The Award for Indigenous Writing
On Wednesday September 5 at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum, Anita Heiss‘ book Am I Black Enough For You? was awarded the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing.
Am I Black Enough For You? by Anita Heiss (Random House)
What does it mean to be Aboriginal? Why is Australia so obsessed with notions of identity? Anita Heiss, successful author and passionate campaigner for Aboriginal literacy, was born a member of the Wiradjuri nation of New South Wales, but was raised in the suburbs of Sydney and educated at the local Catholic school. She is Aboriginal – however, this doesn’t mean she likes to go barefoot and please, don’t ask her to go camp in the desert.
After years of stereotyping Aboriginal Australians as either settlement dwellers or rioters in Redfern, the Australian media have discovered a new crime to charge them with: being too ‘fair-skinned’ to be an Australian Aboriginal. Such accusations led to Anita’s involvement in one of the most important and sensational Australian legal decisions of the 21st-century when she joined others in charging a newspaper columnist with breaching the Racial Discrimination Act. He was found guilty, and the repercussions continue.
About Anita Heiss
Dr Anita Heiss has published non-fiction, historical fiction, children’s and commercial women’s fiction, poetry, social commentary and travel articles. She is an Indigenous Literacy Day ambassador, patron of WEAVE and a proud member of the Wiradjuri nation. She co-edited, with Peter Minter, The Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature, and her most recent adult novels are Manhattan Dreaming and Paris Dreaming. Her latest book is Am I Black Enough For You?. She lives in Sydney.
From the Judges’ Report
The judges remarked on the compassion evident in this book and the deft weaving of family and national history with an event which has laid a platform for the required standards of Australian debate when discussing Aboriginal identity. This is not a polemical treatise, but a plea for the respect of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians and their histories.
The book invites any Australian into its pages and any who have loved their mother or father (or indeed found them hard to love) will be entranced by the relationships within this family.
It is not easy to remain as measured and open when discussing this aspect of our national character if you have had your identity so consistently assailed as has Anita Heiss. She never attacks her assailants, but invites the reader into her childhood kitchen where her identity was forged.
Purple Threads by Jeanine Leane (University of Queensland Press)
Jeanine Leane grew up on a sheep farm near Gundagai, and the stories are based on her childhood experiences in a house full of fiercely independent women. In between Aunty Boo’s surveillance of the local farmers’ sheep dip alliance and Aunty Bubby’s fireside tales of the Punic Wars, the women offer sage advice to their nieces on growing up as indigenous girls in a white country town.
The cast of strong Aboriginal women in a rural setting gives a fascinating insight into both Aboriginal and rural life. Farming is not an easy pursuit for anyone, but the Aunties take all the challenges in their stride, facing torrential rain, violent neighbours and injured dogs with an equal mix of humour and courage. Purple Threads uses an irreverent style reminiscent of Gayle Kennedy’s Me, Antman & Fleabag and Marie Munkara’s Every Secret Thing, but offers a unique perspective on the Australian country lifestyle.
About Jeanine Leane
Jeanine Leane is a Wiradjuri woman from south-west New South Wales. A doctorate in literature and Aboriginal representation from the University of Technology, Sydney followed a long teaching career at secondary and tertiary level. Formerly a Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, she currently holds a post-doctoral fellowship at ANU.
In 2010, the unpublished manuscript of Purple Threads won the David Unaipon Award at the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards and was shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize. Jeanine is the recipient of an Australian Research Council grant which will produce a scholarly monograph called Reading the Nation: A Critical Study.
From the Judges’ Report
Leane has produced one of the most unique works in Australian literature. Many people will read two thirds the way through this novel before realising the family depicted is Aboriginal.
It is a rich, subtle, and beautifully crafted novel. There is no anger or malice in this book, and yet it deals with the period in which Australia’s rejection of Aboriginal people had been made complete.
The judges would not be surprised if this book won any of the major mainstream national literary prizes. The characters are unforgettable, the cold hills of its setting are vivid in the reader’s memory and the family hearth is seductive enough to make anyone wander into a wood stove showroom.
The Boundary by Nicole Watson (University of Queensland Press
Hours after rejecting the Corrowa People’s native title claim on Brisbane’s Meston Park, Justice Bruce Brosnan is brutally murdered in his home. Days later, lawyers against the claim are also found dead.
Aboriginal people were once prohibited from entering Brisbane’s city limits at night, and Meston Park stood on the boundary. The Corrowa’s matriarch, Ethel Cobb, is convinced the murders are the work of an ancient assassin who has returned to destroy the boundary, but Aboriginal lawyer Miranda Eversely isn’t so sure. When the Premier is kidnapped, the pressure to find the killer intensifies …
While the investigation forces Detective Sergeant Jason Matthews to confront his buried heritage, Miranda battles a sense of personal failure at the Corrowa’s defeat. How far will it take her to the edge of self-destruction?
About Nicole Watson
Nicole Watson is a member of the Birri-Gubba People and the Yugambeh language group. Nicole has a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Queensland and a Master of Laws from the Queensland University of Technology. Nicole was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Queensland in 1999. She has worked for Legal Aid Queensland, the National Native Title Tribunal, the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency and as a columnist for the National Indigenous Times. Nicole is currently a senior research fellow at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, University of Technology, Sydney.
The Boundary won the 2009 David Unaipon Award.
From the Judges’ Report
This crime novel is set in a part of Brisbane so richly realised that you feel as if you could walk through it with your eyes closed.
The revelation of the crime peels layers off important social events in our history. There is anger and disappointment palpable in the writing, but the reader never stops wanting to know the characters or find the secret to the mystery.
The judges could remember few Australian books which had immersed themselves so deeply in history, but remained so readable.
Ruby Moonlight by Ali Cobby Eckermann (Magabala Books).
Bruce Pascoe, Daniel Browning and Meme McDonald.