Australia’s Aboriginal Writers: 2019 National Book Festival

>>Jane McAuliffe: Good morning, and welcome to the
international stage of the National Book Festival. This is my favorite
stage to introduce. And so, I hope you have
a wonderful day hearing from your favorite authors. I’m Jane McAuliffe,
senior advisor to the Librarian of Congress. And as you’ve just heard, the Library of Congress
is bringing this festival to you for the 19th year. When we started this
program 19 years ago, I don’t think anybody
thought we were going to be approaching our 20th
anniversary in just one year. We have an amazing lineup of
authors on this stage today, and they come to us
from around the world. Their appearances
are made possible through the generosity
of several embassies. And I especially want to thank
the embassies of Australia, Canada, Germany,
Ireland, Latvia, and Peru for making this
international stage possible. Our first panel today
comprises aboriginal writers from Australia. And, obviously, we’re delighted
to have a representative of the Australian Embassy
here with us this morning. This is the second time the
National Book Festival has welcomed these special
Australian authors. And the first occasion garnered
such great audience enthusiasm that we’ve been really eager
to repeat that success. So, let me just a word or two
about our panelists today. Jeanine Leane was born
in New South Wales. She’s been writing
since she was a child. In her own words, she
says, “I wrote mainly as a way of remembering.” After a long career as a
secondary school teacher, she worked with aboriginal
students entering university programs and taught
indigenous education to mainly non-aboriginal
student teachers. Her first book of poetry
won the 2010 Scanlon prize for indigenous poetry. Her latest book of poetry is
entitled “Walk Back Over.” Brenton McKenna is
from Western Australia. Brenton has said that he
struggled with reading and writing until a
comic book he picked up when he was 10
changed his life. An author-illustrator, he now
creates his own graphic novels, finding inspiration
in ghost stories, folklore, and mythologies. Brenton is recognized as Australia’s first
indigenous graphic novelist. He’s recently published
the third graphic novel of his Underdog series. Kim Scott — There we go. Good promotion right now. Kim Scott was born in Perth. He has published five
novels, most recently taboo. His first two novels, “True
Country” and “Benang,” deal with aboriginal
self-identity. Kim was the first
indigenous writer to receive the Miles
Franklin Award, a prize given annually to,
and I quote, “a novel which is of the highest literary merit
and presents Australian life in any of its phases.” And our panel will be
moderated by Belinda Wheeler. Originally from Australia,
Belinda earned her PhD from Southern Illinois
University. And her research interests
include, obviously, Australian aboriginal
literature, African-American literature, and 20th-century
American literature. She is currently on the faculty of Claflin University
in South Carolina. And her book, “Companion to Australian Aboriginal
Literature,” has been influential in introducing aboriginal
literature to many more readers. So please welcome Jeanine,
Brenton, Kim, and Belinda. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Bec Allen: Good morning
and thank you, Jane. My name is Bec Allen,
and I have the pleasure of running the cultural
affairs program at the Embassy of Australia. I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional
custodians of the land on which we are gathered
here today, the land of the Piscataway
tribe, and pay my respects to elders past, present,
and future. Australia is proudly home to the world’s oldest
continuing culture. For over 60,000 years, our
vast continent has held and nurtured the stories,
song lines, and dance lines of aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people. Today, the Embassy of
Australia is honored to be sponsoring this panel,
the view from country. Our visiting authors have
collectively traveled over 25,000 miles to
be with you today; 2019 is the United Nations
year of indigenous languages. Australia is home to 160
First Nations languages. Today, you will hear
from Wiradjuri. Noongar, and Yawuru writers. Story and place of
what connects us all. So thank you to Dr. Hayden,
Marie, and their team for bringing to get our story
makers and truthtellers. We also hope to see you
all this afternoon at 4 PM on the team stage where
another Aussie novelist, Markus Zusak, will be appearing. Enjoy the festival. And now, over to
Dr. Belinda Wheeler. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Belinda Wheeler:
Good day, everyone. Thank you so much for coming
this morning to listen to these phenomenal authors. As was mentioned earlier, I
am originally from Australia. But for the last 19 years, the
United States has been my home, specifically South Carolina
and Claflin University. Although I’m not indigenous
myself, I have grown up loving indigenous
Australian literature ever since I can remember. I love the themes, the diverse
genres, the storytelling, the truth-telling that indigenous Australian
authors share with indigenous and nonindigenous readers. So I’m very passionate about indigenous
Australian literature. And my first two books
that I published, one was with Jeanine
