Indigenous reading challenge 2015

Today is the anniversary of the British colonisation of Australia in 1788. On this day, after a voyage of roughly 8 months, 1,500 British ‘officers, crew, marines and their families, and convicts’ disembarked on shores inhabited by the Eora nation.

At great cost to the original inhabitants, the British established the colony of New South Wales, thus laying the foundation for a new nation, Australia, which was formalised by the federation of the various British settlements throughout the continent over 100 years later on 1 January 1901.

If you go to the site of that first landing any day of the week, you’ll be greeted by the sight and sound of Aboriginal buskers playing the didgeridoo.

Celebrating the 26th of January remains controversial. Canberra University Chancellor Dr Tom Calma explains the issues with a lovely clarity here, and blogger/commentator Eugenia Flynn explores why even Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people have divergent opinions on whether to use the day to highlight the continued racism and discrimination they experience, to emphasise the survival of their people and cultures against the odds, or to just celebrate and put the past behind them.

Personally I think there’s a lot to celebrate about being Australian and I deeply love this country, but I believe that celebration shouldn’t be at the cost of, or insensitive to, the first people. If there was a referendum about Australia Day, I’d be voting to move it to the anniversary of federation, or perhaps some other date. Like if there was a treaty that acknowledged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people’s prior ownership of the land, that’s a date I’d celebrate.

But the problem with Australia Day is not just about the date. The day also puts a spotlight on our national ignorance (and prejudice) about the history of colonisation, and about Indigenous peoples’ histories and cultures. That’s why I’ve set myself this Indigenous Reading Challenge for 2015, and why I’m inviting you to participate: to better understand the experiences and cultures of the traditional custodians of the land we live on.

You don’t have to live in Australia to do this. If you live in another country with an Indigenous population, I encourage you read books by and about the first peoples of your land. If you live in a country where there isn’t a disenfranchised indigenous population, I invite you to broaden your horizons and understanding. And if you are Indigenous yourself, then you probably don’t need this challenge but if you’d like to participate I’d love to read your recommendations and reviews.

There are only 3 rules:

  • Read 5 books (or listen to 5 substantial podcasts) before the end of 2015. You can of course do more if you want, but I know we are all time-poor.
  • At least 3 of these should be by Indigenous people
  • At least 3 should relate to the Indigenous people of your own country (if possible).

Please use the comments below to share book suggestions, to commit to taking the challenge, share your reviews and opinions or just to provide an update on what you’ve read. If you post a review on your own blog, please link back and tag your post ‘Indigenous Reading Challenge’. Or you can share your thoughts on my Facebook page.

Not sure where to start?

Wiradjuri author Anita Heiss lists 99 ‘must reads’ by Aboriginal authors on her blog, and the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge also provides links to titles and resources. These are excellent starting points. Then to narrow it down you could decide to:

  • Read only books relating to the area where you live (the language group, or state/territory)
  • Focus on a particular theme, such as art, sport, politics, or the environment
  • Read only autobiographies, or only poetry, or only plays (and maybe then watch the film version)
  • Read only Indigenous authors, but choose a range from different places on the political spectrum
  • Take a historical approach: read a book for every century of colonisation to trace the interactions and impact.

Or like me, you could be completely haphazard in your approach. I’m planning to start with Marcia Langton’s famous Boyer lecture series on Aboriginal people, mining, and the environment movement. After that, who knows? Will you join me? What will be on your list?


I pay respect to the elders (past and present) of the Cadigal people of the Eora Nation on whose land I live.

The image at the top of this post is a shot of some fabric featuring designs by Aboriginal artists that I found in — of all places — Spotlight. All the fabrics include the names of design and designer in the selvedge. I imagine the patterns are based on very old designs used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people well before colonisation, which is why I use the image — as a reminder that there were people on this continent for many millennia before the British arrived.

