8 books on Indigenous history & culture that will move and shake you
Brilliant and enthralling reads that will enlighten you about Australia's First Peoples.
It’s currently Reconciliation Week and the theme this year is, Don’t Keep History A Mystery: Learn. Share. Grow. Almost 1 in 3 Australians do not accept key facts about Australia’s past institutional prejudices against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people. Reconciliation Australia invites people to learn more, and share that knowledge to help us grow as a nation.
A good book is one of the best ways to educate yourself about any given subject. We have put together a list of eight brilliant books that have the power to completely change your perspective on ATSI cultures and histories.
Keep scrolling for a bonus list of seven children's books...
1. Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
Dark Emu argues for a reconsideration of the 'hunter-gatherer' tag for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians and attempts to rebut the colonial myths that have worked to justify dispossession. Accomplished author Bruce Pascoe provides compelling evidence from the diaries of early explorers that suggests that systems of food production and land management have been blatantly understated in modern retellings of early Aboriginal history, and that a new look at Australia’s past is required.
2. The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper
The Tall Man is the story of Palm Island, the tropical paradise where one morning Cameron Doomadgee swore at a policeman and forty minutes later lay dead in a watch-house cell. It is the story of that policeman, the tall, enigmatic Christopher Hurley who chose to work in some of the toughest and wildest places in Australia, and of the struggle to bring him to trial. Above all, it is a story in luminous detail of two worlds clashing—and a haunting moral puzzle that no reader will forget.
The death of Cameron Doomadgee in police custody is also explored in the SBS documentary series of the same name.
3. Us Women Our Ways
A collection of writings on women and Aboriginal identity from 14 senior Indigenous academics and community leaders. The collection engages with questions such as: What makes Aboriginal women strong? Why are grandmothers so important (even ones never met)? How is the connection to country different for Aboriginal people compared to non-Aboriginal people's love of nature or sense of belonging to an area? What is Aboriginal spirituality?
These writings are generous, inclusive and considerate of the non-Aboriginal reader's feelings. They are hopeful for the future, with an emphasis on acknowledging, joining with, collaborating and caring.
Edited by Darlene Oxenham, Jeannie Herbert, Jill Milroy and Pat Dudgeon.
4. The Biggest Estate On Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia by Bill Gammage
For over a decade, Gammage has examined written and visual records of the Australian landscape. He has uncovered an extraordinarily complex system of land management using fire and the life cycles of native plants to ensure plentiful wildlife and plant foods throughout the year. The Biggest Estate on Earth rewrites the history of this continent, with huge implications for us today. Once Aboriginal people were no longer able to tend their country, it became overgrown and vulnerable to the hugely damaging bushfires we now experience. And what we think of as virgin bush in a national park is nothing of the kind.
5. Traditional Healers of Central Australia: Ngangkari
The ngangkari are the traditional healers of the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Lands, encompassing 350,000 square kilometres of the remote western desert. For thousands of years the ngangkari have nurtured the physical, emotional and social well-being of their people. To increase understanding and encourage collaboration with mainstream health services and the wider community, the ngangkari have forged a rare partnership with health professionals and practitioners of Western medicine. Experience the world of the ngangkari as they share their wisdom, natural healing techniques and cultural history through life stories, spectacular photography and artwork.
Produced by the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council Aboriginal Corporation.
6. Ngarra: the Texta drawings
A mesmerising collection of texta drawings by one of remote Australia's most significant artists. Ngarra was the senior lawman for ceremonies throughout a vast swathe of the Kimberley. Turning to art in 1994, Ngarra developed an electrifying and sophisticated style of painting and drawing, producing works in ochre, acrylic and texta. A brilliant colourist and a great inventor of form, Ngarra boldly combined his unparalleled cultural knowledge with a unique artistic vision.
7. Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum
This catalogue provides a stunning visual record of the 149 rare, historic objects from the collection of the British Museum Exhibition alongside more recent artworks and artefacts made in communities of origin. It reveals how these objects are deeply enmeshed in contemporary lives of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people and continue to be embraced in their culture today.
