[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
This book reminds me of Joanna Russ’ dictum that the literature of oppressed people can read like propaganda. People are not interested in allusion, indirection or obscurity when what they have to say is burning.

Unfortunately, the propaganda can be quite dated. Or at least of its time. This play is very definitely reminiscent of the late 1980s - the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the burgeoning land rights movement, and the upsurge in the Aboriginal rights movement in light of the bicentennial celebrations.

It was not a surprise to me to see *Murras* was first performed in 1988 and workshopped in 1987 at the National Black Playwrights Conference. It serves, for me, more as a snapshot of a particular time than as a lasting work of art.
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
2.11 Pat Lowe and Jimmy Pike, Yinti, Desert Child (1992)

2.12 Pat Lowe and Jimmy Pike, Desert Dog (1997)

2.13 Pat Lowe and Jimmy Pike, Desert Cowboy (2000)

These children's books are told by Pat Lowe and based on the experiences of Jimmy Pike in his childhood as a hunter gatherer in the central desert. He came in from the desert to a station in the 1950s, one of the last groups to do so.

*Yinti, Desert Child* describes his childhood and his first trip in to see relatives on a station in his adolescence. *Desert Dog* is a story about his mother's wonderful hunting dingo, Spinifex, who comes in with him to the station and then runs away back to his mother in the desert. *Desert Cowboy* is is the third part of the biography. It charts Jimmy’s permanent move in to working on stations in the Kimberley. I was particularly interested in how he adjusted from a hunter gatherer life to the whitefeller idea of ‘work’ and ‘pay’ in order to stay on the country.

The books are written by Pat Lowe, who is white, but I have included them here as the illustrations are so integral to the stories. Pat Lowe's introduction says she has sometimes altered Jimmy Pike's stories for ease of understanding. This is always the tricky part of having someone else write for you - but perhaps in this case it was a particularly tight collaboration as they are a married couple.

My two and three quarter year old daughter really liked Jimmy Pike’s illustrations. The bright colours (I think textas?) and straightforward pictures of horses and men and cattle are just right for her. The stories are, of course, far beyond her, being aimed at perhaps seven to ten year olds.
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
Arone Raymond Meeks, Enora and the Black Crane (1991)

This is another traditional story retold for children. I read it to my little girl but she was not thrilled. It was, perhaps, too advanced to her. Or perhaps she sensed my hesitation in reading *yet another* traditional story which revolves around spearing animals.
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
2.8 Christopher Fry, Djomi Dream Child (2004)

This story was too complicated for my two and a half year old. It's about a dream child who floats downstream towards the coast of Maningrida in Arnhem Land. It starts out as a dream vision that an old man has and then turns into the story of the girl in the dream realm and then in the natural world after she is born. That's quite a lot of meta and I'd say the readers would need to be five to seven for it to make sense.

She did request it again and got more out of it when I simplified the story and just related it to the pictures. She liked the one of the dream children in the pool. As she said several times, they were happy because this was where they belonged.
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
Narelle McRobbie, Bip the Snapping Bungaroo (1990)

Bip the snapping bungaroo loses his snap. It’s obviously a children’s story, but probably one aimed at kids at little older than mine.

She really liked the illustrations of the turtle, especially when his head went in and out. The pictures are by Aboriginal illustrator Grace Fielding.
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
2.3 - Animals: An Indigenous First Discovery Book, artwork by Debbie Austin (2008)

The series was created to help raise awareness of the imortance of using Australian Indigenous symbols to teach stories to the young of our culture. This one, obviously, focuses on animals. Each page shows one symbol and there is a legend at the end so you can translate them.

My toddler was not terribly impressed - possibly she viewed it as too childish as there was no text.

2.4 - Aussie Twos Like To, Magabala Books (no date)

This follows on from Magabala Books’ *Aussie Toddlers Can*. It’s a collection of pictures of kids playing - what I like most about it is the range of skin tones the kids have.

It was less successful with my daughter than the toddler book, perhaps because she now feels too old for a book without text.
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
The Art of Sally Morgan, Intro by Jill Milroy, 1996

This is a compilation of Sally Morgan's art from the period 1986 to 1995. Her art is a beautiful example of contemporary Aboriginal art. The art is two dimensional and uses a bold palette of mostly primary colours. She works mostly in acrylics or screen printing.

Some of her pictures are obviously political, such as *Another Story* (1988) which shows a squatter's house at the top, with the bones of Aboriginal people in the ground. But, when you look at them thoughtfully, they all deal with the distribution of power in some way (surely the most meaningful way of considering politics). Take *Dancing Women* (1988), a black and white print of dancing women with stars. The image of women together recurs in her work, referring to her own female-headed family and her belief in the strength of Aboriginal women in maintaining Aboriginal culture.