here on the stage. She contributed a
chapter to my first, “Companion to Australian
Aboriginal Literature.” And after the success
of that book, one of the Australian indigenous
authors that I’ve loved for the longest time, Kim Scott,
who I’m honored to have here on this panel as well. My second book was actually
devoted specifically to Kim. So I’m a huge fan of Kim. And that’s why he’s actually
sitting closet to me. So yes.>>Kim Scott: That’s a very
young Kim on the cover.>>Belinda Wheeler: So, but it
is a delight to have them here. And I cannot thank the
Library of Congress and the Australian Embassy
enough for listening to me pitch this panel today. And they’ve had unwavering
support at this panel for a long time. So, thank you very
much to them for that. So, Kim, Brenton, and Jeanine
are unquestionably some of Australia’s finest authors. As I mentioned, I’ve
worked with Jeanine and Kim on numerous occasions
over the years, and I’ve become quite
close friends with them over the years. Brenton got on my radar
a couple of years ago when his first graphic novel of
his Underdog series was released by Magabala Books, and I
just fell in love with it. Brenton is the first indigenous
Australian graphic novelist. And once I knew about creating
this panel, I was like I’ve got to have Brenton on here. And we really clicked,
and it’s been great. And I consider him a great
friend, and I look forward to working with him to make sure that his work is promoted more
extensively throughout the US and worldwide, so. All right. So today, you’re going to be hearing some award-winning
fiction graphic novels and poetry. So I’m going to start first with
some questions for the authors. Then, we’re going to move into the authors actually giving
a little bit of an excerpt from their latest works. Then, we’re going to have
a few more questions, and then we’re going to
turn it over to the audience for questions as well. So that’s the kind of format
that we’re going to have today. So, here we go. So, I know. Breathe. All right. So, I know we’ve had the
official introductions for all of the authors, but I wanted to
invite them in their own words to kind of share a little
bit about themselves. I wanted them to be able to
briefly discuss their country, where their native homeland
is, and what literature and writing generally
means to them. So I’ll turn it over
to you, Kim.>>Kim Scott: Thank
you, Belinda. I’m having a little bit of
trouble with my dignity here because my feet don’t
quite reach the floor. So as you’ve heard,
my name’s Kim Scott. I like to express my identity and the Australian
context in this way. I am one of those that
call themselves Noongar. That mainly being from the
bottom left-hand corner of continent, Southwest
Australia, and particularly along the
southern coast, a thin strip of country where the
southern ocean meets sandplain and outcrops of granite there. If asked to talk about what
literature and writing means to me, I like to begin with
paraphrasing another writer, South American writer Galeano,
who talks about the business of sending messages to our many
friends who we do not yet know in faraway places and embracing
them with our language. Further to that, I like the idea that literature among
all the art forms is such an intimate form
that we collaborate to create interior
space where we can meet. And also, if I’m not
going on too long, Belinda, I’ll finish shorty. I also think, if it’s
not too pretentious, writing for me is very
much about decolonization. Something like the unraveling
of supposed certainties, particularly about history and
identity and the negotiating and reimagining common futures
and building up a collective in those sort of ways. And, of course, there is
the studied introversion of a shy temperament that
perhaps suits the writer. Thank you.>>Belinda Wheeler: Brenton.>>Brenton McKenna:
Good day, everyone. Thanks for coming. And I was terrified that maybe
the whole place was going to be empty. But thank you all for coming. I’d also like to acknowledge the
traditional owners of this land, both present and past. So my name’s Brenton McKenna. I’m from Broome, WA. Kim, so I’m literally two days’
drive north of where Kim’s from. So we’re from the same state,
but it’s quite a big state. I think — Just so
everyone knows, I accidentally drank
the whole pot of coffee to myself this morning,
and I wasn’t nervous until I saw the stage. And now, I think I’m
going to pay for it. So just so you know, if I
seem a bit jagged on stage, there’s an explanation for it. Sorry. I identify
as a Yawuru man. My mother is half
Yawuru, half Malaysian. My biological father, who
I’ve just met just recently, is a [inaudible] man
from the river country, a place called Fitzroy Crossing, which is in the Kimberley
region. It’s basically the
Northwest of Australia. The town I’m from,
Broome, is not a big town but very multicultural,
basically just for pearls. So we’re basically
the home of pearls. Pinctada maxima, which is
the world’s biggest pearl. It just comes from
that one coastline, basically from the
Kimberley down to the Pilbara. And because of that, we
had a lot of cultures from around the world just
coming to sort of capitalize on the pearl rush, kind of like
the gold rush but for pearls. So I’ve been quite lucky
to sort of be exposed to the entire world without
