Aboriginal poets: beyond Oodgeroo

Oodgeroo Noonuccal is an important figure in the Australian literary landscape, and her work has been on school syllabi for a long time now.  But has your school moved beyond “We are going?”  Because Aboriginal people have!!!  Show your students contemporary poems which move beyond lamenting loss of land and culture and move toward reconstructing new ways of living and being Aboriginal.

A good starting point if you are looking for poems by Aboriginal authors is at http://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/arts/aboriginal-poems/

More to follow soon.

Review: Things a map won’t show you

‘Things a map won’t show you: stories from Australia & beyond’ is a short story collection edited by Susan LaMarca and Pam MacIntyre, published by Puffin Books in 2012.  It is beautifully presented in a fun ‘map’  theme that is reminiscent of a snakes and ladders game; however, when you look below the surface it’s not the best source of Indigenous texts.  The Indigenous authors showcased are listed below with a comment about their piece.

  • Obed Raggett, Two Little Round Stones – a simple dreaming-style story about boys finding stones which help them to navigate their landscape on a hunting trip, but with a dark twist as the boys reject their stones for ‘better-looking’ ones and nature retaliates by killing them.  This would be a challenging story to teach to young readers but if the content could be explained without disturbing students it would be good for storyboarding.
  • Jack Davis, Integration – Davis is an important figure in Australian literature, well known for his poetry and his play The Dreamers.  Integration is a poem about reconciliation and moving forward together as a united nation.
  • Oodgeroo Noonuccal, All one race – another important figure, but one who is already in most English syllabi somewhere (Noonuccal has made the crossover to ‘mainstream’ literature classrooms where many other Indigenous authors haven’t).  All one race is about us recognising our similarities with all people across the globe as human beings.
  • Tara June Winch Cloud busting – Winch is a fantastic young author but I was disappointed that this book just included a chapter from her novel Swallow the Air, which I’d already read and would recommend for older students (Year 10-12) as a whole text (see the following for some good teaching ideas http://hsc.csu.edu.au/english/area_of_study/belonging/3717/swallow_the_air.htm).
  • Pat Lowe, an English born writer who married Walmajarri artist Jimmy Pike, Yinti’s Kitten – this is an engaging and fairly simple story about the relationship between humans and animals, looking at the introduction of cats to Australia and telling the story of an Aboriginal boy who takes in a sickly orphaned kitten and nurtures it into a good ‘hunting cat’.  There are only 3 sketches by Jimmy Pike, so his contribution appears to be limited (although he may have contributed to Pat’s story); nonetheless I think this story would be enjoyed by Yr 6-7 students.
  • The highlight as far as pushing boundaries and stretching our understanding of Indigenous literature goes is the inclusion of Brenton McKenna’s comic The Art of Hunting, discussing the modern practice of hunting cruelly for fun.  It’s quite a confronting piece and the drawings are gritty, so this could in fact be more suited to a Yr 9-10 audience.  There is a lot in it to unpack (myths and realities about ‘Aboriginal sorcery’, pre-colonisation traditions around seeking permission to visit other people’s land as compared to today’s reality where Australians travel all over the country virtually uninhibited, notions of hunting in traditional Aboriginal vs modern non-Aboriginal contexts).  This is also a great example of the traditional comic style.

As a source of short stories by Indigenous authors, this offers fairly basic fare and I suspect there will be much better collections published in the near future as educational publishers focus on supplying resources for the National Curriculum.

As a general collection of stories, there are a few gems: James Roy’s Out of the Yellow (sibling rivalry never gets old); Sonya Hartnett’s The Second-last Baby Tooth (the ordinary events of a summer holiday and a baby tooth falling out are told with warmth and humour); Tanveer Ahmed’s The Exotic Rissole, a rib-tickling story about a boy cringing at his father’s “1970s Bangladeshi fashion” and trying to fit in with Aussies who add ‘o’ or ‘y’ to the end of each others’ names.

Consider purchasing a copy or two for the school library, but perhaps hold off on purchasing class sets until a few teachers and classes give it a test run to see how it fits within your school context.

For more information and teachers’ notes, see:

http://penguineducation.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/teachers-notes-for-things-a-map-wont-show-you-pam-macintyre-susan-lamarca/