SPOTLIGHT ON… Indigenous Australian authors: 10 Must Read Books about Indigenous Australia

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This week, Book Club focuses on Indigenous storytelling – a mix of fiction and non-fiction, Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors spreading their messages of Indigenous Australia through story.

 

 

Bloke
Bruce Pascoe
Jim Bloke’s your typical Aussie, sort of.  Being an orphan he’s done it tough in the past, but he knows how to take care of himself and he has an affinity with life’s important things.  So when he take a job as a sea-urchin diver on a stretch of coastal paradise, he’s right at home with the morwong, pearl perch and butterfish. He’s less at home with the people – apart from the woman who works as his deckhand – since the industry’s crookeder than your average banker.  And because Bloke’s already done a season in the big gym, he makes a perfect fall guy when things go wrong. That sends him running again, by a roundabout way into the arms of his real family.  But Jim’s not too sure that’s where he wants to be.  He wants love and that’s hard, he wants his identity and that’s even harder. Bloke is an achingly funny novel about coming to terms with who you are, where you belong, who you love.  Jim has a weakness for women that leads him into trouble, and then to salvation.

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Butterfly Song
Terri Janke
Tarena Shaw has just finished her law degree but isn’t sure she wants to be a lawyer after all. What place does a black lawyer have in a white legal system? Does everyone in Sydney feel like a turtle without a shell? Drawn to Thursday Island, the home of her grandparents, Tarena is persuaded by her family to take on her first case. Part of the evidence is a man with a guitar and a very special song.

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Mullumbimby
Melissa Lucashenko
A darkly funny novel of romantic love and cultural warfare. When Jo Breen uses her divorce settlement to buy a neglected property in the Byron Bay hinterland, she is hoping for a tree change, and a blossoming connection to the land of her Aboriginal ancestors. What she discovers instead is sharp dissent from her teenage daughter Ellen, trouble brewing from unimpressed white neighbours, and a looming Native Title war among the local Bundjalung families. When Jo stumbles into love on one side of the Native Title divide she quickly learns that living on country is only part of the recipe for the Good Life. Told with humour and a sharp satirical eye, Mullumbimby is a modern novel set against an ancient land.

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Am I Black Enough For You?
Anita Heiss
The story of an urban-based high achieving Aboriginal woman working to break down stereotypes and build bridges between black and white Australia. I’m Aboriginal. I’m just not the Aboriginal person a lot of people want or expect me to be. 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 central New South Wales, but was raised in the suburbs of Sydney and educated at the local Catholic school. She is Aboriginal – however, this does not mean she likes to go barefoot and, please, don’t ask her to 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.In this deeply personal memoir, told in her distinctive, wry style, Anita Heiss gives a first-hand account of her experiences as a woman with an Aboriginal mother and Austrian father, and explains the development of her activist consciousness. Read her story and ask: what does it take for someone to be black enough for you?

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Purple Threads
Jeanine Leane
Winner of the 2010 David Unaipon Award for Indigenous Writing, Purple Threads is a humorous collection of rural yarns by a gifted storyteller. 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.

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The Boundary
Nicole Watson
An award-winning crime novel that breaks new ground in Australian fiction, winner of the 2009 David Unaipon Award. Long ago, Meston Park in Brisbane’s West End marked the city’s boundary. A curfew kept its Aboriginal population outside the city limits after dark. When the park becomes the site of a multi-million dollar development, the Corrowa People vow to fight and file a native title claim. Hours after rejecting the claim, Justice Bruce Brosnan is brutally murdered. Some believe it is the work of an ancient assassin, returned to destroy the boundary. While the investigation forces Detective Jason Matthews to confront his buried heritage, lawyer Miranda Eversely battles a sense of personal failure at the Corrowa’s defeat. How far will it take her to the edge of self-destruction?