actually leaving my town. In a way, I guess
you could say that. And literacy to me,
being a graphic novelist, it’s really strange that people
say that I’m the first one. We did our homework. We went and searched. [Inaudible] did as well. And according to [inaudible], they’ve never had an
indigenous graphic — They actually don’t have that
many graphic novelists at all. There have been and
people that have attempted, indigenous people who have been
tempted to do graphic novels. But it’s a beautiful medium, but it’s also an
incredibly tough one. I did most — Like
any graphic novelist, you’re on your own
quite a lot, you know? But when I look back
and I think, this type of medium really
suits us indigenous people. From what I’ve learned
as a kid, even singing around the campfire telling
ghost stories and seeing sites where traditional
paintings are, you know. It’s all pictorial
and I thought. And it’s all in a sequence
just like a comic book. And it actually suits
us really well. So it’s strange to me that I’m
still recognized as the first and the only indigenous
graphic novelist. I think I’m sure there’ll
come a time when there’s going to be more of us, you know? And I really hope that changes. But I’m kind of at this
crossroad right now where — Because I’m the only one,
I’m getting indigenous people from all over the country saying
we want you to tell our story. We want you to turn this
into a graphic novel. And in the most polite
way possible, I’m trying to say do
it yourself, you know. But I can understand why. I know why they’re saying that. And I really hope that changes. So hopefully, thanks to the
Library of Congress and getting out there, I can create
more of awareness back home and maybe they’ll want
to change one day. Yeah.>>Belinda Wheeler: Jeanine.>>Jeanine Leane: Thank you. I’d like to acknowledge
the traditional owners on whose country I’m visiting and also acknowledge any other
Australians who are in the room. And particularly, I know there’s
some other Australian First Nations people here. So I’d like to acknowledge. Thanks for coming all this way. Okay. I was born on the completely other
side of Australia. I am thousands and
thousands of miles and days’ and days’ drive away
from these two. And I’m from the
eastern seaboard. Wiradjuri, I was born Wiradjuri. And Wiradjuri means of
the rivers or freshwater. I live in the freshwater
cradle of Australia. I was born in the freshwater
cradle, bounded by three rivers, Murrumbidgee or Murrumbidgee
as they say in English, which means the mother,
that’s my mother. The Kalare River and
the Wambool River. The Kalare and the Wambool
River actually also renamed after a settler, but we still
call them Wambool and Kalare. So I was born to a single mother
in a town called Wagga Wagga, which means two crows. And I came home in 1961. A lot of people, a lot
of babies born to single, aboriginal mothers particular
did not come home from hospital. So I had privilege
coming home with my mother and to three generations
of women, my nana and my two aunties
and my mother, or four if you count
myself and my sister, who are also under
the same roof. So the first bit of —
Country was the first bit of literature I learned to read. And despite the fact that I
lived in this part of Australia where — I come from this
town called Gundagai, which you can check this outline
online in the encyclopedia. It’s had more colonial songs
written about that town than any other town
in Australia, but not one single one of them
are about aboriginal people. So I grew up with these
stories of country that were quite different
to the folklore. And it was also an early settled
part, invaded part of Australia from about the 1820s onwards. But I grew up with a grandmother
who was born in the 1880s who had been raised by women
who had first-hand memories of what it was like
before white people came. And country was the first bit
of literature I learned to read. But I was also encouraged
to write and to read white literature. Some of my aunties were domestic
servants and they encouraged me to read white literature so I could understand
the colonial psychic because the power and they
can only understand people through their stories. So then I started — And
I was encouraged to write from a really young age,
being also an isolate and also our family
quite isolated from the community and shun. So I write to remember. Also, Australia as a settler
colony needs to be unsettled. And so, I write to
unsettle, [inaudible].>>Belinda Wheeler: Excellent. So one of the many things I love about this panel today
is the diverse genres that are being represented. Kim is here to promote
his latest book “Taboo,” a work of fiction. But one of the reasons that it
was so easy to do a companion on Kim is he’s also
published poetry. He’s published short stories. He’s worked on TV
scripts and film scripts. You name it, like,
he’s done it all. And, you know, it’s
really amazing, you know, when you’re looking at
the beautiful breadth of indigenous Australian
literature how many genres a lot of these authors navigate
these spaces very successfully. Jeanine also, last time she was
here at the Library of Congress, she was talking about her
book “Purple Threads.” And she’s here today to talk
about her poetry collection, so. And then, of course,
we’ve got, you know, Brenton with his
