Growing up Aboriginal in Australia

This collection of 52 prose pieces compiled by Anita Heiss captures the incredible breadth and diversity up what it means to grow up Aboriginal in Australia. Each contribution contributes the unique voice and experience of its author, and together the whole expresses the pain, joy, and often the ordinariness of everyday life, for indigenous Australia. And through the lens of growing up Aboriginal, there too is visible a narrative of what it is like to grow up Aboriginal in the midst of white australia. In this negotiation of identity caught between the two poles, there is the struggle of ‘not being one and not being the other’.

In one biting piece, the opera singer, Don Bemrose, apologises for his failures to be Aboriginal enough- he doesn’t know how to play AFL or to paint in traditional styles; but also for his failures as he exceeds the white australia’s expectations for him, for example, successful career, financial stability, and home ownership.

All of the voices in this volume are powerful – voices of sporting greats, artists, activists, the young and old – all have a story that ought to be heard. Each of us have stories that ought to be heard.

One of the great joys of life is to sit down with a young child and listen to their story. Whether it’s about spaceships or dogs or the day at school, there is often the sense that there is a story trying to burst into the open air. The story emerges by way of pauses, stutters, and mad rushes as its threads arrive at the tongue in a tangle and messy snarl. And the telling is accompanied by not only great energy and enthusiasm, but also joy.

The history of australia, the historical narrative I first learned in primary school, has been singularly lopsided since Cook sailed up the east coast in 1770. Not only has history been askew, but so too have been the stories that australia has told about itself, and about its people.

One result of this imbalance is that we only can know a fraction of Australia’s history and a smaller fraction of the experience of its diverse people. To not know is to remain ignorant, unthinking, lulled into apathy about the other; those who live at a distance and out of range of embrace.

This book offers a powerful corrective; a path towards knowing a little of what it means to be Aboriginal. Fifty-two diverse and varied voices speaking stories into the Australian psyche. The best way to get to know someone is to listen to their stories; to imbibe them and drink them in.

The best place to listen to a story is sitting together, over food, and from my point of view, around a campfire. This collection of stories doesn’t come with food or the smokey joy of a fire, or the embrace of friendship, but it will allow you to hear the voices of Australians which have too long been ignored or worse, and through it you’ll take a closer step to knowing and understanding another.

Soon coming to our reviews will be my review of a collection of stories for another voiceless group in Australia – those in immigration detention – They Cannot Take the Sky: Stories from detention.

2 thoughts on “Growing up Aboriginal in Australia

  1. Being a member of the dominant culture, it is difficult to grasp how torn one can be between cultures. I wonder if identifying as an active Christian complicates or helps resolve these issues?

    1. Good thought mate. I think when Peter talks about us being foreigners, we can take that as a signal that Christians ought to experience cultural dislocation and stress. However, we feel culture stress as we enter into another place and community – so the question is, how do we regain that sense of dislocation, if we are effectively the frog in the pot? Does this point to the importance of the community of faith? – that this is the community in which we soak in the gospel which disturbs all cultures.

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