Indigenous Voices and Stories
A selection of our favourite Indigenous voices and stories.
Guwayu, For All Times: A Collection of First Nations Poems
Edited by Jeanine Leane
Guwayu, For All Times is a collection of First Nations poems commissioned by Red Room Poetry over the past 16 years, and is a radical literary intervention for its breadth of representation, temporal depth and diversity of language. This fiercely uncensored collection features 61 poems from First Nations poets in 12 First Nations languages, and together they are an exquisite expression of living First Nations culture. Journey through a range of poetic forms from lyric, confessional, protest, narrative and song, showcasing new voices and established poets. Guwayu is edited by Wiradjuri poet, Dr Jeanine Leane, produced by Red Room Poetry, a leading arts organisation committed to making poetry in meaningful ways, and published by Magabala Books, Australia’s leading Indigenous publisher.
Featuring: Ethan Bell, John Muk Muk Burke, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Claire G Coleman, Paul Collis, Joel Davison, Joel Deaves, Lionel Fogarty, Declan Furber Gillick, Stiff Gins, Daniel Hansen, Matthew Heffernan, Steve Dibirdi Hodder Wass Bunbajee, Yvette Holt, Gayle Kennedy, Jeanine Leane, Carissa Lee Godwin, Lola McKickett, Jacob Morris, Lorna Munro, Melanie Mununggurr, Maureen O’Keefe, Bruce Pascoe, Nick Paton, Ryan Prehn, Celestine Rowe, Brenda Saunders, Nicole Smede, Lyndsay Urquhart, Sam Wagan Watson, Adrain Webster.
The White Girl
Odette Brown has lived her whole life on the fringes of a small country town. After her daughter disappeared and left her with her granddaughter Sissy to raise on her own, Odette has managed to stay under the radar of the welfare authorities who are removing fair-skinned Aboriginal children from their families. When a new policeman arrives in town, determined to enforce the law, Odette must risk everything to save Sissy and protect everything she loves.
In The White Girl, Miles-Franklin-shortlisted author Tony Birch shines a spotlight on the 1960s and the devastating government policy of taking Indigenous children from their families.
Inside My Mother
Ali Cobby Eckermann
Ali Cobby Eckermann, a Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha poet, is at the forefront of Australian Indigenous poetry. Inside My Mother is both a political and personal collection, angry and tender, propelled by the need to remember yet brimming with energy and vitality – qualities that distinguished her previous, prize-winning verse novel, Ruby Moonlight.
Tributes to country, to her elders, and to the animals and spirits that inhabit the landscape, coupled with the rhythms of mourning and celebration that pulse through the poems, make this a moving and personal collection. Grief is deeply felt and vividly portrayed in poems such as Inside My Mother and Lament. There is defiance and protest in ‘Clapsticks’ and ‘I Tell You True’. In the final section there is a marked generational shift as the elders begin to pass away and the poet as grandmother comes to accept her rightful place as matriarch.
Claire G. Coleman
In the near future Australia is about to experience colonisation once more. What have we learned from our past? A daring debut novel from the winner of the 2016 black&write! writing fellowship.
Shortlisted for the Stella Prize 2018
Highly Commended in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2017
Shortlisted for the ABIA Matt Richell Award for New Writers 2018
Shortlisted for the Aurealis Award for a Science Fiction Novel 2017
Longlisted for the Indie Book Award for Debut Fiction 2018
Nominated for Ditmar Award Best New Talent 2018
Jacky was running. There was no thought in his head, only an intense drive to run. There was no sense he was getting anywhere, no plan, no destination, no future. All he had was a sense of what was behind, what he was running from. Jacky was running.
The Natives of the Colony are restless. The Settlers are eager to have a nation of peace, and to bring the savages into line. Families are torn apart, reeducation is enforced. This rich land will provide for all.
This is not Australia as we know it. This is not the Australia of our history. This TERRA NULLIUS is something new, but all too familiar. An incredible debut from a striking new Australian Aboriginal voice.
Too Much Lip
A dark and funny new novel from the multi-award-winning author of Mullumbimby.
Too much lip, her old problem from way back. And the older she got, the harder it seemed to get to swallow her opinions. The avalanche of bullshit in the world would drown her if she let it; the least she could do was raise her voice in anger.
Wise-cracking Kerry Salter has spent a lifetime avoiding two things – her hometown and prison. But now her Pop is dying and she’s an inch away from the lockup, so she heads south on a stolen Harley.
Kerry plans to spend twenty-four hours, tops, over the border. She quickly discovers, though, that Bundjalung country has a funny way of grabbing on to people. Old family wounds open as the Salters fight to stop the development of their beloved river. And the unexpected arrival on the scene of a good-looking dugai fella intent on loving her up only adds more trouble – but then trouble is Kerry’s middle name.
