Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 10, 2022

Decolonising a Blog… a work in progress #1

In the wake of the change of federal government and its commitment to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full, public discourse around it is expanding.  I reviewed Thomas Mayor’s Finding the Heart of the Nation during Indigenous Literature Week last year, an important book which explains the three elements to be implemented:

  • a constitutionally enshrined voice to the parliament;
  • a Makarrata Commission that will oversee agreement and treaty-making; and
  • a national process of truth-telling.

I’ve been thinking about what this means and I’ve been reading and listening to find out more.

After I stumbled on a webinar series called Undoing Australia, I started thinking about what it means in terms of truth-telling for a blog that features Australian literature.  It’s particularly relevant in the lead up to the annual Indigenous Literature Week.

Step One: On the advice of a wise Wiradjuri friend who is generous about helping me to learn, I have re-named ILW as First Nations Reading Week.


Step Two: listening and learning…

This is part of the introduction to the webinar, from the page at the University of Melbourne.

Truth-telling is emerging as a central political dynamic in Australia. As treaty processes take shape in several Australian jurisdictions it is clear that truth commissions are going to be at the heart of future treaty negotiations. Victoria has already created the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission, with the mission to ‘investigate both historical and ongoing injustices committed against Aboriginal Victorians since colonisation’, while Queensland and the Northern Territory have also signalled that truth-telling will play a significant role in their emerging treaty processes and Tasmania has committed to finding a pathway towards treaty and reconciliation. These new processes build on the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart, which made an explicit recommendation for a Makarrata Commission that would ‘supervise agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history’ (Referendum Council 2017).

The introduction goes on to question whether there is shared understanding of what truth might offer, and notes that international experience suggests that truth-telling rarely lives up to its promise. The fundamental question is how should we tell the truth about Australia?

The webinar is the first in the Australian Centre’s 2022 Critical Public Conversations series, and is presented by two academics from the University of Melbourne who are exploring the role of truth-telling in treaty making:

  • Professor Sarah Maddison is Professor of Politics in the School of Social and Political Sciences, and Director of the Australian Centre.  Click through to the webinar page to see her field of interest and her work on the treaty process.
  • Dr Julia Hurst is a lecturer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies and the Deputy Director of the Australian Centre. Her Indigenous heritage crosses Dharawal and Darug land. Her research explores fundamental questions of Australian Aboriginal identity in 21st century Australia, including the role of truth-telling in relation to treaty, and she has worked across academia, the arts and corporate sectors.

Listening to this first webinar in the series made me think about different kinds of truth and of the importance of hearing multiple voices.  This doesn’t always lead to a ‘settled’ truth or a neat-and-tidy version of history, or one that fits into existing bodies of knowledge about what happened and why.

The ANZ LitLovers blog has hosted the annual Indigenous Literature Week First Nations Reading Week since 2012.  It’s a virtual event that has always been about encouraging Australians to read and learn from Indigenous authors and to celebrate all forms of Indigenous First Nations Writing.  Reviews are harvested into the First Nations Reading List which offers an access path to truth-telling in a variety of Indigenous First Nations voices.

Step Three: attending to name and place.

Some years ago, in my reviews and in the reading lists, I began acknowledging First Nations identity by naming the author’s ‘country’. All recently published books and publicity materials include this and I’m careful to use their wording, which can vary from ‘proud Yorta Yorta woman’, ‘Elder of the Kulin nation’, ‘of Wiradjuri heritage’, ‘of the Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay people’, ‘who identifies with the South Coast Noongar people of Western Australia’ etc.

This year, to facilitate locating Indigenous voices from the land on which the reader lives, I’ve created new categories for the First Nations place names i.e. ‘country’ of the authors whose books I’ve reviewed.


This was not as easy as it sounds,  For a start, there 250 Aboriginal nations each with their own language, culture, customs and communities. (See here for a map.) There are also multiple names and spellings for the same location.

The Kulin Nation, source: Nick Carson at English Wikipedia

ANZ LitLovers comes to you from the traditional lands of of the Kulin Nation.  The city said to have been founded by John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner is now called Melbourne but the traditional lands of the Kulin nation were called Naarm. The Kulin Nation is a collective of five Aboriginal nations: Wurundjeri, Boonwurring, Wathaurrung, Daungwurrung and Dja DjaWrung.

Where I live can be spelled either as Boonwurrung or Bunurong.  Which spelling should I use, and is there an authority that I can turn to find out? (Is wanting to have an authoritative source a case of wanting something to be ‘settled’ when it’s not?)  My choice affects its place in an alphabetical list, as you can also see with Jangkundjara/Yankuntjatjara.

