Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Category: Australian (page 2 of 5)

The Family Law – Benjamin Law

Working in a beloved local bookstore definitely has its perks (though not necessarily the ones you’d imagine – being able to read all day behind the desk is a pipe dream!). I’m a long-time fan of Benjamin Law, and one day earlier this year he came in to the store for a TV shoot. When he was done, my boss convinced me to (shyly) ask him to sign a copy of his memoir, The Family Law.

The Family Law - Benjamin Law - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy The Family Law here.
(When you do, an Australian author will get a cut, a small publisher will get a cut, I’ll get a cut, and you’ll get a great read!)

In case you’re not familiar, Law is an Australian author and journalist. He’s been working in television, radio, and theater for years – not to mention his strong Twitter presence. He was born in Queensland in 1982, to immigrant parents from Hong Kong. The Family Law is his memoir, about what it was like to grow up in an Asian-Australian family in the heartland of Pauline Hanson and her ilk.

It’s not a misery memoir, however – no sad laments, no tearful recollections of racially-motivated violence and oppression. This is a story of heart, humour, and hope. As per the blurb: “Meet the Law family – eccentric, endearing, and hard to resist. Your guide: Benjamin, the third of five children and a born humourist.”

The Family Law is presented as a series of vignettes and essays, in the style of David Sedaris. The through line is family connection, the love between siblings and parents, forged in the fire of being the only Asians on the mostly-white Sunshine Coast. The humour is self-deprecating, colourful, occasionally scatalogical, and uniquely Australian. Law plays to his strengths: the strangeness of being both an insider and an outsider at once, of feeling both at home and displaced.

Law is disarmingly honest about experiences that would make most of us squirm to recount (and probably automatically disqualify him from any future in politics): performing in black-face for a school production, family in-jokes about rape, an Islamophobic aunt, an extended family summarily deported after overstaying their tourist visas… He is admirably forthcoming and frank about these flies in the ointment (there’s probably something to that whole power-of-vulnerability thing) and it’s a handy signpost for the reader that he’s not here to make himself look good. He’s here to tell his family’s story.

“Every marriage starts with passive aggression, but couples soon realise that being passive requires effort. It’s easier to be openly hostile.”

The Family Law (Page 15)

I must say, even though each of the Laws get a look in, it’s the mother – Jenny – who steals every scene. She’s beyond brilliant. She tapes difficult English words (like “diarrhoea”) with their definition to the wall, so she can remember them. She likens giving birth to “squeezing a lemon out of your penis hole”. She is always, always borderline-inappropriate, in the most amiable and likeable way.

The Family Law is a memoir that will speak to all young Australians, not just those with an Asian background, not just those who are gay. Even though Law speaks to his racial and sexual identity, those facets aren’t defining in his story, and they’re certainly not essential to engaging with it. Basically, all you’ll need to enjoy The Family Law is some level of experience with family relationships, and a permissive sense of humour. Some familiarity with the Queensland vernacular and culture might also come in handy…

In 2010, Law created a six-part television comedy series of the same name, loosely based on the book. (No, I haven’t watched it yet – my to-watch list is now longer than my to-read list, if you can believe it – but I watched the trailer on YouTube, does that count?) It was the most-viewed program on SBS OnDemand throughout the series, and received huge critical acclaim here and overseas.

All in all, The Family Law is a charming, funny, and occasionally over-the-top series of recollections about feeling different and family life. Despite what they say about not meeting your heroes, I feel lucky to have done so, and Benjamin Law remains one of mine 🙂

The Trauma Cleaner – Sarah Krasnostein

Sandra Pankhurst is a woman of extremes. She has lived her life at both ends of the bell curve. Her highs have been very high, her lows have been very low. Initially, Sarah Krasnostein set about telling Pankhurst’s life story in a long-form essay (‘The Secret Life Of A Crime Scene Cleaner’), but she found that this woman’s multitudes could not be contained. So, she wrote this book, The Trauma Cleaner, about how an abused kid from the suburbs came to be a professional cleaner of others’ messes.

The Trauma Cleaner - Sarah Krasnostein - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy The Trauma Cleaner here.
(When you do, I’ll get a tiny referral fee at no cost to you, and you’ll get my eternal gratitude along with a great read!)

