Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 9, 2021

Homecoming, by Elfie Shiosaki, and a giveaway

Cultural warning to Indigenous readers: This post may contain the names of people who have passed away.


While I’m on a roll with poetry (which I don’t often review here), it’s a good time to introduce a new-to-me Indigenous poet. Elfie Shiosaki is a Noongar and Yawuru writer and also a Lecturer in Indigenous Rights at the School of Indigenous Studies at the University of Western Australia.

Homecoming is not her first book. Last year, with Linda Martin she edited an anthology of prose and fiction, Maar Bidi: Next Generation Black Writing. But Homecoming is the first book she has authored in her own right.

And because I accidentally bought two copies, I have a spare for a giveaway for readers with an Australian postcode! Express your interest in the comments below and I will do a draw in a day or two.

This is the blurb:

Homecoming pieces together fragments of stories about four generations of Noongar women and explores how they navigated the changing landscapes of colonisation, protectionism, and assimilation to hold their families together.
This seminal collection of poetry, prose and historical colonial archives, tells First Nations truths of unending love for children—those that were present, those taken, those hidden and those that ultimately stood in the light.
Homecoming speaks to the intergenerational dialogue about Country, kin and culture. This elegant and extraordinary form of restorative story work amplifies Aboriginal women’s voices, and enables four generations of women to speak for themselves. This sublime debut highlights the tenacity of family as well as First Nation’s agency to resist, survive and renew.

Elfie Shiosaki has restored humanity and power to her family in this beautifully articulated collection and has given voice to those silenced by our brutal past.

In three sections named Resist; Survive; and Renew, Shiosaki tells the story of her family, especially the women, and she introduces them like this:

Our grandmother’s stories teach us about Aboriginal women’s ways of being in our many worlds.

Olive Harris’s recorded storytelling from 1994 is a graphic representation of the irreparable loss that haunts the Stolen Generations. She pieces together fragments of her story, not even knowing when she was born so in a way / I am not eighty-four / see? :

I was born in Perth     somewhere
my father       was up in Onslow     working on the jetty
my mother     was in Perth

there was a ship that took my mother down to Fremantle
it was called the Amelia
so I called myself      Olive Amelia

when my mother died
I was only eight months old
I was sent to a home

She goes on to tell her memories of that bleak ‘home’, but concludes this section with

the people who used to live around there
I asked them what my mother was like

they said she had beautiful red hair. (p.4-5)

These fragments are followed by her father William Harris’s letters to A O Neville, the so-called Protector of Aborigines in the early 20th century.  They are heartbreaking to read:

I am anxious to have my children     home with me

He has done what Neville thought was necessary:

increased wages
a suitable place to live in

the conditions under which they would be living
would be the same as any ordinary working man’s home

He appeals to A O Neville as a father himself, who should understand the feelings of one.

The impact of these letters is reinforced by images of the actual handwritten letter, retraced by the author, followed by the story of Koorlang and the cruel punishment she received for reacting to the slap of a nurse.  In later pages we learn that Koorlang is Olive’s daughter*, that Olive fled north to evade her child being stolen from her and that Koorlang had ten precious years of her mother’s love before she too became of the Stolden Generations.

Harris is indefatigable, and he never gives up his quest to have his children back, as we see from his powerful Letter to the Editor of the West Australian in 1925. What, I wonder, did the newspaper’s readers think when they saw it?

I am certain the majority of people in this State
have no idea     how cruelly the natives are treated

that they are outlaws

that without doing anything

forfeit their rights to live in freedom in their own land

they can be taken from any part of the State
compelling to live in prison
on reserves

why make Pariahs of natives in their own land? (p.28-9)

He wrote again and again, to the Sunday Times in 1926, again to the West Australian in 1928.  He was active in drawing attention to other kinds of injustice too:

I would remind Parliamentarians
and others who object to the half-castes having a vote

many of that despised class
fought in the Great War

now they are refused a vote
they are not allowed to enter a public house

even to take shelter from a storm. (p.104)

Olive, in her later years, tells her grandchild about her life on the cusp of womanhood meeting white friends at Cottesloe Beach.  These moments of great happiness and excitement when this cosmopolitan, confident and daring young woman was at ease in the many worlds she moved in, are not in the archives because there were years of this woman’s life when she evaded the surveillance of the government. 