Well, I used the list of Australian Aboriginal group names at Wikipedia and have simply done the best I could because I’m mindful of letting perfection be the enemy of the good. I’ve made a start, and I can change things and fix mistakes as I go along….

This is a case of “always subject to revision and always hopeful of growth”.


What next?  I don’t know yet.  Australia is on a journey and neither the route nor the destination is clear.  But it says at the Creative Spirits website:

  • Decolonisation occurs when Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal people reverse impacts of colonisation.
  • Aboriginal people can decolonise through self-determination (i.e. taking care of their own affairs).
  • Non-Aboriginal people can make a conscious effort to prioritise and learn about Aboriginal culture and values over views from the dominant (and usually Western) culture.

So if you haven’t already signed up for First Nations Reading Week, now’s the time!


Responses

  1. Hi Lisa, I’ve done some of this, though not formally as you have, for Western Australia. Let me know (by email if you prefer) if I can pass on any information to you.

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  2. Good on you Lisa … and thanks for articulating this so clearly on your blog and sharing your journey with us.

    I am trying to do some of what you have talked about here, particularly regarding truth-telling in my reading and posting.

    I also decided a year or so ago to use First Nations terminology in my blogs, though my tags remained Indigenous Australian literature/film/language/art etc. I’ve just changed those tags over to First Nations Australia. I still have your “Indigenous Literature Week” tag though. The question is, will I create a First Nations Australia Reading Week tag for future weeks, or rename the existing tag, which would reinvent history a bit, but keep them altogether.

    BTW I tend to use First Nations Australia/First Nations Australian mostly, rather than just First Nations, because there are other First Nations people? I have seen both used?

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    • PS I remember now where I mainly heard First Nations Australia (as against just First Nations) and that is through the First Nations Australia Writers Network founded by Kerrie Reed-Gilbert.

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      • Here’s the article by Noel Pearson about terminology, which guided my choice of Indigenous in the first place: https://indigenousx.com.au/appropriate-terminology-for-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-people-its-complicated/
        But although the complexities remain, usage has changed. On screen, it is now most common for individuals to be referred to by their country, e.g. on The Drum, a speaker will be introduced as Wiradjuri women , Professor so-and-so. And from my observations, it is becoming more common for First Nations to be used. So I asked Anita Heiss, and it’s what she suggested.
        I dithered over how much to change. In the end I decided not to rewrite history and I changed only this year’s ILW to FNRW and altering ongoing tags and categories and all the links that led to them. (I bet I’ve missed some, but…)
        At the end of the day, my choices are guided by what I want to achieve. I want to encourage more people to read more FN writing.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I think that’s a brilliant initiative Lisa and I applaud you.

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  4. This is wonderful Lisa. Interestingly I have been doing some work with a Canadian company who eschew the term First Nations for indigenous, whereas that same company in Australia has it the other way around.

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    • Yes indeed. See my comment to Sue above, which has the link to Noel Pearson’s article about the complexities of terminology.
      And look, whatever we do, there will people those who dismiss it as wrong, ignorant, too little too late, or offloading white guilt etc. First Nations people here don’t speak with one voice, and why should they? Nobody else does. It makes it complicated, but I reckon that doing our best with good will in our hearts as part of an ongoing process of learning as much as we can, is much, much better than doing nothing.

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  5. Kudos to you Lisa for taking on board the implications of the Uluru Statement in such a methodical way. It involves a considerable amount of work clearly but I think your point about it being a work in progress is important. You may not get it 100% every time but it’s the effort that counts.

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    • Ha ha, there speaks a blogger who knows about the hours of work behind such a simple change!
      Thank you Karen:)

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      • As soon as I read your reference to changing your categories my eyes started to roll. I started a similar exercise myself and it took way longer than I expected.

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        • It was actually good to do when I wasn’t feeling up to much, because it didn’t take any complicated thinking, only careful plodding through the task.

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          • Yep, changes like that are definitely a plod

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  6. Hi Lisa, great to see this work in progress. I really appreciate the visibility of country in the search. One thing I have learnt from First Nations colleagues in an education context is to avoid citing the Creative Spirits website and instead refer to First Nations-led not-for-profit sources, such as Common Ground: https://www.commonground.org.au/ Always a learning journey!

