioned the David Unaipon Award several times in passing but have never devoted a post specifically to it. Today seemed to be a good time to do it, as it would mean I’ve bookended this year’s NAIDOC week with Monday Musings posts devoted to indigenous literature.
Just to recap, David Unaipon is credited as the first indigenous author to be published, with a commissioned book on Aboriginal Legends in the early 1920s. He is featured on Australia’s $50 note. To commemorate him, the David Unaipon Award for unpublished Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders was established in 1988, and has had a rather chequered career. In 1999, it became part of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. When those awards were abolished in 2012 by new Premier Campbell Newman, it was carried over to the new Queensland Literary Awards.
I have read and reviewed several past winners on this blog: Ellen van Neerven’s Heat and Light (2013), Jeanine Leane’s Purple Threads (2010), Marie Munkara’s Every Secret Thing (2008), and Tara June Winch’s Swallow the Air (2004, originally titled Dust on Waterglass).
But this is only a start. The list of winners, from the first award made in 1989, represents a useful list for anyone looking for works by indigenous authors to read. Here are a few writers that I’m keen to follow up:
- Samuel Wagan Watson, a poet, who won in 1999 with Of Muse, Meandering and Midnight. According to the New South Wales Writers’ Centre this work is “a collection of moments: snatches of life in urban Brisbane, glimpses into childhood recollections”. Watson is a well-known raconteur, and during NAIDOC Week last week, I heard him recite a very entertaining, gently subversive poem “A message to my publisher”. It reminded me that I need to keep him high in my TBR list, either this book or one of his later ones.
- Larissa Berendt, a writer, lawyer and academic, who won in 2002 with her novel Home. This novel also won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Novel in the south-east Asian/South Pacific region. It explores the complex notion of “home” for people for whom home has become a fraught notion: they’ve been dispossessed, stolen, or separated for a variety of reasons from their roots and significant connections. Her second novel, Legacy, won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Prize for Indigenous Writing in 2010. She is frequently recommended to me, and so is also high on my TBR list.
- Gayle Kennedy, a writer who won in 2006 with her “road trip” novel Me, Antman and Fleabag. It was also shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award and Deadly Award. She was featured in a Guest Post on the Australian Women Writers Challenge last week so, rather than add my own words here, I’ll just point you to there! Fair enough? (There’s an added incentive for visiting that post. If you read and review a work by an indigenous Australian in July you can go in the draw to win a copy of Me, Antman and Fleabag.)
- Dylan Coleman, a more recent winner of the award, winning in 2011 with Mazin’ Grace. It was also shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the 2013 Stella Prize. Like Marie Munkara’s Every secret thing, its subject is mission life, a significant part of indigenous Australian experience and a story that needs to be told.
These are just four from a much longer list. I have no idea how many of these books are still in print, but hopefully most if not all are available in libraries. I wonder?