Gritty and darkly hilarious, Too Much Lip offers redemption and forgiveness where none seems possible.
The Drover’s Wife
Deep in the heart of Australia’s high country, along an ancient, hidden track, lives Molly Johnson and her four surviving children, another on the way. Husband Joe is away months at a time droving livestock up north, leaving his family in the bush to fend for itself. Molly’s children are her world, and life is hard and precarious with only their dog, Alligator, and a shotgun for protection – but it can be harder when Joe’s around.
At just twelve years of age Molly’s eldest son Danny is the true man of the house, determined to see his mother and siblings safe – from raging floodwaters, hunger and intruders, man and reptile. Danny is mature beyond his years, but there are some things no child should see. He knows more than most just what it takes to be a drover’s wife.
One night under the moon’s watch, Molly has a visitor of a different kind – a black ‘story keeper’, Yadaka. He’s on the run from authorities in the nearby town, and exchanges kindness for shelter. Both know that justice in this nation caught between two worlds can be as brutal as its landscape. But in their short time together, Yadaka shows Molly a secret truth, and the strength to imagine a different path.
Full of fury and power, The Drover’s Wife- The Legend of Molly Johnson is a brave reimagining of the Henry Lawson short story that has become an Australian classic. Brilliantly plotted, it is a compelling thriller of our pioneering past that confronts head-on issues of today- race, gender, violence and inheritance.
Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature
Edited by Anita Heiss and Peter Minter
A groundbreaking collection of work from some of the great Australian Aboriginal writers, the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature offers a rich panorama of over 200 years of Aboriginal culture, history and life.
From Bennelong’s 1796 letter to contemporary creative writers, Anita Heiss and Peter Minter have selected work that represents the range and depth of Aboriginal writing in English. The anthology includes journalism, petitions and political letters from both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as major works that reflect the blossoming of Aboriginal poetry, prose and drama from the mid-twentieth century onwards. Literature has been used as a powerful political tool by Aboriginal people in a political system which renders them largely voiceless. These works chronicle the ongoing suffering of dispossession, but also the resilience of Aboriginal people across the country, and the hope and joy in their lives.
With some of the best, most distinctive writing produced in Australia, this anthology is invaluable for anyone interested in Aboriginal writing and culture.
Heat and Light
Ellen van Neerven
Winner of the 2013 David Unaipon Award.
In this award-winning work of fiction, Ellen van Neerven takes her readers on a journey that is mythical, mystical and still achingly real.
Over three parts, she takes traditional storytelling and gives it a unique, contemporary twist. In ‘Heat’, we meet several generations of the Kresinger family and the legacy left by the mysterious Pearl. In ‘Water’, van Neerven offers a futuristic imagining of a people whose existence is under threat. While in ‘Light’, familial ties are challenged and characters are caught between a desire for freedom and a sense of belonging.
Heat and Light presents a surprising and unexpected narrative journey while heralding the arrival of an exciting new talent in Australian writing.
Tara June Winch
Winner of the 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Award
Shortlisted for the VPLA
Winner, Book of the Year, People’s Choice, Christina Stead Prize for Fiction at NSW Premier’s Literary Award
Shortlisted for the Stella Prize 2020
Just tell the truth and someone will hear it eventually.
The yield in English is the reaping, the things that man can take from the land. In the language of the Wiradjuri yield is the things you give to, the movement, the space between things: baayanha.
Knowing that he will soon die, Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi takes pen to paper. His life has been spent on the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains. Albert is determined to pass on the language of his people and everything that was ever remembered. He finds the words on the wind.
August Gondiwindi has been living on the other side of the world for ten years when she learns of her grandfather’s death. She returns home for his burial, wracked with grief and burdened with all she tried to leave behind. Her homecoming is bittersweet as she confronts the love of her kin and news that Prosperous is to be repossessed by a mining company. Determined to make amends she endeavours to save their land – a quest that leads her to the voice of her grandfather and into the past, the stories of her people, the secrets of the river.
Profoundly moving and exquisitely written, Tara June Winch’s The Yield is the story of a people and a culture dispossessed. But it is as much a celebration of what was and what endures, and a powerful reclaiming of Indigenous language, storytelling and identity.
Winner of the 2007 Miles Franklin Literary Award
Alexis Wright is one of Australia’s finest Aboriginal writers. Carpentaria is her second novel, an epic set in the Gulf country of north-western Queensland, from where her people come. The novel’s portrait of life in the precariously settled coastal town of Desperance centres on the powerful Phantom family, leader of the Westend Pricklebush people, and its battles with old Joseph Midnight’s renegade Eastend mob on the one hand, and the white officials of Uptown and the neighbouring Gurfurrit mine on the other.
