Aussies Rule Challenge 11 – A book that features Aboriginal Spirituality

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Hi folks, it’s been a while since I’ve posted specifically about the Aussies Rule Challenge (life has been doing a thing) but we’re back! How is it September already? How is your challenge going?

I thought I would talk about prompt 11 today, which is a book that features Aboriginal spirituality (by an Aboriginal author).

The more I explore Aboriginal writing the less I realise I know (true for all things for me, but definitely in this area). Most of the reading I have done of Aboriginal writing up until recently seems to have been of memoir styled stories. A number of fiction writers that I have read more recently beautifully weave their spirituality through their works, and this are the ones I’m going to be suggesting today. This is probably the smallest number of authors and books that I have suggested for a prompt, but I don’t think you could go wrong with any of them.

Alexis Wright

Kim Scott

Melissa Lucashenko

What other books would you add to this list?

Cheers,

Australian Black History Month TBR

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should note that this post may contain the names and images of deceased persons.

Welcome to July, which is Black History Month here in Australia. I have a bunch of books on my TBR this month that I’m really excited to get to. I’m looking forward to the #24in48 Readathon on the weekend of July 21 – 22 to help me get through this stack. (Don’t forget to sign up for the Readathon! There are prizes and everything!)

Before I get to the books there are a couple of things I would suggest you do if you’re not familiar with the Australian Black History Month. This year is the 10th anniversary and the focus is on amazing Aboriginal women.

  • Check out the Blak History Month official site which has resources and information.
  • Check out your local council website to find out what is going on locally and go get involved! If you’re in Brisbane, you can find more information here.
  • Follow @IndigenousX on Twitter. Founded by Luke Pearson, the IndigenousX twitter handle is run by a different and amazing member of the Aboriginal community each week. This week Ngarra Murray has the wheel, and is posting about remarkable Aboriginal women.
  • Please consider signing this petition – VicRoads is due to desecrate the site of the Djapwurrung Birthing Trees and cut them down. If you are close by, please also consider adding your voice to the protests.

Okay, let’s get down to business. Here is my main stack.

The Kadaitcha Sung was gifted to me by a friend in the US as it’s basically impossible to find here. I’ve seen the words “confronting” and “aggressive” used in reviews. One of the things the white majority seems to expect from Aboriginal people is a lack of aggression and anger when talking about the atrocities of the past, which seems completely unreasonable.

Up From the Mission is a collection of essays from Noel Pearson, lawyer and activist.

Taboo by Kim Scott has been on my TBR since it came out. It is currently shortlisted for the Miles Franklin.

Tracker by Alexis Wright won this year’s Stella Prize. It’s chunky and I expect this is where my readathon hours will go.

I’m also hoping to devour as much of this stack as I can.

I also have Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book on audio for my commute.

This is a great opportunity to get stuck into your Aussies Rule Challenge reading goals. We’re halfway through the year – how are you doing?

Do you have reading goals for Black History Month? Let me know!

Cheers,

Aussies Rule Prompt 19 – An Aussie Debut

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Hi everyone!

It’s been a while since I posted a pure Aussies Rule topic, so today I thought I would talk about some great Aussie debut novels from recent years. There’s a mix of genres so you should be able to find something that interests you!

The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley – a fictional retelling of the life of Elizabeth Gould, wife of John Gould, who illustrated John’s works about Australian birds. The hardback edition is gorgeous.

Black British by Hebe de Souza – based on the author’s childhood, a look at what happened to anglicised Indian families once British colonialism ended.

Crimson Lake by Candice Fox – disgraced former cop teams up with a convicted murderer to investigate the disappearance of a local author.

Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic – profoundly deaf investigator Caleb Zelic is determined to find the answer to his friend’s murder.

The Dry by Jane Harper – Aaron Faulk returns to his home town to investigate his friend’s murder.

Lotus Blue by Cat Sparks – set in the distant future Australia is now a desert wasteland roamed by nomadic traders and war machines, with helpings of big lizards and killer sandstorms.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent – a fictional retelling of the last days of the life of Agnes, the last woman executed in Iceland.

Terra Nullius by Claire Coleman – Australia has been colonised and the Natives are running from the Colonists and trying to save their people and their culture.

The Strays by Emily Bitto – Lily meets Eva at school and is sucked into her family – her father is an avante-garde painter and her family is living very much outside the conservative 1930s world.

Down the Hume by Peter Polites – I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s been on my pile since it first came out; Goodreads describes it as a confronting and powerful story of addiction, secrets and misplaced love.

Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven – A book in three parts Van Neerven’s traditional story-telling incorporates myth and mysticism, the feeling of belonging and what it is to be human.

This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada – Gene hacking and a plague that makes people explode, what more could you want?

Deadly Kerfuffle by Tony Martin – Martin was a favourite of mine back in his radio, comedy and film days. I haven’t read this one yet but I’m sure it will be worth a look.

Wasted by Elspeth Muir – part memoir part journalism, Muir reflects on her brother’s suicide from the Story Bridge in Brisbane while completely drunk, and the drinking culture in Australia that helped him get there.

What other great Aussie debuts have you come across? What will you be reading for this part of the challenge?

