Set in the ACMI Cube, Indigenous Writing Now was a great chance for patrons to come and basically sit in on a wonderful yarn between Tony Birch, John Harding and the recipient of the Scanlon Prize for Indigenous Writing, Brenda Saunders. The session opened with Brenda reading one of her poems titled Looking for Bullan Bullan. It felt like a warm recollection which just happened to take the shape of a poem. She spoke of a conversation she’d had with an old aunty who was as confused as she, that the place where she had grown up had been ripped apart to make a quarry. This sad tale illustrated the endless search for something that was once easily identified as their country.

This was a recurring theme throughout the talk, but you’ll find that this sense of displacement is a recurring theme throughout the lives of many Indigenous Australians, which is why poems such as these are so important. Tony then read one of his poems Footnote to a History War Archive 2, written in the style of a report; an effective contrast to Brenda’s previous piece. With lines such as “nearer white than half-caste” and “my colour is a curse”, I related to Birch’s words, feeling the all-too-familiar twinge of not belonging any which-where culturally. Something that unfortunately connects a lot of us ‘mixed’ lot as a race, but just as easily can set us apart, too.

I initially went into the forum hoping to hear a myriad of poetry from various writers, and although Brenda wrote beautifully, I was hoping that we would hear readings of works in addition to hers. However there was much discussion about Indigenous writers, poets and playwrights who inspire the three of them, listing familiar names such as Ali Cobby Eckermen, Jack Davis and Alexis Wright to name a few.

Both Tony and John addressed how they felt about the progress of Indigenous writing within Australia, saying that we were heading in a great direction with exciting new writers such as Kim Scott, Melissa Lucashenko and I was so chuffed to have two wonderful friends Jared Thomas and Ellen van Neerven mentioned in that list. What makes these writers so fantastic is the fact that they are not only writing with a particular audience in mind, but for everyone. A great way to pull focus on the fact that this genre is not to just be referred to as ‘Indigenous’ writing, but reminding the audience that they are amazing authors and poets in their own right.

During the session, Tony had mentioned a recurring question that we as Aboriginal people in the literary field are often plagued with: is it ok for a non-Indigenous person to write an Indigenous story? He then answered this by highlighting a more pivotal question: why aren’t more Aboriginal stories being given avenues to be heard anyway? Whether it be by socio-economic hardships, now that more resources are available, these beautiful stories need to be told. During questions at the end, I jumped at the chance to ask what they thought about cross-cultural collaborations in storytelling. Tony replied that, having worked with a plethora of various cultures, he could only see it as a good thing, so long as everyone’s voice needed to be heard.

I came away from this session not feeling inspired on a poetic level as I had anticipated, but encouraged to continue writing whatever I can. Being advocates for the First Nations Aboriginal Writers Network, artists like John and Tony are endeavouring to further motivation for aspiring writers such as myself, and I believe they did just that.


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Digital Reporters is run in partnership with the Emerging Writers’ Festival.