8. True Girt - The Unauthorised History of Australia Volume 2 by David Hunt
In this sequel to his best-selling history, Girt, author David Hunt takes us to the Australian frontier. With plenty of wit and supporting historical documents he explores the founding of new colonies, the growth of agriculture, the gold rushes, trial by jury and the relentless expansion of white settlement. Hunt also describes numerous episodes of conflict between the European colonists and the Aboriginal people. He digs up evidence of shocking colonist attitudes, such as after the killing of about 30 Wirrayaraay people and trial of their murderers The Sydney Morning Herald wrote, “the whole gang of black animals are not worth the money the colonists will have to pay for printing the silly court documents on which we have already wasted too much time’’.
Bonus extra! 7 children’s books
As important as it is to educate yourself, it’s equally important to educate your children. Introduce them to the wonders and complexities of ATSI history and culture with the following books.
1. Remembering Lionsville by Bronwyn Bancroft
A unique picture book for the whole family. Renowned artist Bronwyn Bancroft tells her inspiring story of growing up in country New South Wales.
Come with me to my family's old house in Lionsville. It's full of memories. It's a special place. Uncle Pat calls it a secret place. We played in that old tin cubby, swam in the creek with the catfish, and fell asleep to the ribbip of frogs at night. And around the red cedar table we listened to the old people's stories. We learned a lot that way.
2. My Place by Sally Morgan
My Place begins with Sally Morgan tracing the experiences of her own life, growing up in suburban Perth in the fifties and sixties. Through the memories and images of her childhood and adolescence, vague hints and echoes begin to emerge, hidden knowledge is uncovered, and a fascinating story unfolds – a mystery of identity, complete with clues and suggested solutions. My Place is a deeply moving account of a search for truth, into which a whole family is gradually drawn; finally freeing the tongues of the author's mother and grandmother, allowing them to tell their own stories.
3. The Toast Tree by Corina Martin
Every day, Ella and Mia’s grandpa comes home from work with a treat from the toast tree - a tree that grows the best tasting toast in the world! Ella and Mia start searching high and low for the magical tree in the sand hills surrounding their beach-side town. Written by Corina Martin and beautifully illustrated by Fern Martins, The Toast Tree is about family, and the search for magic through the power of a child’s imagination.
4. The Outback by Annaliese Porter
Annaliese Porter was only eight years old when she wrote The Outback. She has captured the Australian outback in all its moods in this moving bush ballad about the country’s vast interior. Illustrated by respected Aboriginal artist Bronwyn Bancroft, The Outback depicts recognisable Australian landscapes and animals such as Uluru, dingoes, cockatoos, snakes and goannas.
5. Moonglue by Daisy Utemorrah
The tale of two children who are advised by their mother not to lay awake at night and watch the moon. From the late Wunambal Elder, Daisy Utemorrah of the Kimberley region of Western Australia, this is a cautionary tale about what might happen to children when they do not listen to their parents. Beautifully illustrated by Susan Wyatt.
6. How The Birds Got Their Colours by Pamela Lofts and Mary Albert
This book is based on a story told by Mary Albert, of the Bardi people, to Aboriginal children living in Broome, Western Australia. The illustrations are adapted from their paintings of the story. Mary Albert said, "Would you like to hear a story from long ago? My mother used to tell me lots of stories, but this story I loved the best, because I loved the birds."
The Rainbow by Ros Moriarty
A perfect read-aloud story which revels in the kaleidoscopic colours of the Australian landscape featuring Indigenous art by Balarinji.
The land bakes...RED. The sun sets...ORANGE. The dawn glows...GOLD. The flowers burst...YELLOW. A joyous serenade to colours that show country before a storm, illustrated by Balarinji, Australia's leading Indigenous design studio. Ros Moriarty, author of the acclaimed memoir Listening to Country, is also the founder of Indi Kindi early learning program.
For more books and research focused on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, history and cultures we highly encourage you to check out Reconciliation Australia's list of Recommended Reading.