Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I'm (belatedly) grateful for the BlackWords Symposium - UQ

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 Writing Us Panel: Ellen Van Neerven-Currie & Peter Minter (back), Dr Sandra Phillips & me front :)

On October 20, I was part of one of the most inspiring, intelligent, motivational and empowering literary events I’ve even been to. And no, it wasn’t simply because I convened it. Rather, it was because the program included speakers the likes of Bruce Pascoe, Dr Peter Minter, Dr Jared Thomas, Dr Sandra Phillips, Wesley Enoch and Australian Children’s laureate Boori Monty Pryor. These deadly people appeared alongside a number of other articulate and widely published academics, authors and editors.

The event was the BLACKWORDS Symposium, held at the UQ Art Museum and hosted by AustLit and EMSAH and it brought together students, researchers, readers and librarians to discuss the current state of Indigenous writing and storytelling in Australia.

I was there because of my connection to BlackWords, which began back in 2006 when I was offered my dream job to coordinate the pre-existing on-line database of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and storytellers. I was asked to help grow the resource nationally with staff and content development, while assisting in promoting and showcasing our published work over time. And someone was going to actually pay me for it. I nearly wet my pants when I heard that.

Director of AustLit - Kerry Kilner opens the day 

I still remember my interview with Kerry Kilner (above), Cheryl Taylor and Gus Worby and how my head was brimming with ideas immediately. Some of those ideas have come to fruition and can be witnessed on the current BlackWords site of AustLit.

For those of you who don’t know, BlackWords as a comprehensive on-line facility assists me in all my public talks as a writer – especially to teacher librarians seeking works across genres, subjects, genders and geography to use in their classrooms – but also to general Australian readers wanting to broaden their own reading of Indigenous Australia. I can share with them the one-stop shop of all they need to read to find… all they need to read.

The fact that those interested can search by heritage also means it’s now easy to search for every book, poem, play or essay written about your local area, and indeed I often suggest schools do projects using the literature they can find on the traditional owners of country and the related history of the local area they live in.

 Wesley Enoch discusses the process of developing I Am Eora

For me, as a writer focusing often on history that is important to me as an Aboriginal Australian, I love that I can search the Calendar of events and click on for example Aboriginal Day of Mourning or the Pilbara Strike, or Wave Hill or Reconciliation or any number of award-winning artists over time to find what we, as First Nations Australians have written on various subjects and events. I can use our literature and in fact, once searching BlackWords, for nearly every paper or presentation I prepare.

There are few websites that can claim to be so versatile, so useful and dare I say it, so interesting!

So, it was with excitement and pleasure that I accepted the invitation to help coordinate today’s symposium celebrating the 5th anniversary of what we now know as BlackWords, and I congratulate the past and current team members, many of whom are here and whom you will meet throughout the day. I’m grateful to those who have offered their own words to present on the day, for they are the one’s who keep the research community thriving.

Melissa Lucashenko sets the scene for a passionate day

Kicking off our day of inspiration was award-winning novelist Melissa Lucashenko, a Goori woman who writes about Brisbane and northern NSW in her novels including, Steam Pigs, Killing Darcy, Hard Yards and Two Flash.

And might I say, that the novel Too Flash – which should be on curriculum and is perfect as a coming of age work for young Australian women, also taught this woman here some lessons about self-esteem when I read it in my 30s!

Melissa writes regularly for Griffith REVIEW, and her essay ‘The Angry Country’ was selected in Best Australian Essays 2010.

Melissa has been an independent screenplay assessor for Screen NSW and Screen Tasmania for nearly a decade, and is currently a board member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board of the Australia Council.

I’m pleased to say that Melissa is currently working on her fifth novel, Mullumbimby, a modern story of romantic love and friendship set amidst a native title war in northern NSW. I can’t wait to read it.

Other highlights of the day for me - among many - was a performance by poet / actor Steven Oliver of his piece REAL  – penned in response to my own work Am I Black Enough for You? Another of his works I love is HATE HE SAID

I’d like to thank all those who presented on the day and the hard work of Irene Howe and Kerry Kilner in making the event such a success. Looking forward to the next one!

 Yarning with Boori Monty Pryor

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