Aboriginal perspectives in the English classroom: finding texts to teach

This is an excerpt from my January 2012 ACTivATE Journal article. I plan to add more blogs with reviews and teaching notes about specific texts as I develop this site.  For another great discussion about 100 great ‘Black books’ by Aboriginal authors see http://anitaheissblog.blogspot.com.au/2011/04/anitas-bbc-black-book-choice-reading.html

In terms of locating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature, there are many resources you can use.  Anita Heiss (a Wiradjuri woman from central NSW) has co-edited several important anthologies of Aboriginal literature, including

Heiss, A & Minter P (eds.) 2008 Anthology of Australian Aboriginal Literature, McGill-Queen’s University Press

(see also Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature).

In addition, there are several large publishers of Indigenous works:

Magabala books: www.magabala.com

Fremantle Press www.fremantlepress.com

IAD Press www.iadpress.com

Indij Readers www.indijreaders.com.au

Black Ink Press www.blackinkpress.com.au

Aboriginal Studies Press www.aiatsis.gov.au/asp/welcome.html

Another publisher, Laguna Bay Publishing, has teamed up with Oxford University Press to publish the very popular Yarning Strong series.  It includes 12 novels and 4 graphic novels, 4 poetry/play/art anthologies as well as teaching notes/CD-Rom.  All texts are by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander writers who explore contemporary Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander identity and experiences.  The series is suitable for upper primary/lower secondary students.  Go to the website www.lagunabaypublishing.com for more information.

The Children’s Book Council 2012 awards included some new Indigenous-themed titles:

  • Bronwyn Bancroft: Why I love Australia (Little Hare Books)
  • One Arm Point Remote Community School: Our World: Bardi Jaawi: Life at Ardiyooloon (Magabala Books)

Another important publisher of Indigenous writing is University of Queensland Press.  Many of their writers have previously won David Unaipon Literary Awards (Awarded annually to an unpublished Indigenous author by the Premier) and they feature a section on ‘Black Australian Writing’.  Some of their titles for middle and senior secondary students are listed below, and you can find more on their website (http://www.uqp.uq.edu.au/skins/uqp/_uploads/2011childrenandYA.pdf)



Herb Wharton Yumba Days 978 0 7022 3113 1 |$18.95
Doris Pilkington Garimarra Home to Mother: A Younger Reader’s edition of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

978 0 7022 3546 7 | $16.95


Ruby Langford Ginibi


Don’t Take Your Love to Town

978 0 7022 3595 5 | $24.95

All My Mob

978 0 7022 3596 2 | $24.95

My Bundjalung People

978 0 7022 2637 3 |$23.95

Yvette Holt Anonymous Premonition «

978 0 7022 3571 9 | $24.95

Vivienne Cleven Bitin’ Back

978 0 7022 3249 7 | $19.95

Her Sister’s Eye

978 0 7022 3283 1 | $23.95

Doris Pilkington Garimara Caprice: a Stockman’s Daughter

978 0 7022 3356 2 | $19.95

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

978 0 7022 3355 5 | $19.95

Under the Wintamarra Tree

978 0 7022 3308 1 | $24.00

Melissa Lukashenko Killing Darcy «

978 0 7022 3041 7 | $18.95

Hard Yards

978 0 7022 3080 6 | $23.95

Larissa Behrendt Home «

978 0 7022 3407 1 | $24.95

Archie Weller The Window Seat

978 0 7022 3715 7 | $24.95

Elizabeth Hodgson Skin Painting «

978 0 7022 3677 8 | $24.95

Samuel Wagan Watson Smoke Encrypted Whispers

978 0 7022 3471 2 | $22.95

Robert Lowe The Mish

978 0 7022 3327 2 | $23.95

Nan Chauncey Tangara

978 0 7022 3610 5 | $14.95


Alexis Wright Plains of Promise

978 0 7022 2917 6 | $23.95

Fiona Doyle Whispers of This Wik Woman

978 0 7022 3461 3 | $24.95

Jackie Huggins Sister Girl

978 0 7022 2840 7 | $24.95

Ruth Hegarty Bittersweet Journey

978 0 7022 3414 9 | $26.95

Sue Taffe Black and White Together: FCAATSI (The Federal Council

for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders 1958–1972)

978 0 7022 3511 5 | $24.95

Paul Memmott Gunyah, Goondie & Wurley

978 0 7022 3245 9 | $90.00

Rod Moss The Hard Light of Day: An Artist’s Story of Friendship in Arrernte Country