Cheers!

A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work

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I’ve always considered myself a Helen Garner fan, even though I haven’t read much of her work.

I remember my introduction to Garner when I read Monkey Grip at university. It was both unashamedly Australian and of the female experience in a way I hadn’t encountered in literature up to that point. Not only did she talk unabashedly about periods but she also captured every day Australians in the way they spoke and lived, the city they lived in and the air they breathed. This may not seem like a big deal, but it certainly was in the early 90s when the cultural cringe was still a thing.

The next piece of Garner’s that I read was The First Stone which was a problematic examination of a sexual harassment case in a Melbourne University. I had some sympathy for where Garner was coming from at the time (there are some things that can be dealt with without getting barristers involved) but I think I would have a different view if I were to reread the book now. Again, this was the 90s and the landscape of what was ‘acceptable’ was rapidly changing. At school I had been told that girls couldn’t succeed in maths, had been reprimanded ‘in jest’ for being at the top of the computing class (the boys should be doing much better than you) and been warned by my father against selecting the title of “Ms” as this would flag me as being “trouble” and ruin my job prospects. I think the piece that Garner and I both missed at the time is that just because that was the way it was, didn’t mean that it was the right way for things to be or that it couldn’t change for the better.

This year I picked up House of Grief where Garner follows the epic legal story of a man who drove his three sons into a lake and was the only survivor. I remembered the case as I had been a newly single mother at the time, and to think that a father could do something like that to his children absolutely horrified me. Garner digs into the case, and interviews a some of the boys’ relatives as well as sitting through the trials, sentencing and following appeals. It is a powerful, heartbreaking story.

I was pretty keen to read Bernadette Brennan’s book about Garner and her work when I first saw it, and it’s nomination for the Stella’s certainly didn’t hurt. I really enjoyed Brennan’s examination of Garner, and I learned a number of things that I hadn’t previously realised and found surprising.

Garner wasn’t great at university and wasn’t familiar with feminist writings and works. Garner’s work is so inherently feminist that I find this astounding. Feminism is something that I have worked hard at over the years – reading everything from Wollstonecraft to Dworkin to Cixous and Irigaray. I had always thought of Garner as an academic and intellectual. It hadn’t occurred to me that you could be one without the other.

Brennan’s details of Garner’s process were also fascinating. She talks of Garner’s journals that she kept through each writing project, recording her thoughts and dreams. Garner has used Jungian analysis for many years to help her with her writing process, and examining her dreams has assisted with the direction and development of her writing.

If anything, Brennan shows that Garner is constantly working, and when she isn’t actively writing a new piece, she is journalling about the work she is doing, which assists her in working things out and shaping the final piece. I feel that I have learned a lot not just about Garner, but about the act and process of writing from Brennan’s book.

Brennan talks through all of Garner’s works, and how they ricocheted out of her life’s experiences. I’m particularly looking forward to reading The Spare Room, in which protagonist Helen welcomes a friend into her home as she tries a last ditch effort and alternative technique to beat cancer. As you can probably guess from Garner’s use of her own name, this story is a direct reflection on part of her life and is an exploration of her anger towards her real life friend who was completely in denial of her rapidly approaching demise.

Garner has been a part for Australia’s literary landscape for 40 years now and is showing no signs of slowing down. Brennan’s book is a timely celebration of the woman and her work, and is a must read for any Garner fan.

Cheers,

Aussies Rule Challenge Prompt 7 – Classic by an Aboriginal Author

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(Please note this post references Aboriginal people who are deceased.)

Hi folks!

This prompt was requested by Laura, and indeed I’ve been writing this one in my head over the last few weeks and feeling more and more uncomfortable about it.

You may recall that the Aussies Rule Challenge came together as the result of a brain explosion on my part because I wanted to be challenged to read more Aussie authors, and if no one else was going to do it I would. So I didn’t think much about a prompt around a classic by an Aboriginal author apart from the fact that if there are classics by non Aboriginal authors, there should also be classics by Aboriginal authors. But the more I think about it the less I think it is that straight forward.

Let’s start with the definition of a classic. A “classic” is generally defined as ‘a work of recognised and outstanding value’, or ‘something that is determined over a period of time to be of the highest quality’. The question is, who is doing the judging? I’m pretty sure that the 2% of the Aboriginal population hasn’t had any say on what we may refer to as a classic by an Aboriginal author. Google “classic by an Aboriginal author” and the first hit you will get is for a number of books published recently. The second will be to classics by a bunch of white Australians, with a paragraph about Aboriginal authors.

I read Dhuuluu-Yala by Anita Heiss earlier this year which discusses the difficult relationship between Aboriginal writers and the publishing industry. Published in 2003, this book is well worth a read if you are interested in this type of thing (even if you aren’t it’s good to be aware) and has helped me think more critically about this topic. I can only imagine it is also still relevant. In Dhuuluu-Yala, Heiss talked a little about why Sally Morgan’s My Place is so popular compared to other books by Aborginal authors from around the same time, and Heiss suggests that this is because My Place is not actually about living the Aboriginal experience, but more about discovering the Aboriginal identity.

