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Monday musings on Australian literature: Recent books by Indigenous Australians

June 27, 2016

Next week, from 3rd to 10th of July, Lisa at ANZLitlovers is running her now annual Indigenous Literature Week. While she usually holds it during or near Australia’s NAIDOC Week in order to support that program’s goal of increasing awareness and understanding of indigenous Australian culture, she does in fact accept reviews of works by any indigenous authors worldwide. In other words, you don’t have to be or read Australian to join in, so if you’d like to raise awareness of an indigenous culture near (or not so near) you, do head over to her blog (link above) and make your contribution.

Lisa has included links to lists of indigenous Australian books, including her own, to get people started, so I’m not going to repeat that. But, for my own benefit as well as to support Lisa’s week, I thought I’d suss out and share some works – across genres and forms – that have been published in the last 12 months or so. It’s a serendipitous list:

  • Tony Birch, Ghost riverLarissa Behrendt’s Finding Eliza: Power and colonial storytelling (UQP, 2016): historical analysis of how indigenous people – in Australia and elsewhere – have been portrayed in stories by the colonisers.
  • Tony Birch’s Ghost river (UQP, 2015) (my review): novel set in working class Melbourne in 1960s; long-listed for the 2016 Miles Franklin Award.
  • Ali Cobby Eckermann’s Inside my mother (Giramondo, 2015): poetry collection.
  • Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis‘ Pictures from my memory: My story as a Ngaatjatjarra woman (Aboriginal Studies Press, 2016). (Yvonne’s Stumbling through the past review): memoir by a Central Australian woman.
  • Stan Grant’s Talking to my country (Lisa’s ANZlitLovers review): memoir, exploring the complicated experience of growing up black in a white dominated world.
  • Ambelin Kwaymullina’s The foretelling of Georgie Spider (Walker Books, 2015): the last in her Young Adult fantasy series, the Tribe trilogy, set in a post-apocalyptic world in which Aboriginal culture and philosophy play a significant role.
  • Marie Munkara’s Of ashes and rivers that flow to the sea (Vintage, 2016): memoir about her search for her origins. (I read her David Unaipon award-winning Every secret thing, and loved her voice)
  • Lesley and Tammy Williams’ Not just black and white (UQP, 2015) (Lisa’s ANZLitLovers review): won the David Unaipon Award in 2014

I decided to focus just on 2015 to 2016, but in my research I included the new biennial Indigenous Writers Prize in the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards, and found that the 2016 joint winners were books published in 2014, so I’m including them too:

  • Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu (Magabala Books, 2014) (Lisa’s ANZLitLovers review): analyses pre-colonial indigenous Australian culture suggesting that it was more “settled” than the common “hunter-gatherer” assumption. (I’ll be reading this with my reading group later this year.)
  • Ellen van Neerven’s Heat and light (UQP, 2014) (my review): collection of stories, some connected, some not, and including a longform speculative story, about living as an indigenous person in contemporary Australia.

But what am I hoping to read? First up, an older book, Ali Cobby Eckermann’s Ruby Moonlight, followed by, if I have time, a newer one, Stan Grant’s Talking to my country.

Do you make a point of reading indigenous literature? And do you have favourites?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2016 6:40 am

    Thank you for sharing this important reading list

  2. June 28, 2016 9:08 am

    From the list you supplied, I know I will be reading Stan Grant’s book because it is one of my book club reads this year. Ghost River is a good read, and Heat and Light is one of my favourite books. I do make a point of reading Australian literature, and that does include indigenous literature.

    • June 28, 2016 2:43 pm

      Darn, I replied to this earlier today. Where’s it gone? Anyhow, just wanted to say I agree with you re Heat and light, and Ghost river. I’m looking forward to reading Stan Grant and Bruce Pasco, would love to read Behrendt’s Finding Eliza and Marie Munkara’s latest too. Hmmm … no more typing now, best get reading!

  3. June 28, 2016 1:19 pm

    Thanks for your support, Sue, you are a gem:)
    I am pleased to see you have Ali Cobby Eckermann’s Inside my mother and Marie Munkara’s Of Ashes and Rivers that Flow to the Sea in your list, because I have read both of these for this year’s ILW and have scheduled the reviews for July 3 and 4. I am wondering if I should check out Ambelin Kwaymullina’s – fantasy is not my thing but because the ABC TV series Cleverman is so gripping, I might find myself liking it! (Ambelin Kwaymullina BTW does the most gorgeous colourful picture books, if ever you are looking for something for children. I had a few of them at school and the kids loved them).

    • June 28, 2016 2:47 pm

      Very happy to lend a hand Lisa.

      And thanks, I didn’t know Kwaymullina had done picture books. With friends having grandchildren now I am on the lookout but feel quite out of touch when I go into bookshops.
      We haven’t started watching Cleverman yet – but have them all on our hard drive waiting. The Kwaymullina series is dystopian I think – probably not your thing? I’m not into fantasy either but I do quite like dystopias BUT I don’t want to get hooked on a series so these particular books probably won’t be high on my list.

      • June 28, 2016 4:46 pm

        *chuckle* it’s always a risk, getting hooked on a series, isn’t it!

        • June 28, 2016 6:05 pm

          Yes! And one I try to avoid – I prefer variety, I think, in my reading, though I will watch series on TV. Hmm …

  4. ian darling permalink
    June 28, 2016 6:52 pm

    That is an impressive list and a very encouraging one. My guess is that in up to perhaps 20 years ago there would not have been such a range of indigenous material available.

    • June 28, 2016 11:32 pm

      I think you’d be absolutely right Ian. It would be great to see more, and particularly more Aussies reading more indigenous works but it’s certainly moving in the right direction.

  5. July 1, 2016 6:30 am

    A very nice list! And such variety too. Very cool that there is an Indigenous writer’s prize!

    • July 1, 2016 8:16 am

      Thanks Stefanie. We have a couple, actually. The David Unaipon, part of the Queensland Literary Awards is a very longstanding one.

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