978 0 7022 3774 4 | $39.95


In the ACT Association for the Teaching of English’s February professional development, 2011, I co-presented a session with Marie-Ann Holdich about the books we enjoy teaching.  Marie-Ann ran a very successful Aboriginal literature unit at The Canberra College for some time, and I was lucky enough to be a student in this course in the late 1990s.  A copy of our PowerPoint is available on the ACTATE website and some of the books we mentioned were:


  • Terri Janke, Butterfly Song (older readers)
  • Tara June Winch, Swallow the Air (older readers)
  • Boori Monty Pryor, Maybe Tomorrow (could be adapted for high school – accessible to wide range of readers)
  • Sally Morgan, My Place (high school – and there is also a picture book version)

See Term 1, 2011 Workshop at http://www.actate.org.au/teaching-resources/



AustLit has a section on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Literature, cataloguing lists of authors and titles from different states.  Any member of the National Library of Australia (and many universities and educational institutions) can subscribe to this resource: http://www.austlit.edu.au/specialistDatasets/BlackWords.  It also includes a timeline of important events in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, as these are often the subject of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature.


From this resource I have compiled a list of Aboriginal Authors and their titles.  I’ll leave it to you to look up titles of interest and find out more about their content, literary merits, and applicability to your teaching.


Author & Heritage Title Publishing details

Short stories/Poetry

Ali Cobby Eckermann (ed.) Anangu, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara of north west of South Australia. See my world: poetry and short stories by young Aboriginal writers. Northern Territory Writers’ Centre, 2010

ISBN 9780646534237

Karl Jananbi Dank (ed.)


This Country Anytime Anywhere: An Anthology of New Indigenous Writing from the Northern Territory.


IAD Press & Northern Territory Writers’ Centre, 2010

ISBN 9781864651027

Colleen Johnson, Leni Shilton, Rita Fisher and Melissa McAllister (eds.) My Hands, Your Pen, A Voice: a collection of writing by Indigenous Creative Writing Students 2009.


Batchelor Press, 2009

ISBN 1741311837

Ambelin Kwaymullina

Bailgu and Nyamal people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

The Butterfly Birthday


Westerly vol.54 no.2 November 2009  periodical issue (pp.116-125)


Wathaurong Aboriginal Cooperative project with Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors


Urgent: what would you do if this happened to you?


Random House Australia, 2003

ISBN 1740519043

Kaye McPherson


The Song Tip of the Dreaming Snake In The Girl Who Married a Fly and other Stories

AATE, 1997

ISBN 1875659129

Includes Aboriginal authors Mitch? Short Stories for Short Attention Spans Self-published by Anthony Mitchell, 2000

ISBN 0646375334

Jack Cook Ngal, Anmatyerre elder, Yuelamu NW of Alice Springs Anengkerr Angkety Dreaming Stories



Batchelor Press, 2007

ISBN 9781741311228



Brenton E. McKenna, Broome, WA Ubby’s Underdogs: the Legend of the Phoenix Dragon


Magabala Books, 2011

ISBN 9781921248313

Esther Fischer of the Gugu Yalanji Burungu people at Mossman Walkabout with our mates Black Ink Press, 2010

ISBN 9781863340878

Richard Frankland, coastal South-West Victoria


Digger J. Jones Scholastic Press, 2007

ISBN 9781865048567

Lisa Wilyuka

Luritja woman from Titjikala, Alice Springs


David Spillman

Us Mob Walawurru


Magabala Books, 2006

ISBN 1875641874

Fran Dobbie

Yuin woman, South Coast NSW


Paper bag dreams

Hodder Headline Australia, 2000 & 2004

ISBN 0733612075

ISBN 0733614582

Boori Pryor

Kungganji and Birrigubba people of North Queensland.


