Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia is an entertaining informative look into the early lives of 51 Aboriginal Australians. Each story is different but all have some common threads. Some had very enjoyable childhoods unaware at least initially of their status in Australia. Others found from a very early age that they were a subject of racial slurs and discrimination. Sadly these slurs continue to the present day. Overall the stories were positive and written by successful people (although one writer later took her own life).
Some of the insights were new to me. Noelene Brinkworth’s story about how she got into trouble at school by a misunderstanding of the word “homework” and not looking the teacher in the eye was new. The teacher criticised her for not looking her in the eye and her mother at home for doing so. Homework to her was helping with the family. Several writers suggested that to quote Ian Dudley “ after 230 years of trying to make the black people more white I think it is dawning on us that, just maybe, if we made the white people a little blacker instead the place would be in better shape” I have long adopted the aboriginal view of the land I occupy. John Hartley and others described convincingly how the anger comes and grows inside aboriginal people.
I was disappointed to find that a number of the writers considered themselves aboriginal but were doubtful about considering themselves Australian. This is not surprising when non-indigenous Australia, unlike US, Canada, NZ and other countries celebrates its national day on a day when their world was destroyed.
There are a number of very positive stories that give hope for the future. In particular Todd Phillip’s story of Camp Bundajulong where young aboriginal children are given guidance by elders not only on traditional aboriginal ways but also on how to survive in a white society.
Overall the stories support the idea that having an identity, a recognised place in the world and being proud of your heritage is very important. All the writers became successful when they obtained this self-respect. Without this programs like “bridging the gap” seem doomed to failure.
Anita Heiss has done a service to Australia by bringing all these stories to light. A lot of racial stereotypes are debunked. The mistakes made in the past by governments are highlighted. These are issues for today and not just something from the past.
This collection of stories ranges from poetic to blunt, from lyrical to simple snapshot, from memoir to a hope for the future. It is easy to read in format and yet challenging to the very depths. It took me back to my childhood in a town notorious for racial issues and broke my heart to read the same problems being faced by young people in their teens and twenties fifty years later.
Important reading for now and the future: insightful, revealing, confronting, thought provoking and a must. A real stepping stone to seeing . It has the answers to so many questions. This book is wonderful, because individuals from different age groups tell it how it was for them personally over the past decades, and how they are now in more recent times. Important, vital learning, and also for future generations to come . I am grateful to have read each and every account today.
Having adopted and fostered aborinal children, it was a very interesting read for me. My children all came to us as babies and we are still one family with two children of my own. I am 84 now. It was a good read.
I picked up this anthology, wondering how many different experiences it would contain. I wondered, too, whether there would be a generational difference, whether the experiences of younger people might be more positive. The answer to my first question is that this anthology contains more than 50 contributions, and each one is different. The answer to my second question is, sadly, no. Some young people may have experienced less discrimination and disadvantage, but others have not. Reading through these accounts, I’m made aware of some of the less obvious forms discrimination takes. It’s a difficult and at times confronting read.
Anita Heiss writes:
‘There is no single or simple way to define what it means to grow up Aboriginal in Australia, but this anthology is an attempt to showcase as many of the diverse voices, experiences and stories together as possible.’
Each contribution, each account of growing up Aboriginal in Australia is unique. The writers are of different ages, have different writing styles and approaches to addressing the question. I found Don Bemrose’s ‘Dear Australia’ essay thought-provoking, and was inspired by Evelyn Araluen’s statement: ‘We are the dream of our ancestors.’ I agree with Adam Goodes: ‘I believe in having a dream and setting goals to achieve it.’ And then, in Ambelin Kwaymullina’s contribution, I read: ‘People ask me sometimes if I experienced any racism when I was a kid. Questions like that always make me wonder where the other person is living.’ Clearly, there is (still) more than one Australia. I am saddened to learn that one contributor, Alice Eather (born in 1988) took her own life in June 2017. Alice wrote: ‘there’s too much negativity said and written about Aboriginal people in communities.’ Sadly, Alice was right. What can we do to change this?
There are some many different accounts. Some contributors grew up with their families, others did not. Some grew up with immediate families, but away from their Country and away from extended family networks. Some grew up in cities. Some grew up knowing which mob they belonged to and speaking their language, others did not. It’s obvious that there is no singular experience of growing up Aboriginal. Yet it’s clear from these accounts that elements of Australian society have a preconceived idea of what Aboriginal people should be. And if an Aboriginal person does not fit into that stereotype, then it is the person who is questioned, not the stereotype. One of those stereotypes relates to judgements made on skin colour as the only determinant of whether a person is an Aboriginal.