At present, Sandra runs the company she founded, Specialised Trauma Cleaning Services, as she has done for the past 20+ years. It’s a job that draws her into the homes of hoarders, the homes of victims, the homes of the dead. “Her work, in short, is a catalogue of the ways we die, physically and emotionally,” Krasnostein puts it, on page 2.

The hook of The Trauma Cleaner is, naturally, the voyeuristic thrill we get from peering into lives that have fallen apart. The thing is, though, it’s not really about trauma cleaning. Krasnostein did accompany Pankhurst on several jobs, and describes them from her own perspective (that of an outsider) while weaving in Pankhurst’s matter-of-fact seen-it-all commentary. There’s not enough detail to make your stomach churn, but just enough to make your eyes widen. Krasnostein gives a thorough beginner’s-guide to the nature of that work, but really this story is about Pankhurst, and her incredible life.

To step back to the beginning: Pankhurst was horribly and sadistically abused by her parents (as punishment, Krasnostein implies, for having been adopted – a surplus child supplanted by two subsequent biological children). She was unceremoniously booted from her family home in her teenage years, but unfortunately her rough trot didn’t end there. Her first job, to support herself and secure her own living arrangements, was working on the now-infamous Westgate Bridge. When the construction collapsed, she witnessed the deaths of 35 colleagues.

Krasnostein traces Pankhurst’s life from there, through marriage(s), children, coming out as trans, sex work, business-building, drugs, damage, and drama. She alternates between these aspects of Pankhurst’s past, and the reality of her present work (and illness).

Krasnostein is, thankfully, not exploitative of the clients and crime victims that require Pankhurst’s services; she offers them as “case studies” of sorts, but makes clear to the reader that their consent was gained, their own insights offered freely and in their own words. Krasnostein uses what she finds behind their doors to pave in-roads into Pankhurst’s history. She and her publisher make one noticeable concession to the voyeur: a few glossy photographic inserts, showing scenes from Pankhurst’s whole life.

The major stumbling block in The Trauma Cleaner – for Krasnostein, and by extension for the reader – is the patchy nature of Pankhurst’s memory.

“The challenges posed by Sandra’s memory loss mean that parts of her biographical story have required imaginative reconstruction. All dialogue and characters, however, are based on what she does remember and, where possible, interviews with third parties or historical records. Nothing has been exaggerated.”

Author’s note, The Trauma Cleaner

It’s a good thing that Krasnostein included that final affirmation in her Author’s Note. It would be easy to suspect – believe, even – that she took some creative license in telling Pankhurst’s outlandish life story. Throughout The Trauma Cleaner, Krasnostein reminds the reader that Pankhurst is “not a flawlessly reliable narrator”. She points to gaps and inconsistencies in Pankhurst’s memory, rather than hiding them, which (contradictory as this might seem) actually makes her story more believable, and illuminating.

Even though Pankhurst is the “hero” of The Trauma Cleaner, she is not faultless. Krasnostein doesn’t shy away from her past mistakes, oversights, and selfishness – in particular, the way she left Linda (her wife, prior to coming out) and their children.

Still, even when detailing Pankhurst’s flaws, Krasnostein is kind, generous, and insightful in her depiction. The only point on which the author seems to miss a step is her surprisingly puritanical attitude about Pankhurst’s career as a sex worker. Krasnostein calls the work “distasteful” and “dangerous”. She seems surprised that Pankhurst, as a trans sex worker, might be more concerned about violence perpetrated by the police than by her clients. It’s a jarring bum note in an otherwise fantastic book.

The Trauma Cleaner – aside from being a biography of an extraordinary woman with an extraordinary job and an extraordinary resume – is a book about the satisfaction of imposing order in a chaotic world. The world certainly hasn’t become any less chaotic in the years since its release, so you might say it becomes more resonant as time goes on. I would highly recommend it to fans of Chloe Hooper and Susan Orlean.