Really beautiful art that considers contemporary Aboriginal and non-Indigenous issues in Australia.
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
Sally Morgan, My Place (1987)

This is the one work of Aboriginal writing that every leftish bookshelf holds. It must be the only consistent seller from the marginal Fremantle Arts Centre Press. I’ve seen it in multiple editions - illustrated, edited down for children, split into multiple volumes.

There’s a reason for this - it’s incredibly well written. It isn’t just that her life story is fascinating, though it is. As she says, Aboriginal voices haven’t been heard much in Australian history. It’s also so beautifully paced, with startlingly clear imagery.
[identity profile] zara-capeverde.livejournal.com
The Final Passage by Caryl Phillips

Tells the story of Leila, a young woman from an unspecified Caribbean island, her doomed marriage and later migration to England.

Phillips' style is very poetic. There are some flat-out beautiful descriptions of the sea and the colours of the island, which are later contrasted strongly with the monotone grey of London. The connection between the environment and the state of Leila and Michael's marriage is cleverly intertwined the whole way through - as they cast off to sea it seems their relationship has a breath of futurity, but then the weather and poverty of life in England begin to make it claustrophobic again. Here for instance: The sky hung so low it covered the street like a dark coffin lid. The cars that passed by were just blurry colours, and the people rushed homeward, images of isolation, fighting umbrellas and winds that buffeted their bodies. . The book is much more focussed on tone than plot, however, and it ends quite abruptly. It is intentionally timeless, and it is a good exploration of the trials of emigration, but I think if it was less vague it would possibly have more authenticity and meaning. I enjoyed it though.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

Zhaung flies to the UK to learn English, then falls in love with an English man and discovers that the language of love is even harder to comprehend.

I absolutely loved this book. I loved Z. It's been a while since I read a female protagonist who is as smart, funny and bold as she is. I think this book might annoy some people because of the way it starts with deliberately broken English, but I am a word geek and I adored all the discussions about English vs Chinese words (there's a particularly moving section where Z and her English lover exchange the words for different plants). I am a sucker for romance, and I liked that it felt sort of clumsily natural and that there were problems and miscommunications, because that is real love. This book also had really great descriptions of London (like The Final Passage): The morning wind is washing my brain, and my small body. This is a city with something really heavy and serious in its soul. This is a city which had big wars in the history. And, I feel, this is a city made for mans, and politics, and disciplines. Like Beijing. Highly recommend this novel, I'll be checking out more of her writing asap.

Legacy by Larissa Behrendt

Simone is a young Aboriginal lawyer researching the legal arguments for Indigenous sovereignty. Her father is a prominent Aboriginal activist. The two have a troubled relationship due to his chronic infidelity. The novel explores the dynamics between all the people in Simone's life, as well as the legacy of Aboriginal dispossession. I have a heart that has been quick to fall in love with ideals ... but I’ve never been as willing to love realities

I struggled a little bit to get into this book because I thought some of the literary/historical references were forced in toward the beginning but by the middle, and certainly throughout all of the second part, the story really took off and I couldn't put it down. Again, Simone is a strong and sympathetic leading character, and it was great to see a female lead with such integrity. Behrendt is very talented at writing in more than one voice, she allows every character to have their say on the truth and to redeem themselves. I haven't read a book that was so good at heart for a long while. It is lighter than you might expect given some of the subject matter (not that it shies away from it or anything, just that it is the familial/romantic relationships that are the core of the plot not the political issues) and it is a great book if you just want something uplifting to read.
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
# 47 Sylvia Emmerton, My Mob Going to the Beach (Black Ink Press, 2004)

This book was recommended on the list of *30 Books to Read Before You are Three* provided by my local library. I could tell before I saw it that it would be written by an Aboriginal author, as almost every time I see the word 'mob' it is being used by an Aboriginal Australian.

The book has simple, clear pictures by Jaquanna Elliott (who is descended from the Dunghutti people and lives in Townsville) and a nice, repetitive story about going to the beach by Sylvia Emmerton (who is a woman of Kalkadoon descent who was raised in Townsville).

Two thumbs up as a kiddies' book.
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[identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com
Title: Rabbit-Proof Fence
Author: Doris Pilkington
Number of Pages: 137 pages
My Rating: 4/5

This is the true story of how three girls, Molly, Daisy, and Gracie, escaped from a residential school designed to turn half-white Aboriginal children into servants for white families and walked 1600 km back to their home.

It's a good story and I enjoyed learning more about Australian history, but I found the writing style sort of hard to get into. It's neither a novel nor a straight historical account, but a mix of both, and that didn't really work for me. There would be bits written in a very fictional tone, including thoughts from characters the author couldn't have known the thoughts of, and then you'd hit a big section with excerpts of historical documents, complete with citations.

