Monday musings on Australian literature: Teaching indigenous texts

This post was inspired by an email I received from Reading Australia announcing a partnership with the Broome-based indigenous publisher Magabala Books for a project that was

inspired by the many teachers who reached out to Reading Australia to ask for more resources on works by Indigenous creators, and particularly units that showed non-Indigenous teachers how to teach Indigenous texts.

Then, quite coincidentally, I read on my Twitter feed this morning about a one-day seminar that had been run last week by AustLit’s BlackWords (about which I’ve written before) called Teaching with BlackWords Symposium – so I decided to broaden this post a little. As someone who is keen to promote and review indigenous writing but is always a bit anxious about it, I’m thrilled to see programs like these offering to help people who feel the same and who have formal responsibilities for teaching and sharing.

Reading Australia and Magabala Books

When I clicked on the link in my email announcing the Reading Australia-Magabala Books partnership, I discovered that this was the second such project, supported because of the success of the first. Both projects are funded by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.

The first project, implemented in 2017, involved Magabala Books creating resources for 15 books for primary school teachers to use in classrooms. You can access resources for 11 of the nominated 15 books on the Magabala site. I’m assuming that the rest is still to come.

Saffioti, Stolen girlSo, for example, the resource for Stolen Girl (which was written by Trina Saffioti and illustrated by Norma MacDonald) starts with a section titled “connecting to prior knowledge” and points teachers to additional resources like the Bringing them home report. The resource says the book is suitable for around Year 4 (ie around 9-10 year olds). It starts by encouraging children to think about the meaning of “home” and the difference between “house” and “home”. It asks teachers to carry out an Acknowledgement of Country, to discuss its meaning and to talk about the name of the country in which the school is located. It also refers them to use stories from a site called Australians Together. These are just a few of a whole raft of activities helping teachers explore the ideas and history behind this book.

Ali Cobby Eckermann, Ruby MoonlightThe 2018 partnership turns to secondary school teaching. It identifies 8 books (listed in the order used on the site) for which resources will be written:

  1. Becoming Kirrali Lewis by Jane Harrison
  2. Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe (my review)
  3. Grace Beside Me by Sue McPherson
  4. Jandamarra and the Bunuba Resistance by Banjo Woorunmurra and Howard Pederson
  5. Ruby Moonlight by Ali Cobby Eckermann (my review)
  6. Songs That Sound Like Blood by Jared Thomas
  7. Ubby’s Underdogs: Heroes Beginnings by Brenton E. McKenna
  8. Us Mob Walawurru by David Spillman and Lisa Wilyuka

I’ve only heard of a few of these books, but from what I do know it looks like a good variety.

I wonder how well promoted this program is, and how much it is being used in schools?

Teaching with BlackWords Symposium

Moving up the educational tree, the BlackWords Symposium was geared to secondary and tertiary teachers. The symposium was subtitled Best Practice for Teaching with Indigenous Stories, and promoted as “an important professional development event for teachers.”

The promotion continued:

Have you ever felt concerned, awkward about, or ill-prepared to teach Indigenous authored texts and issues into your classroom?  Would you like advice on how to respectfully use Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander stories and history in your teaching? Do you think your teaching could benefit from a deeper understanding of the concerns and issues that First Nations writers address in their work?

The symposium was apparently sold out. How wonderful is that?

The  speakers were some of our big movers and shakers in promoting indigenous literature, Dr Anita Heiss, Professor Larissa Behrendt, Dr Sandra R. Phillips, and Samuel Wagan Watson. Also, someone I don’t know, Lindsay Williams, described as the “English Teacher Guru”, led a workshop on “using AustLit’s BlackWords resources in the classroom”. The day was chaired by Anita Hess and Kerry Kilner (of AustLit). AWW team member and author Jessica White, whose novel Entitlement I’ve reviewed, tweeted that it was “an amazing day”. Lucky her.

Things are happening, consciousnesses are being raised – but we are a long way, yet, from resting on our laurels.

7 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Teaching indigenous texts

  1. “Things are happening” I agree and if we are not yet at the end of the beginning then at least we have made a start. Though I’m not persuaded that ‘we’ includes anyone official. Anyway, a good and useful post. I’ll forward it to my primary school teacher son.

    • Haha Bill, I forwarded the link to my Primary School teacher son too.

      As for official, I suppose it depends on what you mean by “official”but if we’re talking politicians as a group, you are probably right.

  2. What a brilliant decision around 30 years for the Broome people of Magabala Books to use otherwise tainted Bi-centennial (1988) money to set up this publishing co-operative. I was pretty quickly ordering books/buying Magabala Imprint books for use in my teaching (secondary) for my own reading – and as gifts. During two years as a secondary school level teacher-exchangee to Japan I was out of the loop somewhat but in the year of my return – the September – my wife and I went to Broome – and among other things paid a visit to the Bookstore – selecting five or six volumes recently published. The woman on the desk was pleasant. I mentioned my time in Japan including a visit to a noted former pearl shell diving master by then returned to South-east Wakayama-ken – to a town which was then sister-town to Broome. She smiled and asked me the name of that identity. I told her – at which her eyes widened: That’s my (foster/step) father. He raised me (along with her mother)! TAKATA Shōji his name. One degree of separation!

    • As they say, a small world Jim. And yes re Magabala. And I love that they are based so remotely in Broome but manage to move and shake anyhow. I remember seeing their business when I was in Broome a bit over 10 years ago now, but for some reason didn’t pop in.

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