There are so many different lives, many different identities in this anthology. Contributors include children, parents, musicians, sports stars, teachers and writers. I found this anthology both heartbreaking and inspiring. I think that all Australians should read it.
What does it mean to grow up Aboriginal in Australia? It means lots of things. To some contributors it means growing up to fight against poverty, intergenerational trauma from being from the stolen generation, and disadvantage. To others it means always having to explain how they are Aboriginal, or how much of them is Aboriginal. So many contributors shared the way skin colour was used as a weapon to create shame, or to demand an equation about their Aboriginal content.
My favourite passage is from Marlee Silva’s piece Cronulla to Papunya. Her father sat two ceramic mugs of coffee that were both filled halfway with black coffee. He poured milk into one of the mugs “turning its contents a creamy brown” and asked her what she was looking at. “They’re cups of coffee, right?” “Well, yeah, I guess so…” “No. No guessing. No doubt. They’re coffee. Both of them. It’s what they’ve always been and what they’ll always be. This one’—he gestured to the lighter-coloured liquid—“is no less coffee than the other. It doesn’t matter how much milk you add: they’ll never not be coffee.” page 216.
In her piece Murri + Migloo = Meeks Mob Norleen Brinkworth writes about growing up in Yarrabah mission for the first ten years of life until her family was exempt in 1958 and moved to Cairns. She started Parramatta State School and when asked to produce evidence of her homework was laughed at for sharing her household duties. “For me, ‘homework’ was helping my mother with household duties, such as carrying my crying baby sister on my hip or washing up.” page 41
Miranda Tapsell in Nobody Puts Baby Spice in a corner writes about her love of the Spice Girls and defying her friend’s decree that she had to be Scary Spice, instead of Baby Spice as she desired.
And so this is what it means to be Aboriginal. It is more than skin colour or loving football. It is about being connected to country. To learning and practicing tradition however you can. This is a must read anthology for anyone who wants to learn about the various experiences of being Aboriginal in Australia.
Anita has done such a wonderful job bringing a collection of both High profile and newly discovered Aboriginal talent into one anthology. Each storyteller told such a unique, raw, passionate and honest version of what they experienced growing up Aboriginal in Australia. Some of the collection was written by people my own age, some older or younger, each with a story you need to read to fully understand. I applaud this group of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders for opening their wounds old and new to share something truly special with the rest of the world.
As I expected 'Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia' is a confrontational and impactful book. I appreciate the fifty plus individual experiences by people from different demographics, environments and circumstances. The major point I took away is, discrimination comes in various forms. There are too many contribution to comment on each one, but some of my random thoughts are: media focus on the negative, the diversity of Indigenous Australians today, stereotypes and judgments, inspirations and insights. Our, at times, ugly history is discussed transparently and reasonably, yet I also found so much positively in this book. Each expression is fairly short, however I found it necessary to take a breather every now and then to absorb what I was feeling. Despite believing that sadly, another nation, if not Britain, would've invaded Australia eventually, I have always felt since I was a child, that Indigenous Australians are the spiritual owners of this land. A local elder from the Wadda-Warrung once expressed, "You see the land. I feel the land." That thought struck deeper when I later visited rural County Cork, tracing my heritage (language, music, humour, attachment to the earth etc)...that is, despite loving Australia, I feel a strong spiritual connection to Ireland. I congratulate the writers who expressed themselves so well and Anita Heiss for putting GUAIA together. You helped me to walk in your shoes and learn even more about your journeys.
The book is a collection of short stories from various First Nations people. Each one has a different story to tell of their experience growing up. Many are sad, some are funny, others are inspiring. Every story highlights the issues every First Nations person has to deal with growing up in a land of invaders. As someone who's ancestors were those invaders, I am ashamed at the treatment many of these people still suffer today because of those events over 200 years ago. Every non-Indigenous Australian needs to work much harder at recognising the wrongs that have happened, and fix them. And that starts by listening. Reading these stories is a good start. Everyone will take away something different from this collection.
Being a collection of personal stories from various people, the writing styles can differ dramatically. Therefore you can find yourself really being drawn into one story, but then jarringly taken out in the next. However each one will deepen your understanding of what it is like for those Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia.
A big thank you to everyone who contributed their personal stories to this book. I certainly learnt from each one of them.