Wright’s storytelling is operatic and surreal: a blend of myth and scripture, farce and politics. The novel teems with extraordinary characters – Elias Smith the outcast saviour, the religious zealot Mozzie Fishman, the murderous mayor Stan Bruiser, the moth-ridden Captain Nicoli Finn, the activist and prodigal son Will Phantom, and above all, the queen of the rubbish-dump Angel Day and her sea-faring husband Normal Phantom, the fish-embalming king of time – figures that stride like giants across this storm-swept world.
My Tidda, My Sister
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and society has existed on this continent for millennia. It’s a culture that manifests itself as the ultimate example of resilience, strength and beauty. It’s also a culture that has consistently been led by its women.
My Tidda, My Sister shares the experiences of many Indigenous women and girls, brought together by author and host of the Tiddas 4 Tiddas podcast, Marlee Silva. The voices of First Nations’ women that Marlee weaves through the book provide a rebuttal to the idea that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. For non-Indigenous women, it demonstrates the diversity of what success can look like and offers an insight into the lives of their Indigenous sisters and peers.
Featuring colourful artwork by artist Rachael Sarra, this book is a celebration of the Indigenous female experience through truth-telling. Some stories are heart-warming, while others shine a light on the terrible realities for many Australian Indigenous women, both in the past and in the present. But what they all share is the ability to inspire and empower, creating a sisterhood for all Australian women.
Also features foreword by Helpmann and AACTA award-winning actor Leah Purcell.
Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World
This remarkable book is about everything from echidnas to evolution, cosmology to cooking, sex and science and spirits to Schrdinger’s cat.
Tyson Yunkaporta looks at global systems from an Indigenous perspective. He asks how contemporary life diverges from the pattern of creation. How does this affect us? How can we do things differently?
Sand Talk provides a template for living. It’s about how lines and symbols and shapes can help us make sense of the world. It’s about how we learn and how we remember. It’s about talking to everybody and listening carefully. It’s about finding different ways to look at things.
Most of all it’s about Indigenous thinking, and how it can save the world.
Warndu Mai (Good Food): Introducing Native Australia Ingredients to your Kitchen
Rebecca Sullivan and Damien Coulthard
A fully illustrated contemporary cookbook featuring Australian native foods that is the perfect resource for any Aussie kitchen.
Features a foreword from the bestselling author of Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe.
This gorgeous illustrated, informative and contemporary cookbook and compendium of native foods will show you how to create truly Australian food and drinks at home. With a few small adjustments and a little experimentation you can prepare delicious food that is better for the Australian environment, is more sustainable and celebrates the amazing ingredients that are truly local.
Warndu Mai (Good Food) contains information about seasonal availability, hints, tips and over 80 illustrated and accessible recipes showcasing Australian native foods, using ingredients such as Kakadu plum, native currants, finger lime and pepperberry to create unique dishes and treats – from wattleseed brownies, emu egg sponge cake and bunya nut pesto to native berry, cherry and lime cordial, strawberry gum pavlova and kangaroo carpaccio. It’s a must-have for every kitchen.
Songspirals: Sharing Women’s Wisdom of Country through songlines
Gay’wu Group of Women
A rare opportunity to connect with the living tradition of women’s songlines, as recounted by Yolngu women from far north Australia.
‘We want you to come with us on our journey, our journey of songspirals. Songspirals are the essence of people in this land, the essence of every clan. We belong to the land and it belongs to us. We sing to the land, sing about the land. We are that land. It sings to us.’Aboriginal Australian cultures are the oldest living cultures on earth and at the heart of Aboriginal cultures is song. These ancient narratives of landscape have often been described as a means of navigating across vast distances without a map, but they are much, much more than this. Songspirals are sung by Aboriginal people to awaken Country, to make and remake the life-giving connections between people and place. Songspirals are radically different ways of understanding the relationship people can have with the landscape.For Yolngu people from North East Arnhem Land, women and men play different roles in bringing songlines to life, yet the vast majority of what has been published is about men’s place in songlines. Songspirals is a rare opportunity for outsiders to experience Aboriginal women’s role in crying the songlines in a very authentic and direct form.
Living on Stolen Land
Living on Stolen Land is a prose-styled look at our colonial-settler ‘present’. This book is the first of its kind to address and educate a broad audience about the colonial contextual history of Australia, in a highly original way. It pulls apart the myths at the heart of our nationhood, and challenges Australia to come to terms with its own past and its place within and on ‘Indigenous Countries’.