The Female Eunuch – Germaine Greer

I always hated being told to “respect my elders”. I’m sure the kids of today feel the same (and my view hasn’t changed now that I’m old enough to say things like “the kids of today”). In my lifetime, Germaine Greer has said (and doubled-down on) a lot of really shitty things, and I could never find it within myself to revere her the way that older feminists seemed to do. Still, lately I got to thinking that it’s only fair that I actually read The Female Eunuch, Greer’s magnum opus, for myself. I worked very hard to go into it with a genuinely open mind, as I hope others would try to do when reading books that challenge their own views. But, as you’ll see… it wasn’t easy.

The Female Eunuch - Germaine Greer - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy The Female Eunuch here.
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(And, just a heads up, I’m probably going to get pretty nerdy as I dissect this one, apologies in advance. Feel free to scroll down to the end if you just want a tl;dr summary.)

In October 1970, Janis Joplin died of an overdose. Nixon struggled to find support for a proposal to end the Vietnam War. Fiji became an independent nation. The West Gate Bridge collapsed, killing thirty five people. That was the context into which The Female Eunuch was first published, fifty years ago. Greer had already made a name for herself as a vocal feminist with an academic bent, and this book cemented that reputation.

In the introduction – in fact, in the very first line – she openly declares that she seeks to subvert expectations and draw fire from all quarters. “If [this book] is not ridiculed or reviled,” she says on page 22, “it will have failed of its intention,”. Littered throughout The Female Eunuch are laughably inflammatory statements, with little apparent purpose other than to horrify and outrage. For instance, on page 51, she suggests: “If you think you are emancipated, you might consider the idea of tasting your menstrual blood – if it makes you sick, you’ve a long way to go, baby,”. No, thank you. Not even if Greer were elected the Holy Ruler Of The World and declared that to be the only litmus test for feminism.

She also uses the introduction to The Female Eunuch to bemoan the “old guard” of the suffragettes. She subsequently nominates herself and her book to be the cusp of the “second feminist wave”. (I must admit, I experienced a certain delicious schadenfreude in knowing that Greer herself is now considered the “old guard”, and contemporary feminists bemoan her in much the same way.) Having set the scene, Greer goes about trying to challenge all who had come before her (with the single exception of Mary Wollstonecraft, whom she quotes frequently and at length).

The Female Eunuch is a strange blend of angry rant and scholarly references, as though Greer couldn’t quite make up her mind who she was writing for or how she should write for them. She swings at “traditional” marriage and the “nuclear family” like a wrecking ball, claiming that they (and their related social structures) repress women sexually, rendering them eunuchs – thus, the title. I can get behind that idea, I suppose, and I can appreciate an attempt to shock and awe in order to get your point across… but the whole argument was so muddled, the approach so haphazard, that it was hard to make out what Greer was actually trying to say (let alone whether it was worth listening to).

She splits The Female Eunuch into four main sections: Body, Soul, Love, and Hate (ironically, riffing off binaries, the very thing she claims to rail against: “We will have to reject the polarity of definite terms, which are always artificial, and strive for the freedom to move within indefinite terms”, page 69).

I really, really wish she hadn’t opened with Body, the section focused entirely on her outdated (not to mention manifestly wrong) understanding of biology, sex, and gender. Reading it made keeping an open mind very, very difficult. Unfortunately – but, alas, unsurprisingly – when Greer refers to “women”, she’s speaking exclusively about cis-gender heterosexual women (which means, for expediency’s sake, in this review I’m going to have to do the same – doesn’t mean I have to like it). Occasionally, she mentions “lesbianism”, but seems skeptical that someone might be a lesbian for any reason other than a rejection of men, and she barely acknowledges the existence of trans and non-binary people at all.

The only notable exception was her use of the life of April – a trans woman – to make a point, using language so derogatory I literally shuddered. Greer’s ideas about April’s experience (described entirely in the abstract) were completely dehumanising. I suppose objectification and derision are only bad when it’s cis-men doing it to cis-women, in Greer’s view? Ugh. Even more unbelievably (if that were possible), she has the gall to call April “our sister”, claiming her for “the movement”. If not for my determination to persist in order to write this review, that would’ve been grounds for me to put The Female Eunuch down there and then. Ugh, to infinity.

