Seven powerful page-turners by Indigenous authors to add to your reading list
Over the last few weeks we’ve shone a light on some beautiful beauty brands and clothing labels that are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander owned and operated, or in support of local Indigenous communities in Australia (you can check them out here and here if you missed them) as well as some incredible artists, designers and jewellery makers (check them out here). This week, we’re turning our attention to literature penned by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors (and illustrators) – from novels to non-fiction, poetry to compilations and even a little something for the wee ones. While this list has barely even begun to scratch the surface of Indigenous literary talent in this country, here are seven sensational and powerful page-turners to get you started.
My Tidda, My Sister by Marlee Silva
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture has existed for more than 60,000 years. It’s 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 powerful voices of First Nations’ women throughout the book provide an alternative to the idea that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. For non-Indigenous women, My Tidda, My Sister offers an insight into the lives of 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 heart-breaking 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 women.
Tell Me Why: The Story of My Life and My Music by Archie Roach
Archie Roach AM is a Gunditjmara and Bundjalung man who was born in Victoria in 1956. At just two years of age, Archie was taken from his parents (who he never saw again) and placed into foster care. He passed through several foster homes before settling with the Cox family. When he was a teenager, Archie received a letter from a sister he didn’t know he had bearing news of the recent death of his biological mother. The revelation triggered an identity crisis that manifested in more than a decade of alcoholism and periods of homelessness. While living on the streets, Archie met Ruby Hunter – a Ngarrindjeri woman from South Australia who was also of the Stolen Generations and a talented musician. Archie credits Ruby as his soulmate and saviour and they began writing songs together. Archie’s heartbreaking song, ‘Took the Children Away’, from his 1990 ARIA award-winning debut album Charcoal Lane, has become an anthem for the Stolen Generations. This book, Tell Me Why, is his memoir. It’s an extraordinary odyssey through love and heartbreak, family and community, survival and renewal – and the healing power of music. Overcoming enormous odds to find his story and his people, Archie voices the joy, pain and hope he found on his path through song to become the legendary singer-songwriter and storyteller that he is today.
Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia edited by Dr Anita Heiss
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to grow up as an Indigenous person in Australia, this award-winning anthology is for you. The groundbreaking collection of experiences was compiled by celebrated author and proud member of the Wiradjuri nation of central New South Wales, Dr Anita Heiss, and showcases many diverse voices and stories that will enlighten, inspire and educate. Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia features accounts from well-known authors and high-profile identities alongside newly discovered writers and offers insights from Tony Birch, Deborah Cheetham, Adam Goodes, Terri Janke, Patrick Johnson, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Jack Latimore, Celeste Liddle, Amy McQuire, Kerry Reed-Gilbert, Miranda Tapsell, Jared Thomas, Aileen Walsh, Alexis West and Tara June Winch, to name a few. If you are a fan of Anita Heiss’ work, also check out Am I Black Enough For You?.
Finding the Heart of the Nation by Thomas Mayor
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 so if you’re not familiar, this is an excellent place to start. Thomas believes that we will only find the heart of our nation when the First Peoples – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – are recognised with a representative Voice enshrined in the Australian Constitution.
Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
Dark Emu calls for a reconsideration of the ‘hunter-gatherer’ tag for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians and attempts to rebut the myths that have worked to justify dispossession. Accomplished author Bruce Pascoe provides compelling evidence from the diaries of early explorers that suggest 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. Bruce has also created an adapted version for young readers entitled Young Dark Emu – A Truer History.
Kindred by Kirli Saunders
Kirli Saunders is a proud Gunai Woman and an award-winning international children’s author and poet, as well as a teacher and emerging artist. Kindred presents her debut poetry collection and was shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA) Small Publishers’ Adult Book of the Year. Kindred fearlessly tackles big themes including love, connection and loss in her compelling and engaging style that is guaranteed to keep you thinking long after you put the book down. Kirli possesses a keen eye for observation and humour, which is complemented by evocative and poignant imagery. Kindred speaks of identity, culture, community and the role of Earth as healer.
I Love Me by Sally Morgan and illustrated by Ambelin Kwaymullina
If you have little humans in your life, I Love Me is a celebration of individuality and joyous self-esteem in bouncy, rhythmic prose and riotous colour. Written by acclaimed author Sally Morgan and beautifully illustrated by Ambelin Kwaymullina, it’s a wonderful reminder that the best thing we can do for ourselves is embrace who we are. It’s a must have for any kids book shelf.
If you’re still looking for more to add to your reading list, check out Magabala Books – a fantastic not-for-profit Indigenous publisher based in Broome, Western Australia. In the meantime, here are a few others to keep you going – Talking to My Country by Stan Grant, Too Much Lip by Melissa Lukashenko and if you’re on the lookout for a travel guidebook to Indigenous Australia, have a look at Welcome to Country by Marcia Langton.
Image credit: Archie Roach, Adrian Cook Photography