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    • Hi Agnes, and thank you. I used Common Ground a lot when I was teaching. One of my whole school projects was to include Aboriginal Perspectives in all areas of the curriculum and it was useful for guiding my knowledge about what and how to do that. But also in my work as a teacher librarian, I developed a unit of work for Years 3 & 4 which focussed on First Nations myths and legends, and it wasn’t so easy to find them then way back in 2012. (You can see the unit here, teachers still download it though I hope they update it before they use it. https://lisahillschoolstuff.wordpress.com/goodies-to-share/australian-curriculum-literature-research-units-for-the-primary-library/australian-curriculum-literature-research-units-for-years-3-4/)

      However, the Creative Spirits website had the best, most succinct explanation of what decolonisation means in a general sense, which is why I used it.

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      • Fantastic and rich resources! Thank you – I will share these.

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        • LOL Agnes, they were very progressive at the time, but now, I am sure that pedagogy has changed, and not just because of online learning. Still, what hasn’t changed is the intent, that is, that if you’re going to teach ‘the topic of ‘space’ for example, then it is incumbent on teachers to begin with teaching Aboriginal knowledge about space, their names for the planets and the constellations, for example. If you’re teaching little kids about ‘dangers in the home’, you begin by teaching about Aboriginal traditions for teaching children about dangers in the bush, such as using story and dance to warn them away from venomous wildlife. Once teachers grasp the idea that there has always been a rich body of knowledge that they can draw on, they are on the path to teaching respect in meaningful ways. It doesn’t have to be a whole lesson, but it should form part of the introduction to whatever the curriculum requirements are. (At the time, including Aboriginal perspectives was one of three strands that had to be included across the curriculum. I don’t know if that’s still the case in the latest iterations of the national curriculum.)
          I’m well out of teaching now, but I feel confident that there are teachers like I was, who really care about this stuff and are sharing their work in the way that I used to.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Lisa, this is so interesting. There is so much to learn about First Nation’s people and I like the idea of many voices telling their stories. If everyone could open their minds to the stories of all people the world would be such a lovely, dynamic place. If only (sigh)…..

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    • Reading widely in this space is very useful for combatting racism when it crops up face-to-face. Not so long ago I had (foolishly) agreed to accompany The Spouse to a Probus lunch where some old codger was bragging about his grey nomad jaunt to Far North Queensland, and he took the opportunity to make some racist generalisations about what he saw. Armed with my extensive knowledge of First Nations writing, I decided I wasn’t going to stand for that so (jettisoning polite good manners!) I launched into correcting him. I talked about the growing Aboriginal middle and professional class, and that I knew about it from reading FN lit, which was written by people better educated than me because they had PhDs, e.g. Anita Heiss. I don’t say I changed his mind, but it shut him up and I reckon he’ll think twice before sharing his racist opinions again.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Very insightful and informative post, Lisa. Learnt a lot while reading your post and the conversation in the comments. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Well, I hope you know that your blog has helped me on my way, because years ago I asked you what to read from India and every book by an Indian author that I’ve reviewed on this blog is one of your recommendations, and I’ve got more on the TBR that I just haven’t got to yet.
      Plus, I’m reading Tomb of Sand at the moment — what an amazing novel it is!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for your kind words, Lisa 😊 Glad to know that I was able to help. Hope you are enjoying Tomb of Sand. Will look forward to your review. Happy reading!

        Liked by 1 person

      • OMG how did you get a copy of Tomb of Sand – they are nowhere to be found!!!?

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        • *chuckle* You know I talk to Joe (Rough Ghosts) in Canada each week via Zoom/Google Meet? We talk about many things, but always about whatever we are reading. He told me about Tomb of Sand before he had even written his review, and I ordered it from the library. And then it won the International Booker!

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post Lisa – thoughtful and motivating. Thank you for continually stretching and encouraging me in the direction I would like to go but don’t always think about as deeply as I could.

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    • We are all on a journey, Brona, and we’re all at different places and coming from different directions. You’ve done things on your blog that I haven’t done. You have a footer about the country where every post you write comes from. I don’t do that, because I don’t use the WP block editor so I don’t have a template. (They don’t call me LoTech Lisa for nothing!) But it inspired me to add it to my About page, so you see, if we all do what we can, when we can do it, then we are doing the best we can.
      That’s what matters, I think.

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  10. Such an interesting post, Lisa, and I admire the work you’ve put in—the hands-on and the deep thinking behind it.

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    • Thanks, Amanda, I think it’s just wonderful the way that the discourse around this has opened up since the election…

      Liked by 1 person

  11. […] have been talking about decolonising over at Lisa’s blog, and it just so happens that last week I went to see actor-writer-director Leah Purcell’s […]

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