And – I can’t help myself, I’ve just got to get this off my chest – I can’t believe that Greer’s views have, demonstrably, evolved so little since she wrote this book fifty fucking years ago. Think about how much you’ve learned in the last five years, or the last ten. Has she really managed to avoid becoming a better feminist – a better human – in all that time?

But, open mind, open mind, open mind, I kept telling myself… Further on, Greer likens women and women’s labour to that of the proletariat, and suggests women to exercise and claim power in an equivalent way. Women should go on “strike” in our domestic lives, the way that workers do, until conditions improve. Then, later, in what I came to realise was a typical Greer contradiction, she pooh-poohs the idea of sex strikes, the withdrawal or withholding of sex as a way of wielding power. Surely, for the women of whom she speaks (i.e., white, heterosexual, cis-gender, middle class women in English-speaking countries with Christian backgrounds), domestic labour is indivisible from sexual labour. They are one and the same. Why would she insert this dividing line between the two only when it comes to weapons for waging war against the patriarchy?

(That’s not rhetorical, I seriously don’t understand why. She claimed to be all about women reclaiming their sexuality and libido, but there are any number of ways to express and enjoy and connect with oneself sexually without engaging in sex with a male partner if that sex is rooted in oppression. I just… I don’t understand. If you do, please explain it to me in the comments!)

Take that, I suppose, as an example of all the ways in which The Female Eunuch is underdeveloped, poorly expressed, and narrow in scope. If I tried to detail every problem and fallacy, this review might end up being longer than the book. I found barely anything in there that I thought might be relevant to a person who didn’t look, live, and think like Greer, an incredible feat of tunnel vision, even for second-wave feminism. I was baffled by her apparent nostalgia for the Middle Ages and children raised by villages. I was angered by her victim-blaming (particularly in the final section, Hate, where she proposes that women who complain about their alcoholic husbands beating them are just making mountains out of molehills, and if they’d just stop nagging him about how much time he spent at the pub, he wouldn’t beat her – seriously, does that sound like feminism to you?). The only idea of Greer’s that made any kind of sense to me was that of harnessing women’s anger, of provoking them to challenge the limitations placed upon them.

Tl;dr? There are moments of insight, some evidence of forward thinking, but it’s a shame that those brief glimpses into brilliance are clouded by ideas that are dated at best, harmful and factually incorrect at worst. The impact of The Female Eunuch, the reason it has become a “classic” of feminist literature, can really only be found back in the 1970s, in the context of its initial release. The bar was very low, back then, even lower than it is now, so I can see how something like this might have been – as Greer hoped – the mirage of something revolutionary.

I just don’t think that The Female Eunuch has any value anymore. It’s not old enough, or well-written enough, to have the historical status and respect afforded to suffragette writing. It’s been too thoroughly debunked and overwritten to stand alongside later works of feminism. It’s out of date: scientifically, socially, and legally. It’s too deeply rooted in a colonial version of society to have any resonance or relevance in today’s world. I opened my mind so much my brain nearly fell out, and it didn’t do any good. The Female Eunuch did not change my opinion of Germaine Greer at all – and if you’re looking for a strong feminist voice to teach you something, my suggestion is keep on looking elsewhere.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Female Eunuch:

  • “Hatred is not a good way to try to get back in the lime light. Read your books, saw your picture, and now I understand why you took such extreme tactics to get attention. Get some talent.” – Heather Miller
  • “Bought this for the Mrs – she says it is hard work and a bit boring.” – M. MCILROY

Finding Nevo – Nevo Zisin

Nevo Zisin finds the concept of “coming out” – the idea that someone is straight until proven otherwise – really bothersome. They should know: they’ve had to do it a lot. Over the course of their young life, they’ve “come out” as bisexual, lesbian, queer, trans, non-binary, and polyamorous… but they’ve done a lot of other stuff too. Nevo is an activist, writer, and public speaker, focusing on issues of gender, sex, and sexuality. Finding Nevo is their first book, a “memoir of becoming”.

