Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 12, 2018

Meet an Aussie Author: John Wenitong

 

John Wenitong, author of The Fethafoot Chronicles,  is a 63 year old Indigenous Australian of Kabi-kabi Aboriginal, South-Sea-islander, Nepalese and Indian/Sri-Lankan descent. He was born in Gladstone, Qld, and worked for Qld Railways and various construction firms throughout Queensland, until injuries forced him into trying a less physical pathway.

Since that time he has developed an amazing CV,  and what follows is just a summary: you’ll need to visit his website to read it all.  In 1990 – at thirty-six years of age – John began a BA, majoring in Literature and Aboriginal Studies. He graduated ten years later while working for CQ (Central Queensland) University in the multi-media section. During this time John also gained a certificate in Film & Television production at AFTRS in Sydney.

In 2004, after 14 years at CQU John took his family to the Aboriginal community of Aurukun, on Cape York, where he met Noel Pearson. Together they created the Higher Expectations Program (HEP): a full secondary scholarship, sponsored by Macquarie Bank’s philanthropic arm MGF, in an attempt to solve some of the huge social problems and high school dropout rate in the Cape’s indigenous remote communities. To date HEP has over 40 University graduates – all ‘firsts’ from those 18 remote communities. The program is now called the Cape York Leadership Program (CYLP), and had its 10 year anniversary in 2016.   It’s wonderful to hear about success stories like this.

But as you can hear in this interview with Kier Shorey on ABC Far North Radio John was frustrated by the dearth of engaging fictional materials for Indigenous students to read. He was keen to promote education as a self-empowerment tool, and for thirty years he and others had been telling kids to read and write English because it was the key to a better future, but there was nothing from their own culture that was entertaining for them to read.  There were lots of ‘sad stories’ and historical accounts of massacres, but John wanted Indigenous kids to have stories that were about them – their history and culture, and were funny, and had heroes for them to admire.  He wanted them to have stories that were colourful and vibrant and he wanted to fulfil the wish of his hero David Unaipon, who said:

 “Perhaps some day, Australian writers will use Aboriginal myths and weave literature from them, the same as other writers have done with the Roman, Greek, Norse, and Arthurian legends”.

So writing under the pen name Pemulwuy Weeatunga John created a fictional clan of Aboriginal warriors who were trained in spying, martial arts and Dreamtime magic and he wrote a series of stories starring these warriors, starting over 50,000 years ago in the Ice Age (when there was megafauna in Australia) through to the present day with an Aboriginal detective.  All these stories are derived from storytelling within his family – but don’t include any content that should remain secret for cultural reasons.  The first book in the series is called Nyarla and the Circle of Stones, and it takes place in Australia in 1360.  This is the blurb:

A cunning and foul being has claimed several lives around the Heart-rock peoples’ great namesake – Uluru – the Heart-rock. The locals are scared to leave their camps. Ceremony has stopped. Initiations, weddings, betrothals are on hold. A bold young warrior, Nyarla has been sent by Clan elders to look into the matter and; has been given the authority to act if needed.

I’ve just read the first one in the series … suffice to say that I’m impressed, especially since the bold young warrior is female!

So I am delighted to feature John in Meet an Aussie Author!

  1. I was born in Gladstone, Central Qld. Then, a fishing village and meatworks with a population of under 1000; now an industrial City.
  2. When I was a child I wrote only at school. My leisure time was spent hunting and gathering with extended family.
  3. The person who encouraged and inspired me to write the Fethafoot Chronicles (FfC), series was my daughter Yeady. Eric Wilmot & David Unaipon are my role-models.
  4. I write anywhere. Five of the ten FfC chronicles were written out of a car, while travelling Oz with my red-cattle dog ‘Trumby’.
  5. I write when I feel like it, as I am retired. I often write from 5am to 2-3am next day as the stories flow so easily.
  6. I find research exciting fun and much easier in contemporary times because of the massive amount of info on the WWW.
  7. I keep my works‘ master files on USB, external hard-drive, Google ‘Cloud’ & email servers. I give any paperbacks away as promotional material.
  8. The day my first book was published was on my only son’s birthday in his honour. Each book is dedicated to a member of my family and my four children.
  9. At the moment I write daily on social-media platforms. I have 20+ half-finished fiction tales including; apocalypses, action, fantasy through to aliens meeting Fethafoot warriors.
  10. I am hardly ever stuck for ideas as I have 65,000+ years of aboriginal Australian lifestyle to imagine.

John plays guitar, photographs nature, writes poetry and songs about his people, and tries to sing occasionally.  He also has several short stories and poems published and several more fiction stories ‘on the go’.  Some of his other publications are:

  •  “The Believers: the burning man”; in ‘Indo-Australian Anthology of Short Fiction’ 2014, AuthorsPress, ISBN: 9788172738242.
  • “Guru PP”: in – ‘From all walks of life’, 1995, Central Qld University Press, ISBN: 1875902031
  • Online Poetry: “You still wonder” at Creative Spirits 
  • Online Poetry X 3 poems at AustLit (members only)

You can buy The Fethafoot Chronicles at BookBaby or by following the links at John’s website.


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