fantastic, you know, artistry and then also the
stories that he’s telling. So I wanted to just ask
briefly with one or two of you if you wanted to kind of
jump in and just kind of talk about how empowering it has
been for you as a storyteller to be able to successfully
share those stories in different genres
with your audience. And I might default
over to you, Kim, if I can at the beginning
just to kind of put you on the spot because of –>>Kim Scott: Okay. I was going to move it
around, but all right. We’ll keep order. We’ll keep order.>>Belinda Wheeler:
Just for this one.>>Kim Scott: What was the
question again, Belinda? The empowering swapping genres.>>Belinda Wheeler: Yeah, being able to successfully
swap genres. And I know. I’ll ask Jeanine, too,
about that as we go.>>Kim Scott: I don’t know if one can always do it
successfully because part of it is about trying
to succeed, reach different audiences
I think. And it involves shaping
material differently and also that business of trying to
work out what you want to say. And the form varies
that I think. And there’s also something in
there about playfulness I think. So it’s a range of things like
playfulness and opportunity and very much about
wanting to reach people. And that demands
different circumstances, different audiences, different
content, demands playing around with form, which
is basically what I see that business of
swapping genres is about.>>Belinda Wheeler: Okay. Is that kind of the
same for you, Jeanine, that you’ve found with, you
know, going between, you know, the poetry and, you
know, your other works?>>Jeanine Leane:
And prose and essay. Yeah. I want to reach as
many people as possible. And I think like the
whole genre thing is — I understand it’s
something we live with now. But it’s kind of like
a western category, and it’s a relatively new one. Like, I tend to think
in terms of story first, what is the story
I want to tell. And sometimes that can work
better in a poem, or sometimes that can work better
in an essay, or sometimes it could work
better in a short story of creative nonfiction. It’s about when you
meet different people, you adopt different
communication styles. And so, I adopt different
communication style depending on what the message is
I want to communicate. But also, as a writer,
I think not about genre. I’ll write something if someone
else will tell me this is what genre it’s in. Whatever. If you
read it, that’s cool. Can you understand it? Did you get it? So yeah, yeah. But yes, [inaudible]. I do agree that to be able to
— Now I know what I’m doing or that people have
explained what genre is to me. Yes, it is empowering to be able
to jump across those styles.>>Belinda Wheeler: So
enough from me momentarily. What I’m going to do, and this
will be the last time I ask them to do it in order. Then, they can have
at it afterwards. But in order, I would love
to invite each of the authors to share an excerpt of their
work with you so that you can — Some of you may or may not
be familiar with their works. But these are amazing, and I
know you’re just going to fall in love with them just
as much as I have. So, Kim, if you wouldn’t
mind sharing with us.>>Kim Scott: And it’s
about four minutes, about four or five minutes. The piece I’m going
to read, all you need to know before I start
reading I hope is that there is a runaway
truck going downhill, goes off the road, soft
sand of the riverbed and turns on its side. And a couple of people
crawl out of it. The two of them stamp
their feet on solid ground as if reassuring themselves. They listen to the
wheels spinning and the luxurious
whispering sound, wheat slowly spilling
from the vehicle. Come close. Closer. A small pile of wheat
is growing beside the trailer, fed by a thin, grainy spout from the upper corner
of the tarpaulin. Golden, it has both the look
and sound of great wealth. The tarpaulin slips a little so that the thin stream
becomes a golden chute, and then the tarpaulin
pulls away like an upside down stage curtain and a wide, low wave of wheat makes
the girl step back once, twice, three times. She stops, transfixed by
something in the trailer as the wheat continues to
flow around and behind her. Imagine a figure sitting in a
deep and rapidly draining bath: head and shoulders appear,
then the upper torso, knees. In the trailer, beginning
with the dome of a dark skull, a figure is being revealed. This figure slides
a little, shifts. The tarpaulin slips again. The golden grain continues
to flow across the ground. The figure begins to rise. It must be the moving
grain, but it seems as if the legs lever
it upright and it steps from the upturned
trailer and stands, swaying with the high
weigh of its skull. The girl, the figure, they
stand facing one another, feet invisible beneath
the grain. The wheat dust, the
light of the sandstorm, the after-effects
of the accident. What is it the girl sees? Something like a
skeleton, but not of bone. At least, not only bone. The limbs of timber. The skull is timber
too, dark and burnished, and ivory dentures, stained
as if by chomping, inhaling, gustatory human life,
grin exaltation. A gauze of gold dust
and light motes swirls from its broad shoulders and around the rippling
cage of its ribs. Long shanks lever the
pelvis, itself a solid thing of smooth river stone