Finding Nevo - Nevo Zisin - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy Finding Nevo here.
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Nevo sums it up best when they say, about halfway through Finding Nevo: “There is no single trans narrative. This is my experience, and my experience alone.” That said, for people unfamiliar with real-life trans and non-binary stories this book is a bit of a crash course in a lot of the personal and political aspects of a life outside the cis-gender binary. Nevo introduces and describes subjects like changing pronouns, “passing”, seeking medical care, and accessibility in public spaces. There’s even a really helpful glossary and resource guide in the back – but Finding Nevo never reads like a textbook. Nevo uses language that is accessible to anyone. They don’t assume any pre-existing knowledge, just an open mind.

Nevo was born into a Jewish family, part of Melbourne’s very tight-knit Jewish community, which gives them unique insight into the intersection of culture, social mores, and religion in the LGBTIQ+ community. Nevo was assigned female at birth, and their mother desperately wanted a girl. So, for many of Nevo’s early years, femininity was enforced: dresses and skirts, pink toys, the whole shebang. Nevo describes their childhood as being very lonely, and the more they tried to conform to others’ expectations, the less they felt they “fit in”.

Over the course of their childhood and adolescence, Nevo struggled to find which “version” of themselves felt most authentic. They are frank about the shifts and iterations they went through with their identity over time, and – crucially – the impact that their realisations and decisions had on their relationships (especially with their family members).

What Finding Nevo ultimately depicts, and advocates, is a process of “unlearning”: not just our ideas about the gender binary, but other restrictive expectations and assumptions, too. Nevo rejects the dominant narrative that all trans and non-binary people were “born in the wrong body”. However well-intentioned that explanation may seem (indeed, a lot of trans people use it themselves), Nevo resists the idea that their body is “wrong”. They also learned (the hard way!) that identities aren’t rigid, and it’s okay for them to change and evolve over time. It’s okay not to know and to go with what feels “right” at the moment. That’s why we’re all here, isn’t it?

Given that Finding Nevo is only about 200 pages long, it covers a remarkable amount of ground. Nevo talks about many aspects of identity and transformation: the physical realities of life in a trans/non-binary body, negotiating the divide between their sexuality/gender and their religious faith, and all of the good, bad, and ugly emotions that have come with every step. Nevo describes great pain, joyful optimism, crippling anxiety, bewildering dysphoria, and – ultimately – determined hope. And they were only twenty years old at the time of writing! Incredible!

Finding Nevo is a quick read, with straightforward language, and it’s appropriate for pretty much all ages (I’d say if a kid is old enough to ask questions about this book’s content, they’re old enough to read it and, maybe with a little help, understand). It won the Australian Family Therapists’ Book Of The Year Award in 2018, and it’s a really useful resource for both queer folk and straight/cis-gendered readers. For people who are struggling with their own identity, Finding Nevo will hopefully be a source of comfort and reassurance. For others, it will be an opportunity to learn, to walk a mile in the proverbial shoes, and come closer to understanding a life that is different to their own.

For me, this was a really timely read – not just because it’s Pride, not just because reviewing Frankissstein last week had me confronting my own blind spots, but also because, while there’s never a “bad” time to learn and to empathise, the current moment seems particularly good for it. Reading it re-enforced the importance of amplifying #ownvoices non-fiction, as well as fictional depictions of diverse characters. I really admire Nevo’s generosity in sharing their experience, so candidly, in a way that could help so many others. Finding Nevo is a heart-felt, thoughtful, and constructive memoir – do the world a favour and buy it for the TERF in your life today!

9 Must-Read Books By Indigenous Australians

For too long, the dominant perspective held that Australian literature “began” with the arrival of the colonisers, when white men started writing down (in English) what they observed about this continent. In truth, Australian literary history stretches back to time immemorial, with the oral storytelling traditions of First Nations people. Though, sadly, many of the languages of those nations have been lost to invasion, their traditions continue, and I am awe-struck by their resilience and power. Of course, over time, modes and approaches to telling stories have blended, and local publishers are focusing more and more on distributing and championing the written stories of Indigenous storytellers. Books by Indigenous Australians are no longer an anomaly, or a diversity token: they’re a fixture on our bookshelves and bookstores, and the reading community ever clambers for more.