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The Tall Man
Chloe Hooper
In 2004 on Palm Island, an Aboriginal settlement in the “Deep North” of Australia, a thirty-six-year-old man named Cameron Doomadgee was arrested for swearing at a white police officer. Forty minutes later he was dead in the jailhouse. The police claimed he’d tripped on a step, but his liver was ruptured. The main suspect was Senior Sergeant Christopher Hurley, a charismatic cop with long experience in Aboriginal communities and decorations for his work. Chloe Hooper was asked to write about the case by the pro bono lawyer who represented Cameron Doomadgee’s family. He told her it would take a couple of weeks. She spent three years following Hurley’s trail to some of the wildest and most remote parts of Australia, exploring Aboriginal myths and history and the roots of brutal chaos in the Palm Island community. Her stunning account goes to the heart of a struggle for power, revenge, and justice. Told in luminous detail, it is the story of two worlds clashing — and a haunting moral puzzle that no reader will forget.

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The Mind of a Thief
Patti Miller
Exploring the history of the Wiradjuri people, the conflict of colonization, their mythologies, and their attachment to the land, author Patti Miller reveals both her own story and the position of Aboriginal people in today’s society in this fascinating memoir. For 40,000 years, the Central New South Wales area of Wellington was Aboriginal Wiradjuri land. Following the arrival of white men, it became a penal settlement, a mission station, a gold-mining town, and a farming center with a history of white comfort and black marginalization. In the late 20th century, it was also the subject of the first post-Mabo native title claim, bringing new hope—and controversy—to the area and its people. Patti, a local of the area, explores Australian identity in relation to her beloved but stolen country. Black and white politics, the processes of colonization, family mythologies, generational conflict, and the power of place are evoked as she weaves a story that is very personal and, at the same time, a universal tale of belonging.

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Mazin Grace
Dylan Coleman
With the powerful, rhythmic sounds of Aboriginal English and Kokatha language woven through the narrative, Mazin Grace is the inspirational story of a feisty girl who refuses to be told who she is, determined to uncover the truth for herself. Growing up on the Mission isn’t easy for clever Grace Oldman. When her classmates tease her for not having a father, she doesn’t know what to say. Pappa Neddy says her dad is the Lord God in Heaven, but that doesn’t help when the Mission kids call her a bastard. As Grace slowly pieces together clues that might lead to answers, she struggles to find a place in a community that rejects her for reasons she doesn’t understand. In this novel, author Dylan Coleman fictionalizes her mother’s childhood at the Koonibba Lutheran Mission in South Australia in the 1940s and 1950s.

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The Lone Protestor: AM Fernando in Australia and Europe
Fiona Paisley
The late 1920s marked an extraordinary protest by an Australian Aboriginal man on the streets of London. Standing outside Australia House, cloaked in tiny skeletons, Anthony Martin Fernando condemned the failure of British rule in his country. Drawn from an extensive search in archives from Australia and Europe, this is the first full-length study of Fernando’s life and the self-professed mission that lasted half his adult life. A moving account, it chronicles the various forms of action taken by Fernando—from pamphlets on the streets of Rome to speeches in the famous Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park—and brings to light previously unknown details about his extraordinary life in Australia and overseas.

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3 Comments on SPOTLIGHT ON… Indigenous Australian authors: 10 Must Read Books about Indigenous Australia

  1. Chloe is not Aboriginal she’s majic though I was with her in USA at Art Omi. The title says Spotlight on Indigenous Australian Authors so it does need to be fixed and her name and book taken out. I think the Tall Man is fantastic as well. Can somebody please let this fella now there is a mistake please.

    • Hi Kerry,

      Thanks for checking out the top ten and for your feedback.

      To clarify, the spotlight for the week was on Indigenous authors however as the title suggests the Top 10 is ‘must read books about Indigenous Australia’ so not exclusive to Indigenous authors and aligned more so to the overall topic of Indigenous Australia.

      Several of these authors are non-Indigenous however have been included due to the fact that their writings are pertinent to Indigenous Australia.

      Chloe’s book in particular was a fabulous insight into how one particular Indigenous Australian was treated in custody and revealed many insights as to how and why this remains the case in Australia.

      In my opinion, all topics should be open to all matter of thoughts, backgrounds, and influences and there are many non-Indigenous Aussies who have fantastic thoughts and research on Indigenous issues.

      I hope this clarifies how and why certain books were chosen, and again thanks for stopping by.

      J’aimee

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