and timber glowing at its center of gravity. Kneecaps too are smooth
stone, but the rest is bone and polished timber
and woven grass, seeds and brightly colored
feathers and even fencing wire. Cords of sinew, of neatly
knotted fishing line. And is it human hair? Meet moistly at each
mobile joint. The figure sways toward the
girl, led by the heavy skull, and then glides to
her, arms low and open, each beautifully defined and
delicate hand held palm up. Its whole being is a smile. Hands clasp; firm,
warm, un-calloused. And now, the wind
gathers strength. A melody plays across the visual
rhythm of those ribs; hollowed, meticulously carved
spaces begin to whistle and timber limbs begin
an accompaniment. Thunder cracks and booms. It rumbles in the riverbed. The figure teeters,
begins to move, to slowly fall apart
and maybe tumble. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Brenton McKenna:
I’m going to go next if that’s okay, everyone? I’m just going to keep my eye
on the time for my own records. Because of sort of the intimate
format of graphic novels, they’re not really suitable
to sort of read to the masses, if you know what I mean. It’s quite an intimate
one-on-one kind of thing. So instead of reading, I’m
just going to read the extract of just the book if
that makes more sense, just to give you an idea
what the book’s about. It only just occurred to me
that if I do read the extracts of all three books, you
probably don’t need to buy then. So I don’t know. Yeah. There’s still plenty
of pictures in there. Yeah, so. Yeah. You haven’t [inaudible]. I know. Sorry. Yeah. So basically, at the
beginning of each book, it just recaps what happened
in the previous volume. So I’ll start off, yeah, start
by explaining who Ubby is. So Ubby’s the main
character of the book, “Ubby’s and the Underdogs.” And so, the Underdogs
are a group of — This is like Broome
1940s just after the war. It’s still recovering. There’s still a lot of racial
tension and stuff like that. And the police presence
is almost nonexistent. It’s almost like
a wild west town. So the nationalities, the
cultures kind of relied on usually about 20 to 30 of its
youngest, strongest men to sort of police them sort of thing. So police presence,
almost nonexistent. But the cultural presence of
like a mini army protected each. So the French, the
Chinese, the Japanese. Everyone had sort of their own
sort of little miniature army that kind of kept the
peace, if that makes sense. So the Underdogs are
basically made up of guys who couldn’t make it in their
nationality, couldn’t make it in their own gang; hence, why
they’re called the Underdogs. Ubby’s the leader. Basically, in book one, what happens is they met a young
girl called Sai Fong straight off the boat from Shanghai. It starts off pretty innocent. They know she’s very unwell. But as the story
sort of evolves, it becomes that she’s
not just sick and she’s actually
hiding a humongous secret. So I’ll take it from there
by reading volume two. The story so far, Ubby, the
hero of our story, has just been through the toughest days
of our life in the dusty, pearling town of Broome. She and her rag-tag
gang, the Underdogs, cross paths with Sai Fong,
a mysterious Chinese girl, and her guardian
uncle, Yupman Poe, as they’ve just gotten off
the boat from Shanghai. After helping Ubby and the
Underdogs defeat a rival gang called the Pearl Juniors
at a local game of Gruff, it seems that Sai Fong
has finally found a place to call home. But when she disappears after a
victory over the Pearl Juniors in another challenge, the lives
of her and Ubby are threatened. The unforeseen circumstances
and consequences of these triumphs throw the
Underdogs into a bizarre world of ancient Chinese
legends and secrets, while simultaneously
mounting a rescue mission to save the chess playing by
— So I didn’t explain it. Buy the book. Trust me, it’ll make more sense. Yes. Convincing gave — No. I’ve just jumped. On the eve — Anyway, I’ll
just leave it at that one. So basically, in a nutshell,
she’s been kidnapped. I think I’ve just
given away the plot. That’s all right. That’s okay.>>Kim Scott: It’s the pictures.>>Brenton McKenna: Yes. Buy the pictures, please. Yes. And just before book
three starts, we’ve got sort of touching on the
previous volume as well. The story so far, after
a brazen rescue mission to free the chess-playing
baboon known as Medinga from the clutches of the
Donappletons, it is revealed that Medinga is also one of the
last remaining ghost baboons, a mythical species
of ape that is able to track and hunt ghosts. The Underdogs were forced to
keep on their toes as the search for Sai Fong becomes
more desperate. Using an ancient magical
practice, Yupman was able to see Medinga’s memories
of the night before. It unveiled Yupman’s
greatest fears, as well as providing a central
clue to finding Sai Fong. Looming in the dark
heart of Broome shadows, the Secret Council of Magic. Hai was delegated
the responsibility to resolve the matter,
but as Snow discovered, it was his own master that
brought about this new threat. No closer to finding
any answers, the Underdogs did their best
to conceal Medinga’s presence in a town now scouring
for the ape. They also learnt that
Donappleton’s secret agenda was to use Medinga as payment
for services of a hard group of mercenaries tracking down and following a creature even
