Monday musings on Australian literature: Reading for Reconciliation

Funny sometimes how Monday Musings topics suddenly appear to me. I was researching for a future post, when I came across a site called Reading for Reconciliation – and couldn’t go past it for today’s post.

However, the site’s Home Page needs a bit of unpicking. It has a heading, “Finalists in 2012 Queensland Reconciliation Awards”, followed by text which reads “More than a ‘book club’ – we celebrated our 10th Anniversary in August 2014.” At first, I thought the page was going to list the 2012 finalists, but then I realised that they were saying that their bookclub was a finalist in the 2012 awards? Duh, silly me! Anyhow, the accompanying text tells us that the group:

  • is diverse in background and age, and has no political or religious affiliations; and
  • seeks “to expand our knowledge and understanding of current issues impacting on Australia’s First Peoples by reading and discussing works in an informal, friendly setting”.

They are a Brisbane group, which meets every 6 weeks or so – and they welcome new readers. The way they work is for members to take turns in leading discussion of the chosen book, with this leader being expected “to provide some extra background or context, focus the discussion, etc.” I’d be there if I lived in the Brisbane area. A bit more Googling uncovered the fact that they seem to run under the banner of Reconciliation Queensland Incorporated.

Paul Collis, Dancing homeAnyhow, next on the home page is the list of books they’ve scheduled for 2018:

  • John Newton, The oldest foods on earth
  • Damien Freeman & Shirleen Morris, The forgotten people
  • Anita Heiss, Barbed wire & cherry blossoms
  • Mark Tedeschi, Murder at Myall Creek
  • Mark Moran, Serious whitefella stuff
  • Mark McKenna, From the edge
  • Nonie Sharp, No ordinary judgement
  • Paul Collis, Dancing Home

A varied list, and one that contains some titles and authors I don’t know. However, the best thing about this site is that they also have a page listing every book they’ve discussed since they started in 2004. That’s a great resource for anyone else wanting to read for reconciliation (or start such a group!) It’s worth noting that the books they read aren’t all by indigenous Australians, and they include fiction and non-fiction. They’ve read books by indigenous authors like Kim Scott and Anita Heiss, Bruce Pascoe and Jeanine Leane, for example, all of whom you have met here. Non-indigenous writers they’ve read include novelist Kate Grenville and historians Henry Reynolds and Ann Curthoys.

Understanding the past to comprehend the present

Rosalind Kidd, The way we civiliseAnyhow, I kept Googling, as I wanted to find out how this group started, and up popped an article titled “Six Books for Reconciliation Week” on an Amnesty International site! The article is by the group’s founder Helen Carrick. She starts:

In a Brisbane suburban lounge room in 2004, a diverse group aged from their 20s to 70s gathered to discuss Ros Kidd’s ‘The way we civilize’, which Professor Marcia Langton has described as a “ground-breaking history in the lives of Aboriginal people.”

They may have been diverse but their reason for meeting was not. They “all wished to learn more about Australia’s shared history – all regretted this hadn’t been learned at school.” They believe that they need to understand the past, in order to comprehend the present.

Carrick then describes the group’s history to date – including moving its home from members’ lounge rooms – and lists some of its highlights, including:

  • being a finalist in those awards I mentioned above!
  • establishing their website
  • having authors attend some meetings to discuss their books
  • the establishment of similar groups in Logan City (still Qld – you can see their 2016 list here) and Lismore (NSW)

And with this, I’ll end, making it a short Monday Musings for us all. I’ll just say that it’s great seeing a group like this – and not just seeing it, but seeing it survive for more than a decade and seeing the idea copied by others. Meanwhile, if you’re interested but can’t join a group, there’s always Lisa (ANZLitLovers)’s Indigenous Reading Week. From little things, big things grow – hopefully.

Do you take part in any reading for reconciliation programs?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Reconciliation Day in Canberra

National Reconciliation Week 2018 LogoToday, 28 May 2018, we in Canberra celebrated our inaugural Reconciliation Day Public Holiday. We are the first jurisdiction in Australia to have such a public holiday*. From this year, this day will be held on the first Monday after 27 May or on the 27th if it is a Monday – the 27th being that anniversary of the 1967 referendum which resulted in a change to the Australian constitution to enable indigenous Australians “to be counted in reckoning the Population”. Our Reconciliation Day falls within Australia’s National Reconciliation Week (27 May to 3 June), whose theme this year is Don’t keep history a mystery: Learn. Share. Grow.