Still, I enjoyed it (and it helped that it was quite short) and would definitely recommend it.

I'm curious to see the movie and see how it compares with the book.
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
Sally Morgan, Just a Little Brown Dog, illustrated Bronwyn Bancroft (1997)

It’s a children’s book, probably aimed at five to seven year olds. I liked the story - about a little brown dog that is the runt of the litter but who makes friends with a boy.

But I was not a big fan of the illustrations. I don’t like Bronwyn Bancroft’s style - or rather I don’t mind her style but her colour range is stuck in 1985 and I find it jarring.
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
# 40 Gracie Green, Joe Tramacchi and Lucile Gill, Tjarany Roughtail (1992)

I found this in the library discard pile - what a bargain at 50 cents! But then I read it and it's quite disappointing. Worth my 50 cents, no doubt, but not great.

It is a collection of traditional Aboriginal stories from the Kimberley, told in English and Kukatja. There are quite a lot of anthologies like this available now, but this was a quite early one - 1992.

Perhaps this early publication date explains the odd decision to include a six page guide to kinship rules which was so complicated that I found it difficult to follow (and I have read these guides to skin groups before). I can't believe that even the most motivated child reader - and the book was placed in junior non-fiction - would be able to wade through it. Likewise the guide to pronunciation.

Tjarany Roughtail was shortlisted by the Children's Book Council of Australia and it won the Eve Pownall Award. This surprises me as usually these are good indications of quality, age-appropriate material.
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
# 38 - Aussie Todders Can...

Magabala books produced *Aussie Toddlers Can...* - www.magabala.com

It's the simplest children's book I've reviewed here and yet the very best for toddlers. My daughter loves it now (at thirteen months) and has loved it for at least the past six months.

There are ten board pages and each page has a picture of a child doing something - eating, playing the drums, etc. My baby girl laughs at the pictures, really loves it. It is one of her favourite books.

And it is easy to talk about. Some picture books I've read to her start to wane after a while. I find that I am saying 'It's a red bouncy ball. It's red... and bouncy.'

Whereas with this one there is a ton of stuff to say about these pictures. 'Look at the little boy. He has lovely curly hair. Look at his shirt. It has shiny crocodiles on it, doesn't it? He is dancing. He likes the music. You like music too. Maybe we will listen to music later.'

On a personal note, I realise that when I am talking about the kids in the pictures I never say 'This is a white boy. That is a black girl.' I am going to continue with this, I think, on the basis that I don't want her to think that is the way to identify people.
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
# 37 From Little Things Big Things Grow, lyrics by Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody, illustrated by kids from Gurindji, with paintings by Peter Hudson (2008)

This is a really fabulous children's book which gives the lyrics of Paul Kelly's famous song *From Little Things Big Things Grow*. This story - for the benefit of non-Australians - tells the story of the strike on Wave Hill Station in the Northern Territory (on Gurindji country). This culminated in both wages for workers (previously paid mostly in rations) and a massively significant grant of land rights to the Gurindji people in 1975.

The book is illustrated by kids from Gurindji and the profits from the book go to arts and literacy projects for kids on the lands. Plus it has gorgeous paintings of the country by Peter Hudson.

A friend bought a copy of this for my baby girl and then kept it because it is so beautiful. I completely understand this - it's a gorgeous book and I'm definitely getting a copy for her. Especially as - at thirteen months - she is not old enough to object to my somewhat off-key rendition of the song.
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
# 36 Veronica Brooking, Kimberley Boy, illustrated by Annette Millar (2007)

Veronica Brooking wrote this book for her son Bradrick to celebrate their life at Ngalapita, a community with eleven houses. She says in the afterword:

'I wrote this book to show others that you can have fun when you live out in the bush. In a remote community there is a lot of love from family and friends and you can always get something to eat, from the store or the bush. People become strong in their own community, learning about their language and culture.'

When I thought about it this was almost the first book which talks positively about life in a remote community. The news is almost always about how remote communities have problems with alcohol, with education, with violence. The word in Government is usually about how difficult/impossible to resource communities so small and so far away adequately.

This book outlines the value in remote communities in a way I have not seen before.

I must say that *Kimberley Boy* did make me realise what a city girl I am. The photos of a plucked bush turkey (proudly held by Bradrick) and a gutted goanna were a bit much for me.
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
# 35 - Kevin Gilbert, Child's Dreaming (1992), photography by Eleanor Williams

Kevin Gilbert was self-educated in prison. He was involved in the Aboriginal rights movement from the 1970s and he initiated the idea of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra.

He was the author of the first written Aboriginal play, wrote Living Black (which I've reviewed previously) and was awarded - and refused - the Human Rights Award for Literature.