more rare than the ghost baboon. After a close and explosive
encounter with the law, Medinga’s presence was made
aware, sending the town into a fever pitch before
he and Yupman were captured at the hands of this
new obscure enemy. During their fruitless
search for Sai Fong, the Underdogs stumble upon an
exchange at the port between Hai and his mysterious
enemies that were believed to be the Black Guard, a
secret organization committed to protecting China
from all threats, both physical and mystical. But as their meeting turns
sour, it was revealed that the Black Guards were
being guided by none other than the Hede, led by the
treacherous leader Uning, commander of the demon
cult hellbent on hunting and executing Yupman
and Sai Fong. Matters only got worse as
the Hede were confronted by the mercenaries wanting
to claim back Medinga; thus, ensued a violent battle. Within moments, the Underdogs
found themselves in the middle of a brawl between the
mercenaries and the Hede and now Sylvania’s
pearl workers. So they’re guys that
work on the dock. The raging battle climax
with the climatic mix of Ubby exercising
her new powers and Donappleton’s highly
explosive fuel supply. As the night reached
its end, the Underdogs and Sylvania’s men
retired victorious over the mercenaries
and the Hede. Yupman also finally met Ubby’s
[inaudible] mother Maryanne and discovered very quickly
where Ubby got her tenacity. That night, Ubby dreamt
Sai Fong came to her and told her the
whereabouts in a deathly place that also has a supernatural
blood thirsty history, a place called Hollow Groves. As the day dawn, it
became clear who was caught in the final stage of
this grizzly adventure and what they were in for. The mercenaries want payment. The gangs are hunting for glory. Donappleton is craving
more power. Uning and the Hedes are
seeking for the undead, but only the Underdogs
seek Sai Fong’s wellbeing. After this day, no one
will be left unscarred. Sorry. Not Ubby,
not the Underdogs, not even the entire
town of Broome. A menace unlike any before
has breached the horizon and now have their feet deep
in the sand with nothing else on their mind but chaos, a
menace that is closer to ever to throwing the entire
world into darkness; thus, unless the dragons
aren’t too late. That book’s called
Return of the Dragon since the dragon
reference at the end. Sorry. I hope that made sense. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Jeanine Leane: Thank you. I’m sharing mainly from my
latest book, “Walk Back Over.” But I do notice in
the bookstore, they also have my novel if
you want to know any more about my wonderful
aunties and nana. Okay. I’ve chosen a few poems. And you tell me if I go
under the five minutes and I’ll squeeze
an extra one in. I talk to my students
all the time about the many faces of racism. Hannah Arendt spoke about the
banal face of evil while I speak about the smiling
face of racism. And a lot of people in
Australia say they’re not racist or that it is only
this really rough, uneducated element of society. That is racist. And I always dispute that. And this poem is called
“Spur of the Moment.” It’s inspired by this person
called professor Barry Spurr who was the former chair of Australian studies
at Sydney University. He was also appointed, handpicked by a former
prime minister in 2014. The prime minister, his
name was Tony Abbott, and he was handpicked
to embed aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander perspectives in the school curriculum. And he was called out by
a zealous security guard who was alerted to his email
to some suspicious words that were racist on his email. And so, they checked
his email and found some of the messages I’m going to
quote for you in this poem. And the poem’s called “Spur of
the Moment,” for Barry Spurr. It might be tempting to
think now, as well-spoken, middle-class, white Australians
would have us believe, racism is dead. Swayed by lulls and lilts
of political correctness, they’re sure there
are no barriers for indigenous Australians now. They might think
they’ve decolonized and dismantled all institutional
racism in health, education, justice, housing,
and employment. Some even sit back and say
we’ve created a middle class of aborigines, teachers, nurses,
liars, politicians, actors, singers, dancers, writers. There’s even doctors
and dentists, not to mention all the
artists and sports people. They’re really overrepresented
there, aren’t they? Don’t forget the media. They have their own newspaper
and TV station now too. But on the spur of the next
moment, we hear a stabbing, bloody Abo-lovers
ruining our country. Human rubbish devaluing
our property. Retarded people making no
contribution to literature. Carved from the corridors
of power, heartland of middle-class,
educated, white Australia. We know racism is quarreling
like a scorched snake that slides beneath,
venomous and vicious, speaking with fork tongue,
dangerous and destructive, wearing umpteen respectable
faces of evil and deceit suavely like a new designer suit. The next one is called “Tracks
Wind Back,” and it’s a play on a folksong that’s written
about the town where I grew up called Gundagai, which means
bend in Wiradjuri language. The river takes a
big swing there. Gundagai means bend,
