Indigenous reading challenge

My 2015 challenge: the wrap up

On Invasion (Australia) Day 2015, I set myself, and anyone else who cared to participate, the challenge of reading at least 5 books by Indigenous authors within the year.

The motivation I gave for doing this challenge was ‘to better understand the experiences and cultures of the traditional custodians of the land we live on’. Of course books are not the only way to do this. When I was a student in the 1980s I read a lot about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, politics and culture, but since then I’ve continued learning from Indigenous radio and TV programs, and from working with Aboriginal colleagues.

But I do love books — the long read — and I decided it was unacceptable that books by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so rarely made it onto my bookshelf. Setting the Indigenous Reading Challenge was a way of making sure that they got back onto my to-be-read (TBR) list. Continue reading


17983396-proximaImagine my surprise when the last book I read in 2015, hard science fiction about interplanetary colonisation by British author Stephen Baxter, inadvertently slotted itself into the Indigenous Reading Challenge I set myself earlier in the year.

The book – Proxima – is not a perfect fit with the challenge because it is not by an Indigenous author, but one of the main characters is Aboriginal Australian.


Continue reading

Black Swans

20150529_085842‘A wild black swan in a cage

Puts all of heaven in a rage’

— Robert Adamson, ‘After William Blake’, quoted in The Swan Book

A few months ago I suggested to my book club that we read The Swan Book, by Indigenous author Alexis Wright. My suggestion didn’t fly. Two people (there were five of us) admitted they’d been unable to finish Carpentaria, another of Wright’s novels. They didn’t really explain why, they just looked a little embarrassed. But as soon as I picked up The Swan Book myself, I understood. It’s a challenging read.

Challenging, but so worth it. Continue reading

In exile, but ‘Still a Pygmy’

still-a-pygmyI admit I felt a bit uneasy at the idea of reading a book called ‘Still a Pygmy’. Isn’t that a bit, well, politically incorrect?

Apparently not. The pygmy in question, Isaac Bacirongo, beams from the cover of his memoir. Hard to argue with that endorsement.

His collaborating author, white Australian Michael Nest, knows that potential readers may feel the same political squeamishness as I did, so he explains in the introduction that using this word is completely fine. Even if he hadn’t done this, it becomes clear as you read the book that Bacirongo is claiming the name with pride, using it to strip away the cloud of invisibility that surrounds his people, the Indigenous people of the rainforests of Central Africa. Continue reading

Black enough for who?

Book cover - Anita Heiss looks over her glasses at the reader.In her Boyer Lectures, Marcia Langton points out that many white Australians haven’t really got to grips with the reality that Aboriginal people can be middle class. Instead they cling to a particular stereotype of Australia’s Indigenous population: very dark skinned, very poor and in need of help, either living isolated from modern society in remote areas, or begging on urban streets.

It’s a convenient stereotype, because it enables non-Aboriginal Australians to continue acting in racist and paternalistic ways towards Indigenous people, including denying them the right to self-determination and identity. Continue reading

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. Continue reading