Meme McDonald

My Girragundji – Book 1

The Binna Binna Man – Book 2

Nunjul the Sun – Book 3 Shake a leg – children’s book

Allen & Unwin


ISBN 1864488182


ISBN 1865080713


ISBN 186508641X

Allen & Unwin, 2010

ISBN 1741758904

Jared Thomas, South Australia Sweet Guy IAD Press, 2005

ISBN 1864650508

Melissa Lucashenko

Yugambeh/Bundjalung heritage


Too Flash

Killing Darcy

Jukurrpa Books, 2002

ISBN 1864650486

University of QLD Press, 1998

ISBN 0702230413

Derek Pugh and the Sunshine Girls

(A teacher from the Northern Territory who co-wrote Tammy Damulkurra with The Sunshine Girls – ten students from his school)

Tammy Damulkurra Aboriginal Studies Press, 1995

ISBN 085575284X

James G. Porter, Port Pirie in South Australia The Talking Mountains

The edge of the rainforest Long White Cloud

Hapkas Girl

The swiftest Isle

Hodder and Stoughton, 1993

ISBN 0340535792

University of QLD Press, 1991

ISBN 0702223506

University of QLD Press, 1989

ISBN 0702221953

Cassell Australia, 1980

ISBN 0726967998

Hodder and Stoughton, 1977

ISBN 03402119181

Louise West


Island in the Mist


In Taste of Cockroach and other Stories.

AATE 1974

ISBN 0909955166


Jason De Santis

Milikapiti, Northern Territory, belonging to the Tiwi people

Wulamanayuwi and the seven Pamanui (based on Snow White and the seven dwarves) www.cyberpaddock.com.au/

(Sighted 18/04/2011).


Kymarra (Kamarra) Bell-Wykes

South East Queensland belonging to the Jagera and Dalingbara people.

Body Armour

Chopped Liver

Ilbijerri Theatre Company http://ilbijerri.com.au/whats-on/body-armour/

(Sighted 21/08/2011)

Julia Torpey

Eora people in New South Wales


Urgent http://2008.nextwave.org.au/ (Sighted 27/10/2008).


Finally, while attending a lecture at Deakin University by Clare Bradford (as part of the Australian Government Summer School for Teachers in 2008), I was given information about children’s books as sites for political discussions of race relations and Aboriginal history, and the relevance of using them in secondary classrooms.  Of course, Shaun Tan’s beautiful book The Rabbits would fit well here, but here is a list of books recommended by Clare:


  • Berolah, Lorraine, Lilyjane Collins and Noel Crustaufo 1996, Betty and Bala and the Proper Big Pumpkin, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Qld.
  • Burton, Daphne Punytjina, and Carolyn Windy 2000, Kupi-Kupi and the Girl, Magabala Books, Broome, W.A.
  • Edwards, Yvonne, and Brenda Day 1997, Going for Kalta: Hunting for Sleepy Lizards at Yalata. IAD, Alice Springs.
  • Greene, Gracie, Joe Tramacchi and Lucile Gill 1992, Tjarany Roughtail, Magabala Books, Broome.
  • Malbunka, Mary 2003, When I was Little, Like You, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW.
  • Papunya School Book of Country and History 2001, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.
  • Randall, Bob, and Kunyi June-Anne McInerney 2003, Tracker Tjugingji. IAD Press, Alice Springs.
  • Russell, Elaine 2004, The Shack that Dad Built, Little Hare Books, Surry Hills, NSW.
  • Utemorrah, Daisy, and Pat Torres 1990, Do Not Go Around the Edges. Magabala Books, Broome, W.A.
  • Russell, Elaine 2001, A is for Aunty, Sydney, ABC Books.
  • Williams, Edna Tantjingu, Eileen Wani Wingfield, and Kunyi June-Anne McInerney 2000, Down the Hole, Up the Tree, Across the Sandhills…Running from the State and Daisy Bates. IAD, Alice Springs.



Blackwords: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Writers and Storytellers, AustLit (www.austlit.edu.au), 2002- [Retrieved 21/08/2011].

Bradford, Clare 2008, Children’s and Young Adult Literature Lecture Notes, Australian Government Summer School for Teachers, Deakin University, Geelong, January

Note that AUSTLIT is now hosting a new project started in 2011 called The Asian-Australian Children’s Literature and Publishing (AACLAP) to provide primary and secondary sources for developing literature-focused educational programs in line with the National Curriculum (http://www.austlit.edu.au/specialistDatasets/ChildLit/AsianAustChildLit)


Thanks to Clare Bradford and AustLit for granting permission to reproduce their work in this article.  I would also like to express my appreciation to Jeanine Leane for her advice and discussion about this article.

3 responses to “Aboriginal perspectives in the English classroom: finding texts to teach

  1. We’d LOVE to be added to your list!! Black Cockatoo by Carl Merrison (Magabala Books 2018) weaves Jaru/Kija and AE into an interesting tale about life in the Kimberleys! Comprehensive resource package available on our website!!

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