that shape like the back of your knee when you run. There’s a colonial folksong that I loathe called
there’s a track winding back to an old-fashioned
shack along the road to. Yeah, anyway. But this is poem that plays on that song called
Tracks Wind Back. Gundagai means bend, curve,
turn in the Murrumbidgee River, eddying and flowing, mother
of Wiradjuri children. Settlers, all struck
by a beauty, a garden of Eden,
so their stories go. Almost undiscovered where
Wiradjuri have no wants. They arrived in wagons of wire,
tin, steel, guns, disease, poured-out concrete over tracks
that wound back to the dawn. I couldn’t see our memories or
hear our stories, our dreaming. Those wrote their own histories,
songs of lovers, larrikins, sheep profits, droughts,
floods, fires, self-made men, stuff of colonial fanaticism. They couldn’t read the
history they built over. Deeper tracks wind
back to Gundagai, a long way east of Eden. And short one. I live in the national capital. I did live in the
national capital. I now live in Melbourne,
Canberra, the national capital. The white fellows spell
it like can-berra. But the proper and [inaudible]
word for is Canberra, Canberra. A short one, in 2013, as the
national capital, Canberra, turned 100 on the
Gregorian calendar, Canberra. Beneath the century
of concrete circles, ancient internal archives
hold stories, songs, dance, history between Murray beach
tides and Brindabella peaks, an older meeting place. And so many people think that aboriginal people
should only write about aboriginal things. But we have this, you know,
like it or not, white education, white literature,
white everything kind of forced on us by default. And, you know, and I think
[inaudible] sort quite happily with a lot of that, but
it wasn’t by choice. But we can write
about other things. And in this book, I’ve written
poems for Queen Guinevere, in addition to political things and aboriginal history
of my place. I’ve written also poems
to, you know, Cicero, Queen Guinevere, Sylvia Plath. And this one, “A Night
Song,” for T.S. Eliot. He walks out every night past
the mad man rattling dead geraniums, buys tea, cakes,
ices, a bunch of lilacs; grasp them in two
ragged claws for hands, walks home to the
rhapsody of a windy night; stares at a portrait of a lady;
writes unsingable love songs, and sits through each moment
in crisis, drowns in dreams. And the last poem is
not from the book. But if you want to read some
really good aboriginal language poetry, jump on Google and
hit the Sydney red Room Poetry and you’ll find a lot
of First Nations poetry. And I’m editing a book coming
out next year by Magabala books, who’s Brenton’s publisher,
which is an anthology of First Nations poets. This one’s called — This one’s
got some Wiradjuri language in it, Nurambang yali,
Nurambang yali country, not country Australia, my
country, Wiradjuri country. “Nurambang yali,
Country Speaks.” It’s been too long since I
sat on granite in my country and thought, too many years
since I breathed this air, Bunyi-ng, ganha, felt this
dirt, Ngamanhi, Dhaagun, smelt this dust, Budha, nhi
Bunan, listened to the sounds of her words that say Balandha,
dhuraay, Bumal-ayi-nya, Wumbay, abuny yaboing. History does not have the
first claim, nor the last word. Nghindhi, yarra,
dhalanbul, ngiyanhi gingu. You can speak us now. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Belinda Wheeler:
Thank you, everyone, for sharing those
exceptional excerpts. I’m going to ask one or two
more questions for the authors, and then we’re going
to turn it over to you for any questions
that you may have. So you may want to start lining
up, if you have a question, to the microphones there. But for the authors, this year
is the United Nations year of indigenous languages. Please share with the audience
how important indigenous Australian languages
are to you personally and to the wider community. Anyone can jump in. Anyone can jump in. I won’t force you in order.>>Jeanine Leane: Okay. We will shake it up a bit.>>Kim Scott: Sure. You go first.>>Jeanine Leane: I’ll go first. Languages. Yeah. I went to primary
school in the 1960s. And despite the fact
that everything around me had these words
Coolac, Wantabadgery, Bethangra, Eurongilly, Eurongilly, Illabo. And they’re all Wiradjuri. And I know a story about
each one of these places. But we were not allowed to
speak Wiradjuri at school. My mother was not allowed, and
my aunties were not allowed. The language was sleeping
for quite a while, not dead. But it’s over about 10
years ago, maybe a bit more, this wonderful guy
called uncle Stan Grant, who was a fluent
Wiradjuri speaker, started some language
programs in the ACT, Australian Capital
Territory, where Canberra is. Then he went on to write
a Wiradjuri dictionary. Now, he’s teaching
Wiradjuri language Charles Sturt University. I think the first time
I started to learn to speak my language
probably was like almost like being born again. I realized how heavy
my tongue was. And I wrote another
poem like that, which I will get to read out. But, you know, how bashed into
submission was my mouth and, you know, what a slave to
grammar and punctuation. So it was really I know
something that connected me. I was connected very much with
my intergenerational relatives. But it’s something that kind
of took me I think even more. And it was just really