This challenge was inspired in part by Kinna’s Africa Reading Challenge. I take a lot of trouble to educate myself about Africa because of my family links to Africa, but I decided I need to also pay attention to the gaps in my knowledge about Aboriginal Australia.


18 thoughts on “Indigenous reading challenge 2015

  1. Thank you so much for doing this!!! Of course I want to part of it. I have been reading a great deal about Indigenous people for various places. Anyone wanting to find book suggestions can search my blog–by country or by “Indigenous” I am in process of cleaning up my categories and tags so what you can find will be getting better.

    I found your blog about last year of biracial parenting. Good for you for doing that too. I wrote you a comment and tried to sign up for your blog, but then lost its it somewhere in the web. I will try again. I really would would like to be in touch.

  2. Thanks, I am so pleased you found me & I’ve signed up to follow you too. I look forward to finding out what you read for the challenge, as well as checking out your other posts.

  3. What an interesting idea Maamej. When we visited Australia we had a great deal of discussion about the indigenous people, and similarly while visiting New Zealand there was quite a bit of focus on the Maori people because they were in the midst of a legislative battle. Here in the US of course we have our own sad history with the Native Americans who have fared so badly over time. I think your idea is a good one and plan to propose it to my book club, thanks!

    • Thanks Tina, I hope your book club take it on – Lots of intersing stories to read. I didn’t know you had been to Australia & NZ, I hope you enjoyed being in this part of the world.

  4. I haven’t created lists to read for either this challenge. I regularly read books by and about Indigenous people in various places, so I am sure I that I will be reading some this year. I’d love your suggestions for some authors I haven’t discovered.

    • Please come back & let me know what you’ve read, I’d love to know.

      I’ve finished my first book but haven’t yet blogged about it. It’s Anita Heiss, ‘Am I Black enough for you”. She’s also written fiction, e.g. Manhattan Dreaming’, which you may want to check out.

      Years ago I read an amazing collection of oral histories called Raparapa about Aboriginal stockmen, which I hope to revist.

      Another book which I think was significant for a lot of non-Aboriginal Australians, is Sally Morgan’s My Place, because it was one of the first to give insights about how fear of children being stolen by the government lead some Aboriginal people to disguise their heritage.

      I read both of those in the 1980s when there wasn’t so much around by Indigenous authors, so I’m looking forward to reading more recent works.

      I had quite a collection of books because of studying Aboriginal history at Uni, but gave them all to a friend’s daughter when she was at Uni – I think I will have to ask for them back now!

      • Thanks!!! I will try to find /Raparapa/. Sally Morgan’s book was the first Australian Indigenous book I read. I have also read and reviewed /Am I Black enoug/h. Actually I have read others, too. My favorites are /Mullumbimby,/ by Melissa Lucashenko and Alexis Wright’s novels. I am fascinated how much Ausralian experiences are like Native American ones and yet how very different partly because of the importation of African slaves here. I will put together a list of what I have read to share with you and others.

        Marilyn > >

      • Thanks for the suggestions & I’m looking forward to seeing your list. I think there would be quite a few similarities with the experience of Native Americans, the reservation system, for one. I’m interested in reading your review of Anita Heiss book, but will hold off til I’ve done my own.

  5. I have read and reviewed two books for the Indigenous Reading Challenge. Heat and Light, by Ellen Van Neerven, is an unusual blend of family history and fantasy by a Australian Indigenous woman. See my review: Mixed Blood Indians: Racial Construction in the Early South, by Theda Perdue, is a detailed study of life among the Native American tribes in the US as early European traders first entered their lands and were forced to abide by tribal customs.

    I have also recently reread two classic books by Native American authors; Leslie Silko’s Ceremony and Scott Momaday’s The Bear. Both are among my favorites and both mix mythic stories with more contemporary narratives. I highly recommend hem both.

    • Thanks for participating, Heat and Light does sound unusual, and very interesting. Thanks also for the Native American recommendations, it’s rare to find their writing here in Australia so it’s good to have some suggestions.

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