So I think we need to be aware of the types of stories that white publishers, marketers and audiences have been willing to read and give “value” to over the last 200 years and be aware that these are not the stories the Aboriginal people people have wanted to tell, but more what they have been allowed to tell by the white publishing industry. The publishing industry and the marketers are not going to make a lot of money on stories that are angry and confronting to the non-Aboriginal audience that they are used to dealing with.

(Please note that I’m not saying that My Place isn’t worthy of being referred to as a classic or isn’t a tale worth telling. It’s a great book. Please also note that I’m not saying that the authors and works I will list are not worthy of being called ‘classics’, only that they have had to jump through a bunch of white hoops to get published in the first place.)

Heiss also talks about white editors changing the voice of Aboriginal writers to make the writing more acceptable for the largely white audience, damaging the authenticity of the voice that readers get to hear when they consume the finished product.

I believe that more value is placed on Aboriginal writers and voices now by the publishing industry than any other time since invasion, (let’s face it, it wouldn’t be hard to do better than previously, although don’t mistake this to be the same as nothing else needs fixing) and I suspect things that will be looked back on as “Classics by Aboriginal authors” are books being written now by wonderful authors like Kim Scott, Alexis Wright, Melissa Lucashenko, Larissa Behrendt and others.

That being said, here are some “classics” as far as I, a white person, am able to suggest them, that were first published prior to this century. This is based entirely upon my own limited reading. I would strongly recommend you check out Anita Heiss’s Black Book Challenge for more suggestions.

David Unaipon is on our $50 note is was the first person to write down Aboriginal stories for white consumption.

Oodgeroo – My People

Herb Wharton – Unbranded

Rita and Jackie Huggins – Auntie Rita

Ruby Langford Ginibi – Don’t Take Your Love to Town

Doris Pilkington – Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence

K.C. Laughton – Not Quite Men, No Longer Boys

Kevin Gilbert and Jack Davis should also be on this list, but I haven’t read enough of their work to pick out one title over another. Reading everything is probably a safe bet.

I really hope this post is a conversation starter. If you have different views, I would love to hear them. If you have other books or authors who you believe should be in this post, I would love to hear that too.

Cheers,

Aussies Rule Challenge prompt 14 – Poetry

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Hi folks!

I’ve moved this topic up the chain due to a request from JennyM over on Litsy (I’m over there as @Sue as I’m very creative about handles). Feel free to hit me up if you have a specific prompt you would like me to talk about sooner rather than later.

If you’ve spent any time in this country at all you’ve probably been bludgeoned with the poetry of Patterson and Lawson. Poetry is still alive and well in Australia and being produced by a great variety of Australians who are not old white men.

I don’t read a whole lot of poetry, but here are three of my favourites who have produced books recently:

Ellen van Neerven

Van Neerven is a Yumgambeh woman who identifies as queer. She gained some press last year as she was attacked on social media by students after her poem Mango was used on the GCSE. (Who even does that?) One of my highlights of 2017 was accidentally ending up at one of her poetry readings, which included poems from Comfort Food and the new collection she is working on.

Maxine Beneba Clarke

Beneba Clarke was shortlisted for the Stella Prize in 2017 for her remarkable memoir The Hate Race. Her poetry is beautiful and confronting and all the things you want from contemporary Aussie poetry. I follow her on twitter (@slamup) and she will often post poetry there, as well as general fabulousness.

Omar Sakr

Who needs more queer Arab Aussie poetry in their lives apart from me? I can’t remember how I came across Sakr originally, but I’m pretty sure it was due to the magic of twitter. This collection is wonderful.

Here are some other contemporary poets for you to check out:

  • Krissy Kneen
  • Judith Bishop
  • Shastra Deo
  • John Kinsella
  • Stuart Barnes
  • Jordie Albiston
  • Sarah Holland-Batt
  • David Brooks
  • Samuel Wagan Watson
  • M.T.C Cronin

All of these poets and a bunch of others have collections available through UQ Press.

Do you have a favourite contemporary Aussie poet who I haven’t mentioned? Let me know!

Enjoy!

Aurealis Award Finalists

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Another week, another list of awesome stories and books from Aussies for you to get into.

The finalists for the Aurealis awards have been announced and you can find a full list here. The Aurealis awards covers short fiction through to novels and horror, fantasy and sci-fi.

I’m going to list the science fiction nominees here (great options for prompt 18 of the Aussies Rule challenge):

Closing Down by Sally Abbott

Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman

Year of the Orphan by Daniel Findlay

An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen

From the Wreck by Jane Rawson

Lotus Blue by Cat Sparks

What a great list! It’s wonderful to see Kneen and Coleman receiving further acknowledgements of their work. I was also really happy to see both Jane Rawson and Cat Sparks on this list for their fine books.

The LoveOzYa anthology of short stories didn’t receive a nomination for the anthology (not all stories fell within the spec fic spectrum) but so many of the stories in the collection have been nominated. If you enjoy YA, definitely check it out. (First Casualty by Michael Pryor nearly had me in tears.)

This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada has been nominated for best YA novel – it has been sitting on my TBR shelf for a while now and I’ve heard good things!

Have you read any of these? Are you planning to?