By Nupur Sachdev

There are millions and billions of stories to be told, and in the maelstrom of identities and thoughts, finding your voice is the most liberating thing you can do to your writing.

Indigenous novelist Dylan Coleman started off the panel discussion with her extremely forthright perception of the Indigenous identity. She said, “Being aboriginal is not about the color of our skin. We see our identity as a socially constructed one.”

She spoke at length about the “Stolen Generations” of the Aboriginal people, explaining how the governing bodies decided that people of Indigenous descent needed to be protected. “This was a very paternalistic point of view, the thought that we would die out as a race”, she said. People were segregated, they were rounded up and taken out of the country, uprooted from their land and forced onto reservations. They were expected to blend in, assimilate as part of the larger white population.

Despite generations of trauma, our writing is about liberation”, she commented, and explained the importance of the “Dreaming Story” in Indigenous culture.

Being of Rembarranga, Tiwi and Chinese descent, novelist Marie Munkara thinks of herself as a writer first and then an Indigenous person. “I do have both indigenous and non-indigenous content in my books. It’s not something that has a focus for me, but it is a part of my writing.”

She suffered first-hand as a child taken away from her mother. “However, I got a fantastic education, which I have put to use in my writing and saying what I need to say.” She does not want to be bitter about her life, and says “Although I do know the injustice that was done to my mother, I can see the advantage in what has happened.” Which is why she infuses humor into her book and makes it easier for the audience to perceive her life as an Indigenous person.

Jeanine Leane, a Wiradjuri academic and Indigenous author, has strong opinions on the concepts of Social Darwinism, and Western literary constructs. “Genre can inhibit or enable indigenous expression. The very act of writing by an Indigenous person is in fact a political one. We were literate in a very different way, before we were colonized. To say that we were illiterate before that is a mistake.”

She continued on a similar vein, saying that one of the things she had written about was the irony of the farmers calling the Aboriginals illiterate. The farmers could not even read the land, they had no systems to predict drought and other potentially risky conditions.

Jeanine observed that many Western genres are reductionist toward Indigenous writing. Aboriginal writing breaks through the compartments set up by contemporary Western literary systems.

Her next words were pure gold: “We’re all quite immersed in white culture but white culture is not so immersed in Indigenous culture.” It was something the audience found themselves immediately identifying with.

Pointing out the disconnect between home culture (what it’s like with indigenous families, their family values) and what children face in school, Jeanine Leane said schools often see Indigenous culture and values as a deficit. Schools should develop respect towards and encompass Indigenous culture.

Brenton McKenna, a graphic novelist, is part Malay and part Aboriginal. “We were restricted from speaking our native language at the Catholic school I attended, while I only spoke my native language at home.

He picked up the English language from comic books. “Pictures helped me comprehend books better. Comic books are an underestimated learning tool.” He too identifies with being a graphic novelist before an Indigenous person.

On his workshops with young children in Perth, Melbourne, he says “Every workshop I go to, I see which kids are struggling the most and I try to see if I can keep them engaged with the pictures too.”

Though the Indigenous groups of Australia primarily prefer oral transmission of their Indigenous stories, they see the advantages to preserving them in other forms. Writing has proved to be pivotal in liberating their voices and keeping their culture alive generation after generation.