The aim of the Week (which commemorates both the Referendum and the MABO decision) is, as Reconciliation Australia says on its website, for “all Australians to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories, to share that knowledge and help us grow as a nation. And for this year’s theme, their aim is for us “to learn more about the Australian story.”

Now, to my mind there are two incontrovertible facts – no matter what interpretive layer might be added to them. These are that:

  1. Indigenous (Aboriginal) Australians were here first, tens of thousands of years first in fact.
  2. Non-indigenous Australians arrived in the late eighteenth century and took up land will-nilly to suit their needs, with no formal, practical recognition of the existing inhabitants and their ownership of the land.

Stan Grant, Talking to my countryWhen I decided to write this post I wondered how best to make it fit the Monday Musings subject, but the Week’s theme – Don’t keep history a mystery – gave me my angle. And so, although I recognise the importance of fiction to understanding history and its impact, here I’m going to share a selection of non-fiction works, by indigenous writers, which tell their history and/or the impacts of their history on their lives. (I’ve read some of these, including some before my blog, but not all). Here goes

  • Eric Wilmot’s Pemulwuy: the rainbow warrior (1987): a rare history, particularly at the time, of an indigenous Australian hero. We all know about Australian “heroes” from our past but how many of us know – or were taught about – Pemulwuy or Jandamarra, for example.
  • Ruby Langford Ginibi’s Don’t take your love to town (1988) is now regarded as a classic indigenous memoir, one documenting her survival in spite of the poverty and tragedy surrounding her.
  • Sally Morgan’s My place (1988): Although my consciousness had already been raised by reading books by non-indigenous writers, like CD Rowley, in the 1970s, it was Sally Morgan’s My place which really brought home for Aussies some of the ways dispossession had impacted indigenous people’s lives – the shame, in particular, that her ancestors had been made to feel.
  • Doris Pilkington’s Follow the rabbit-proof fence (1996, Bill’s review, The Australian Legend): one of the first stories – better known to many Aussies via the feature film – about Stolen Generation children’s experiences to come to the wider Australian public.
  • Anita Heiss’s Am I black enough for you (2012, my review) is a contemporary urban successful indigenous woman’s manifesto about the challenges of being indigenous in modern Australia, setting assumptions and expectations against facts.
  • Noel Pearson’s Quarterly Essay: A rightful place: race, recognition and a more complete Commonwealth (2014): the title says it all. I should have read this one.
  • Bruce Pascoe’s Dark emu, black seeds (2015, my review) which publisher Magabala Books says “attempts to rebut the colonial myths that have worked to justify dispossession.”
  • Stan Grant’s Talking to my country (2015, my review) which he was inspired to write when he realised that the booing of footballer Adam Goodes “was about our shared history and our failure to recognise it.” Exactly this week’s theme!Bruce Pasco, Dark emu

Reconciliation Australia lists more books and reports, including fiction and works by non-indigenous Australians. It’s well worth checking out – and contains many works I have never heard of, let alone read.

Meanwhile, there were many ways to celebrate Reconciliation Day in Canberra, including a Reconciliation Day Eve concert with Archie Roach and Tiddas, a Reconciliation Day in the Park event, and special events at various cultural institutions including the National Museum of Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive, and the National Gallery of Australia.

This is an important day for itself, but it’s also important to help redress the imbalance created in recent years by over-emphasis on the importance of Australia Day and ANZAC Day. I am not averse to these days but I am to suggestions that they, individually or together, define Australia and Australians. They don’t. They contribute to what makes us Aussies – but we have a bigger history that we must (personally and politically) also recognise and accept as being part of what defines us.

Do you have any favourite books on the topic? (Or on a similar critical topic, if you’re not Aussie?)

* It was created by replacing a previous holiday, rather than by adding an additional holiday to our calendar.