This is a collection of poems for children. Mostly they are about animals and insects, written in a very straightforward way. The collection is illustrated with clear photos by Eleanor Williams. I think it would be a nice collection to read aloud to a child of say three to seven.
[identity profile] violent-rabbit.livejournal.com
3rd book: Persepolis by Maejane Satrapi

Everyone has read it and if you haven't you should. A wonderful, exquisitely wrought piece on growing up Iranian. It has beautiful evocative illustrations without the uncanny valley of realism.

4th book: Walking the Boundaries by Jackie French, illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft

I'm being a little cheeky here as Jackie French is a white lady, albeit grown up in the bush. However the illustrator, Bronwyn Bancroft is a descendant of the Bunjalung people of New South Wales. If this book doesn't fit into the criteria of this challenge (as it is a POC authors challenge) I will be happy to delete it.

It is a beautiful book, time and space. It has that lovely clarity that young adult books sometimes possess and is wonderful moving in an understated way. I do recommend it if only for your own and young person of your acquaintance.

5th Book: Emily Kame Kngwarreye: Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Exhibition Catalouge. Details of the exhibition can be found here:http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/utopia_the_genius_of_emily_kame_kngwarreye/catalogue/

This catalogue was an inclusive look at her history as well as insightful essay that do not get too bogged down in art speak. Also includes a biography, history time line, and pictures of Utopia. Margo Neale's essay is featured here and as I had the very good fortune to hear her speak on this exhibition it is well worth the read. great for anyone interested in Indigenous Australian art, contemporary or no as it provides a certain sort of Rosetta stone for anyone uninitiated in a kind of indigenous world view.
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
# 33 - Sally Morgan, Wanamurraganya: The Story of Jack McPhee (1989)

I was surprised to find this. I had honestly known only of Sally Morgan’s enormously famous *My Story*.

*My Story* is like the default Aboriginal autobiography. That’s a lot of expectation to hang on one solitary book. Every time I mention I am doing this challenge people say ‘Oh, I’ve read *My Story*. You should read it.’ Apparently I had also fallen into this trick of thinking as I had not realised she wrote another work.

Sally Morgan met Jack McPhee when she went to Pilbara, looking for people who might have known her own grandparents before they were sent down to missions in the south. He remembered them! She got to know him and wound up writing his biography.

Jack McPhee was born to an Aboriginal mother and a white father around 1905 in the Pilbara. As he says:

‘I see it as the story of a working man, and I think working me who read it will understand because they know the struggle. Then I also see it as the story of Wanamurraganya, the son of a tribal Aborigine. Then again, it’s the story of a man who is fighting with being black and white. A man who chooses not to live in the tribal way, but who can’t live the whiteman’s way because the Government won’t let him. I could go on and on, because what I’m really saying is, it’s the story of many people, and they’re all me!’

This means it is completely different to *My Story* which concentrates on Sally Morgan’s search for his identity. Jack knew who he was and where he came from (with a caveat I discuss below).

The focus of his story is on his attempts to negotiate living his life despite the constant interference of the Department of Native Welfare. You can hear his frustration at the need for permission to marry, the fact that he and his wife weren’t allowed to go to a station where his wife had family and where they had good economic prospects.

The other theme that recurs throughout the book is the importance of names as a means of negotiating between traditional and white cultures. This is implicit in the title which gives both his names. The first chapters consist of Jack naming his family: his mother Marduwanyjawurru (‘her white name was Mary’), his aunts Mugaari or Eve, Nyamalangu or Nellie, Yarriwawurru or Dinah, and Ngarlgaari or Fanny.

He met his wife while visiting relatives at Moore River Native Settlement. He says ‘I became serious about a girl named Susie Smith. She was from the Ashburton area... and her real name was Bessie Connaughton, but they changed her name when she was brought to the Settlement. Her Aboriginal name was Mularna, but no one called her by that.’

Names are very confusing things in this world. There is the Aboriginal name given at birth and then a name randomly assigned by white people when they met them. This could lead to much confusion as, for instance, when Jack met a pastoralist who was trying to figure out if Jack’s wife Susie was the girl he had known on his station.

He was interested in knowing because she had ‘been like a daughter to him’. This was often code for ‘this is my unacknowledged child’ but in this case seems to have actually meant ‘I knew her as a child’.

Jack had himself thought that one white man was his biological father (a man named Sandy McPhee who was fond of him and spent time with him before he died in World War One). As an adult he discovered that it was actually a different white man. This was essentially irrelevant as he had an Aboriginal father who took on the cultural role of fathering him. (This is the caveat I noted earlier).

This double vision stems from the constant negotiation between the black world and the white one. Jack McPhee always knows exactly who he is and where he comes from, u=but explaining it means a lot of extra information because it is quite complicated.

In short, an excellent book, a real surprise to me.


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