Aborigine writers face erasure in Australian literature, according to Australian publisher

Katie Keenan

Indigenous Australian writers are consistently overlooked and having their identities erased by the non-indigenous majority, according to the founder of an Australian publishing house.

Sue Abbey founded black&write! to create a platform for indigenous writers in Australia to share their work.

Each year, black&write! holds a writing competition to encourage aspiring Aborigine authors to share and possibly publish their work. 

Approximately 30 transcripts are submitted, and a panel of judges decides who is deemed the winner. Black&write! keeps in touch with contestants in hopes that they find an avenue to publish their work, black&write! indigenous editor Ellen van Neerven-Currie said.

Van Neerven-Currie said growing up in Australia, she was not exposed to any Aborigine literature or writing until she started college.

“This history wasn’t taught in schools — certainly not where I went to school,” van Neerven-Currie said. 

The continuous discarding of Aborigine stories and identities is an issue that has persisted since the country’s inception, van Neerven-Currie said. 

The first well known Aborigine writer was David Unaipon, whose early 20th-century literature wasn’t attributed to him until several decades later.

Much of the Aborigine peoples’ culture was traditionally passed down through an intricate, complex oral history that spans 60,000 years, Abbey said. 

Before Australia was colonized by the British, more than 250 distinct languages were spoken by the country’s indigenous population. Today, that number has fallen to 18, according to Abbey.

“Everything was handed down,” Abbey said. “[Aborigine people do not] take lightly in using descriptions or songs that are explaining the landscape. It would be the same oral text, and they didn’t stray from it.”

While at the University of Queensland Press, Abbey noticed a lack of indigenous authors. She said she decided to create black&write! in order to increase the amount of opportunities for Aborigine people to publish their work. 

“I sat in on a few discussions and heard black writers talk about how there is no accessibility,” Abbey said. “It was through that, seeing that there’s a need, and thinking, ‘I’ll give it a hurrah.’”

Including Aborigine literature in the school curriculum can make people aware of the rich heritage that exists in Australia, said Brenda Machosky, visiting scholar from the University of Hawaii-West Oahu.

“Bringing [indigenous writing] into courses, incorporating them into classes, … my students have never read anything from Australia until I introduce it to the class,” Machosky said.