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Monday, September 1, 2008

Avoiding Mr Right -Launch Speech by Terri Janke

Anita Heiss, Avoiding Mr Right (Bantam, 2008)

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and pay my respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders who have strengthened our Indigenous community. Tonight we celebrate the release of Dr Anita Heiss book, Avoiding Mr Right. I welcome all of Anita Heiss’s family, friends and colleagues who have come together for this very important occasion.

I would also like to acknowledge the hospitality of the Sauce Bar & Grill. It is a very appropriate place to launch this novel given that it is the scene for the opening chapter. I understand that about three of the restaurant males have been rolled into the one character of Andy, so as someone who’s already read the novel, I have one question – which one of you gives the good spoons.

Dr Anita Heiss has done it again! She has given birth to another Chic Lit novel – Avoiding Mr Right, published under the Bantam Book imprint of Random House. It is the eagerly awaited sequel to her 2007 book Not Meeting Mr Right. Many of you will remember that manifesto on the life of Alice Aigner. The book was listed in the Sydney Morning Herald’s best seller list shortly after its release. Not Meeting Mr Right was a runaway success and has already been optioned for a television series. And it will soon be published in French. Oh la la!

Now the second book in the series, Avoiding Mr Right, is already making headlines. It was described by last weekend’s Courier Mail as ‘the black version of the Sex and the City’ and like Carrie Bradshaw’s firm grip on Mr Big, Anita has established a firm grip on the Chic-Lit genre – now creating her own Indigenous hybrid genre - Choc-Lit.

Selected as one of the Books Alive 2008 – it has made the list of 50 books you can’t put down - Avoiding Mr Right is a fun, sexy and adventurous novel which I found I could not put down. I read it quickly, devouring each page.

So why can’t we put this book down?
Avoiding Mr Right shifts narrative focus to the precautious Indigenous beauty, Peta Tully. The Bundjalung Sydneysider has carved out her place in the upper management level of the Public Service. Her ambition is to be the first Indigenous Minister for Culture. To further her career, Peta takes a 12 month secondment to Melbourne to work in the Department of Media, Sports, Arts, Refugees and Indigenous Affairs - DOMSARIA. She leaves her three best friends -Alice, Dannie and Liza and her tenacious boyfriend James in Sydney – ‘only for 12 months’. Could she possibly find Melbourne more entertaining than Sydney? St Kilda beach better than Coogee beach? Could Melbourne shopping offer greater style?

Off to Melbourne she goes vowing to be celibate and return to Sydney, to James, to her friends, and in good stead for a promotion. But will she fit into Melbourne? Her pink (or rather watermelon) coat stands out in the black clad Melbourne elite. And will her new friends – Sylvia, the vegan poet; Shelley the stockbroker house mate; and Josie, the lesbian parking cop - take the place of her three Sydney amigos? Will she keep her vow to remain celibate when she is getting more sexual attention from just about every Melburnian male she encounters? How will she stand it?

Thank God for Aunty Nell and her good counsel on love and marriage. Thank God for Cousin Joe, the bushfoods chef with his constant delivery of roo Bolognese (aka kaganese) and croc-cakes. Thank God for Melbourne restaurants, and their diversity of cuisine, providing the astral flight tickets for Peta to sample the international single scene. Peta’s guiding rule for getting through these tough 12 months of many men. Reading the menu is okay if you don’t order from it.

Finding or Avoiding, it is still the same question - is he the one? The quest to find the perfect partner might confuse some of you as a love fickle adventure but the results of a 2007 Survey conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies indicate that about 1 in 4 Australian marriages end in divorce, and this figure does not reflect the percentage of women who stay unhappily married to men who they thought were Mr Rights, but in reality, should have been avoided. So don’t you think that avoiding or at least examining the potential Mr Right is a process we women all need to consider? It’s like buying a car, or a house? Or a Tiffany’s ring? Caveat Emptor - Let the bride beware! To assist with identifying the potentially misleading and deceptive male stock, Dr Heiss has delivered us a series of case studies for avoiding shabby suitors.

The novel is a celebration of true love – against the odds, it’s about being with the person who lights your flame – your soul mate. I read a journalist recently asked: ‘Why is someone so beautiful, smart, witty and sexy like you single?’ Anita’s answer - ‘Because I’ve seen what absolute, complete love is, and it knows no boundaries.’ This is a reference and a tribute to the love of her mother and father. Of course Anita has another answer to the question: ‘Because I’m having so much fun doing the research for my Chic-Lit novels.’

Love, lust, sex, food and astral travel aside, the novel takes on current topics of Indigenous affairs such as the NT intervention, deaths in custody and social injustice. These are cleverly loaded into the book as central to the action.

Indigenous arts and culture features in the novel through Peta’s job as the National Policy Manager for Aboriginal Arts and Culture. So I was pleased to read that Peta could state the shortfalls of the Copyright Act of 1968 to a non-Indigenous linguist aiming to record Aboriginal languages . She recommends a contract where the Aboriginal language centre will own the rights. (Well done, Peta!) (page 188)

She celebrates Reconciliation Week: NAIDOC attends the Woodford Dreaming Festival (even though our dear Peta doesn’t camp out, but sleeps in the four star hotel in the nearby Caboolture – page 216). She visits the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Centre at Melbourne Museum, and the Koori Heritage Trust. She queries the authenticity of the fake Aboriginal craft on sale at Vic Markets. She reads Indigenous literature like Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria and the Papunya School Book of Country and History (p. 263.). She sways the music at Koori musician - Richard Frankland’s gig, and goes to poetry readings by Samuel Wagan Watson. And the sounds of Sharnee Fenwick singing ‘Kiss that boy’ (page. 296), which we will hear a little bit later, are also featured.

Anita writing style excels specifically in the Astral Travelling episodes. There is a freedom in her word play and scene construction that I envied and enjoyed. One of my favourite astral trips is where Peta goes to Las Vegas and LA after eating the World Famous Fat Bastard Burger. Wearing a red sequinned dress to match her attitude, she is asked by Mike-Monday: ‘I thought all you Ossies were called Bruce and Sheila. And that you all have pet kangaroos.’ Peta replies: ‘Most Ossies are, but I’m Aboriginal, so we’re really just sis and cuz. And we eat kangaroos.’ (page 310.)

Gathered here at Sauce Bar & Grill tonight, we share in the fortune of our good friend Anita. If Not Meeting Mr Right cleverly trail-blazed Indigenous Chic-Lit, with Avoiding Mr Right Anita has truly mastered the genre. I am sure that this book will be an overwhelming success. Congratulations to Random House, and we graciously look forward to more in this series. Avoiding Mr Right is going to storm the Australian publishing world. So if you want to get a firm grip on a piece of history making I encourage you to buy a book – maybe two – tonight. Readers can get their rocks off ‘Sex in the city’ Indigenous style, with two important differences. Our heroine actually eats, even if it does makes her astral travel. And secondly, Carrie may have Manhattan, but Peta has Black bourgeois style.

So it is with enormous pride and pleasure, that I invite you to join in the applause, to launch Avoiding Mr Right ….

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