This title speaks to many First Nations’ truths; stolen lands, sovereignties, time, decolonisation, First Nations perspectives, systemic bias and other constructs that inform our present discussions and ever-expanding understanding. This title is a timely, thought-provoking and accessible read.
Talking to My Country
In July 2015, as the debate over Adam Goodes being booed at AFL games raged and got ever more heated and ugly, Stan Grant wrote a short but powerful piece for The Guardian that went viral, not only in Australia but right around the world, shared over 100,000 times on social media. His was a personal, passionate and powerful response to racism in Australia and the sorrow, shame, anger and hardship of being an indigenous man. ‘We are the detritus of the brutality of the Australian frontier’, he wrote, ‘We remained a reminder of what was lost, what was taken, what was destroyed to scaffold the building of this nation’s prosperity.’
Stan Grant was lucky enough to find an escape route, making his way through education to become one of our leading journalists. He also spent many years outside Australia, working in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, a time that liberated him and gave him a unique perspective on Australia. This is his very personal meditation on what it means to be Australian, what it means to be indigenous, and what racism really means in this country.
Talking to My Country is that rare and special book that talks to every Australian about their country – what it is, and what it could be. It is not just about race, or about indigenous people but all of us, our shared identity. Direct, honest and forthright, Stan is talking to us all. He might not have all the answers but he wants us to keep on asking the question: how can we be better?
Winner of the 2016 Walkley Book Award and the 2016 National Trust Heritage Award, and shortlisted for the 2016 NIB Waverley Library Award and the 2016 Queensland Literary Award.
WINNER – 2016 Indigenous Writer’s Prize in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards
WINNER – 2016 Book of the Year in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards
SHORTLISTED – 2014 History Book Award in the Queensland Literary Awards
SHORTLISTED – 2014 Victorian Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing
Dark Emu argues for a reconsideration of the ‘hunter-gatherer’ tag for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians and attempts to rebut the colonial myths that have worked to justify dispossession. Accomplished author Bruce Pascoe provides compelling evidence from the diaries of early explorers that suggests that systems of food production and land management have been blatantly understated in modern retellings of early Aboriginal history, and that a new look at Australia’s past is required.
Delving deep into the Australian landscape and the environmental challenges we face, Fire Country is a powerful account from Indigenous land management expert Victor Steffensen on how the revival of cultural burning practices, and improved ‘reading’ of country, could help to restore our land. From a young age, Victor has had a passion for traditional cultural and ecological knowledge. This was further developed after meeting two Elders, who were to become his mentors and teach him the importance of cultural burning. Developed over many generations, this knowledge shows clearly that Australia actually needs fire. Moreover, fire is an important part of a wholistic approach to the environment, and when burning is done in a carefully considered manner, this ensures proper land care and healing.
The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia
Explodes the myth that pre-settlement Australia was an untamed wilderness revealing the complex, country-wide systems of land management used by Aboriginal people.
Across Australia, early Europeans commented again and again that the land looked like a park. With extensive grassy patches and pathways, open woodlands and abundant wildlife, it evoked a country estate in England. Bill Gammage has discovered this was because Aboriginal people managed the land in a far more systematic and scientific fashion than we have ever realised.
For over a decade, Gammage has examined written and visual records of the Australian landscape. He has uncovered an extraordinarily complex system of land management using fire and the life cycles of native plants to ensure plentiful wildlife and plant foods throughout the year. We know Aboriginal people spent far less time and effort than Europeans in securing food and shelter, and now we know how they did it.
With details of land-management strategies from around Australia, The Biggest Estate on Earth rewrites the history of this continent, with huge implications for us today. Once Aboriginal people were no longer able to tend their country, it became overgrown and vulnerable to the hugely damaging bushfires we now experience. And what we think of as virgin bush in a national park is nothing of the kind.
Finding the Heart of the Nation
This is a book for all Australians.
Since the Uluru Statement from the Heart was formed in 2017, Thomas Mayor has travelled around the country to promote its vision of a better future for Indigenous Australians. He’s visited communities big and small, often with the Uluru Statement canvas rolled up in a tube under his arm.
Through the story of his own journey and interviews with 20 key people, Thomas taps into a deep sense of our shared humanity. The voices within these chapters make clear what the Uluru Statement is and why it is so important. And Thomas hopes you will be moved to join them, along with the growing movement of Australians who want to see substantive constitutional change.
Thomas believes that we will only find the heart of our nation when the First peoples – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – are recognised with a representative Voice enshrined in the Australian Constitution.
See more of our recommendations here.