Family history is a popular hobby in Australia, and there would be many who enjoy finding mention of their families in the official records.  I wonder how they would feel is they discovered a record like Olive Harris’s Personal History card, held in the Aborigines Department.  It records her reunion in 1927 with her father who stated that he would find suitable employment for her in the District, and her ongoing years of employment, as monitored by The Welfare, and the way her wages were ‘banked’ by the department. William Harris writes to the Sunday Times calling this kind of indentured work legalised slavery

I don’t see how it could be called anything else

under it
the squatter gets all

the native nothing.  (p.41)

This is how the author responds to finding these archives:

The Gaze

looking directly into the face of it
I wanted to look away

I could feel the cold gaze
on my family

on me

its coldness crept into my own spirit. (p.115)

There is also this powerful portrayal of A O Neville, which says so much in so few words:

Now

Mr Neville
he did
not know

the way
he looked
at her

then

determined

the way
we look
at him

now (p.134)

This hybrid prose-poetry collection is a tribute to resilience, courage and the power of memory to transcend the dry fragments in official archives.

*You can listen to a ABC podcast about this book here.  (I recommend that you do, because in it Shiosaki explains that Koorlang represents more than one person, not just Koorlang’s daughter as I had thought.)

If you would like your own copy, add your name to the comments below and I’ll draw the giveaway soon.

Elfie Shiosaki is a Noongar and Yawuru writer from WA.

Author: Elfie Shiosaki
Title: Homecoming
Publisher: Magabala Books, 2021
ISBN: 9781925768947, pbk., 143 pges

 


Responses

  1. This is a wonderful collection. Thanks for sharing the podcast. I will have a listen later. I have been enjoying ABC podcasts. I will put my hand up for this one. Enjoy your weekend.🐧🎈

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  2. […] See Lisa’s review at ANZ LitLovers […]

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  3. Like you, poetry is not normally a genre I spend much time with. However, the list of recently-published books in your #IndigLitWeek challenge led me to a couple that I thoroughly enjoyed. This one, too, sounds memorable, and I look forward to reading it. Meanwhile, thanks for the podcast link. I’ll listen to that this weekend.

    Like

    • Shall I add you to the giveaway draw?

      Like

      • I won’t say no, but given that I was so fortunate in winning recently, it’s probably someone else’s turn 😜

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        • Never feel like that, the draw falls the way it does and I’m always happy to send a book wherever it belongs:)

          Liked by 2 people

  4. Oh, yes please! I’d love to be in the draw. :-)

    Like

  5. Me too please.

    Like

  6. […] Indigenous Literature Week over at her wonderful ANZ LitLovers blog, and has posted reviews of Homecoming and Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, among many others—all of them well worth checking […]

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  7. Hi Lisa, I do enjoy poetry, and especially the style of Effie Shiosaki. I would like to be in the draw – thanks. Another Indigenous read this week was First Nation Stores Then and Now edited by Ellen van Neerven.The stories are short but direct and revealing.

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  8. This collection of poetry has slipped by me Lisa, so I will happily add my my name to the draw. Thanks Lisa.

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  9. It’s wonderful to see so many of your readers eager for a chance at this one, Lisa!

    On the topic of unearthing stories about family, I highly recommend the second season of journalist Connie Walker’s podcast (the first one is very good too, a completely separate story, but it doesn’t fit thematically with your review for this day, not as well as the second season) if it’s accessible to you. (Never sure what programs are available via ABC/BBC/CBC, as it seems to me that the least likely ones DO work and the ones I think will work do not.)

    As you might guess, there are some hard bits of the story, but overall it is such a tremendous show, and ultimately so uplifting to see writers like Walker doing all this research and ground work to locate lost loved ones…it warms my soul.
    https://www.cbc.ca/mediacentre/program/missing-and-murdered

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