Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 15, 2019

2019 Word For Word Non Fiction Festival: Nyaal, Opening Night

Well, here I am at Rydges Hotel in Geelong for the 2019 Word For Word Non Fiction Festival at the Geelong Library and Heritage Centre. The theme this year is Nyaal, which is Wadawurrung for ‘open your eyes’.

Geelong Library and Heritage Centre (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Proceedings began with a cocktail party, and then it was upstairs in this gorgeous building to the space called Wurdi Youang on Level 5.

The keynote speaker was Tyson Yunkaporta, in conversation with Harriet Gaffney about his book Sand Talk, How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World.

I’d bought the book from the festival bookshop, so I was looking forward to this session, but truth be told I found the discussion rambling, incoherent and ultimately mystifying. I could not get a grasp on the basics of the idea because of the random way it was presented.  (And I know from talking to another audience participant, that I wasn’t the only one.)

This is the blurb for the book:

This remarkable book is about everything from echidnas to evolution, cosmology to cooking, sex and science and spirits to Schrödinger’s cat.

Tyson Yunkaporta looks at global systems from an Indigenous perspective. He asks how contemporary life diverges from the pattern of creation. How does this affect us? How can we do things differently?

Sand Talk provides a template for living. It’s about how lines and symbols and shapes can help us make sense of the world. It’s about how we learn and how we remember. It’s about talking to everybody and listening carefully. It’s about finding different ways to look at things.

Most of all it’s about Indigenous thinking, and how it can save the world.

Fortunately, the wonders of the internet meant that, back at the hotel, I could find a coherent explanation of Yonkaporta’s interesting ideas.  Follow this link to ABC RN’s All in the Mind. 

I’m looking forward to reading the book.


  1. What a shame it wasn’t coherent at the time? Anyhow, I look forward to hearing about the rest of the weekend. I’d love to attend this one day!


    • It was disappointing. As you can imagine, I was keen to know about this. When I was teaching there was beginning to be talk about the 8 Aboriginal ways of learning as a strategy for teaching Indigenous students because it suited their learning styles and ways of thinking, and some of us were experimenting with using it in the mainstream. For example, I used to teach the dry topic of Federation as a story accompanied by Bruce Petty style cartoons on the board, and for problem-solving in maths, which most kids find difficult, I’d get them to draw the problem.
      As I understand it, Yonkapurta is also on about how language influences and can sometimes constrain thinking. There’s nothing new about that, of course, you only need to look at gendered languages like French to see that. He said something about pronouns, but it wasn’t clear: I think it might have been a case of, they both knew what they were talking about, (and probably other academics in the audience did too) so their talk was like the conversations that we have when both know what the other is thinking… things trail off because there’s no need to explain. But a ‘conversation’ for public consumption where the public doesn’t know about the topic, is different, and shouldn’t ramble around like a chat between friends.


      • No, it shouldn’t. But that sounds R re ally interesting. There’s a lot more to learn and think about how our language both reflects and constrains our thinking isn’t there.

        I must ask my son about how he teaches maths problem solving. That sounds a useful way.


        • I wish I’d written it up on my professional blog, but I never got round to it.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Looks like an interesting book.


    • Hello Rose, thanks for dropping by:)
      I hope to do it justice when I get to read and review it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve ordered t from the library, and I’ll review it on my book review Twitter account @grevillearose.


        • Gosh, Rose, you’re a lot more disciplined in your writing than I am if you can review books in 280 characters!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Kim Scott touches on different ways of learning in his first book True Country which is a fictionalisation of his experiences as a young teacher in the Kimberley. I’m a long way behind where you’re up to but I did buy Dark Emu today, though I’ll leave it with mum until I can squeeze it in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, though I don’t think that’s where I first heard about it. There was some program running in the Dandenong area near where I was teaching, and I went to a conference where they discussed the Eight Ways of Learning, and then I followed it up online. But I never got beyond trying things out in my own classroom.


  4. […] went to the session about Sand talk at the Non Fiction festival in Geelong and started the book when I got home, but it lost me in the Introduction.  I might have another go […]


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