liberating to be able to speak. And working with
the Sydney Red Room on a project called
Poetry in First Languages. I’ve worked with many other
aboriginal people working in their first, which is not my
first language because there’s over 200, maybe even 400
languages on the mainland. I can’t read them all,
but when I hear them, I can still understand them
because I do explain country.>>Brenton McKenna:
Thanks, Jeanine. Yeah. Language, for me, my
interpretation of language, it’s kind of, even accents,
it’s greatly influenced by the land, you know. Your language is a
reflection directly which land you come
from sort of thing. So Yawuru — And we’ve seen
that like the sound of Yawuru, really harsh and kind
of cool sometimes. But it kind of suits
Broome when you get there and see the kind
of culture there. And the same thing as Jeanine,
that I went to a Catholic school where I was told you
can’t speak any — It’s strictly English, you know. And they didn’t condone it, but
they strongly encouraged us not to speak it at home either. They kind of said
correct your parents when they can’t pronounce,
you know, words like, things like that. Looking back at it, it was
really bad at the time. We thought we were
doing the right thing, but hence why it led to this
whole generation of kids, my generation, almost none of us speaking our
traditional language and instead learning
bits and pieces of surrounding tribes’
languages and stuff like that and then thinking that was
our language, you know. That’s changed as of
about 15 years ago. We now have a language center in
Broome that teaches to everyone. And since that, I think
everyone’s now feeling like they’re part of the
land, both indigenous and nonindigenous people. And I’d love to see that. I’d really love to see the day
where nonindigenous people feel like they have some roots
in Kimberley in Broome because they’re willing
to open up their heritage and absorb ours, you know, because it’s the land
they’re currently living on. So I hope that day comes and I
hope it’s sooner than I think. But yeah, I’d love to do a
graphic novel one day completely in language. That’s pretty — Yeah,
the chances aren’t lucky. But here’s hoping. Thank you.>>Kim Scott: I think
this is a very big and complex question to answer. I’ve invested, as have many
other aboriginal people, a great amount of time and
energy in the last couple of decades in terms of
cultural language recovery. At the heart of my
ancestral country is infamous for historical massacres and the
little community living there, my family among them being
full of shame and humiliation and anger and resentment. I think our ancestral languages
are very important in terms of healing and in terms
of transformation. There’s been a lot
of research done on how the healing
works and applies. It’s very much about connection. It’s been a great joy
for me to be involved as a literary person,
as a story person in collecting a small community
of people surviving our history and not in a pedagogical
way, but with story and song particularly
that speaks of country. It’s a very endangered language
[inaudible] particularly the south coast dialect. And it occurs to me
sometimes how important it is as a major manifestation
of the spirit of country that we have the opportunity
to make ourselves instruments of that spirit and remaking
ourselves from the inside out, as has already been
mentioned how your tongue, how you can resonate with
the spirit of country through learning a language. And it gives you an alternative
other than just polemical, adversarial discourses. The transformation bit,
and we’ve just touched on that just now, I see for a
settler colony like Australia, and it may apply to others, that indigenous languages
are a major denomination in the currency of
identity and belonging. I’m a little more
bristly than Brenton, the generous Brenton
just speaking there in that I see that’s
where the potential for transformation comes in the
gifting that to a settler colony and their power relationship
being changed therein. I’ll stop there.>>Brenda Wheeler: Thank you. Do we have time for
just one question? Yes? Yes, ma’am.>>Speaker 1: So yes. I’m a linguist. And I’ve been working
with endangered languages. And also, remember back in my undergraduate
days reading folklore from a people called
[inaudible] in Australia. I’m not sure they
even exist anymore. But it was collected 1930s
material that was archived. And I’m wondering, as a
potential source of sort of cultural retrieval,
looking at traditional folklore as an avenue, for
example, in graphic novels, you have source material there
that this was a nomadic group that was very much had
sort of animal totems. Fascinating material. So just a thought. And thank you for doing
what you’re doing.>>Kim Scott: Thank you.>>Brenda Wheeler:
Thank you very much. So could we give the, excuse me, the presenters a
round of applause? [ Applause ] Thank you very much
for attending today. I just wanted to remind
you that at 11:30, these authors are
going to be available in the book signing area. And we would love to, you know,
have you come up and, you know, obviously have them sign
books for you, but also get to continue the conversation
more. So thank you very much and
enjoy the rest of your day. Thank you. [ Applause ]

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