9 Must-Read Books By Indigenous Australians - Text Overlaid on Image of Uluru - Keeping Up With The Penguins
(Heads up: if you buy a book through an affiliate link on this page, I’ll earn a tiny commission.)

I’ve got to admit, though, I’ve felt more than one twinge of discomfort, as a white woman, trying to put this list together. I want to thrust forth into the spotlight some of the incredible books by Indigenous Australians that I’ve been lucky enough to encounter – but does that mean I’m taking up space that isn’t mine to hold? Am I part of the problem by putting a white-lady stamp-of-approval on stories that are part of a greater tradition than I could ever fathom? Where I landed is that I think it’s right that I use this platform to celebrate books by Indigenous Australians, but I’ve tried to ensure that the books I’ve selected are endorsed not only by me but also Indigenous readers and writers and reviewers. I also present these books humbly, with the very loud and important caveat that this list is not even close to definitive or comprehensive, and I would strongly encourage you all to seek out any and all books by Indigenous Australians that challenge and entertain you.

Taboo by Kim Scott

Taboo - Kim Scott - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Taboo is the fifth book by Kim Scott (who has previously twice won the Miles Franklin Literary Award for Australian novels of high literary merit), a descendant of the Wirlomin Noongar people. It’s an exploration of the memory of place, and the stain of violence. Set in present-day Western Australia, a group of Noongar people are invited to re-visit a taboo place, the site of a massacre. Lyrical and evocative, it shows the brutal power of destruction and intergenerational trauma, but also the strength and resilience of Indigenous people and their unique connection with this land.

Am I Black Enough For You? by Anita Heiss

Anita Heiss is a Wiradjuri woman, raised in the Sydney suburbs, who found herself in the middle of a proverbial shit-storm a little while back about Aboriginal identity. In Am I Black Enough For You?, she explores what it means to identify (or be identified) as an Indigenous Australian, and challenges unfounded but pervasive assumptions about what constitutes “an Aboriginal person”. Unfortunately, some segments of Australian media (who shall remain nameless, because they suck) have taken it upon themselves to put forth their own criteria, whereby someone might be “too light-skinned” or “too inner-city” or “not traditional enough” to be Aboriginal. Anita Heiss is not here to play, she rips those arguments to shreds – and I am HERE FOR IT!

The Yield by Tara June Winch

The Yield - Tara June Winch - Keeping Up With The Penguins

As I mentioned above, one of the most significant and horrifying tragedies of the white invasion of this continent has been the irreparable damage and loss to Indigenous Australian languages. Far too many have been extinguished, and with them cultural knowledge and foundations that were millennia in the making. Tara June Winch explores the devastating effect of this loss through fiction in The Yield. A young woman, August Gondiwindi, returns to Australia after a decade overseas to mourn the passing of her grandfather. She discovers new plans for dispossession of his land at the hands of a mining corporation, and she is called to protect her grandfather’s legacy, and that of the long lineage from which she descends.

Archival Poetics by Natalie Harkin

Archival Poetics - Natalie Harkin - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I can honestly say that I have never read anything like Natalie Harkin’s Archival Poetics. As a poet-activist, Harkin has been working with archives for many years, and this trilogy of poetry collections explores the ways in which violence against Indigenous Australians – especially Aboriginal women – has perhaps been excluded from the “official” narrative of the (white) archive, but recorded and recalled in different ways. It is visual, it is confronting, and it is a radical act of resistance against the colonial forces that would decide for themselves what is “worth” remembering.

Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

Too Much Lip - Melissa Lucashenko - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I was overjoyed to hear that Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko won the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2019. Not just because I love seeing books by Indigenous Australians get the recognition they deserve (Lucashenko has both European and Goori heritage), but also because it’s funny! Sure, the humour is dark, and steeped in the mechanisms that have emerged in Aboriginal communities to cope with ongoing trauma and oppression, but still! Funny! Such books are too often overlooked, I think, in favour of more visceral and heart-wrenching depictions of violence and trauma. Too Much Lip proves that while violence and trauma are still ever-present realities for Indigenous Australians, there is also incredible scope for humour and gleeful delight in their storytelling.

Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman

Terra Nullius - Claire G Coleman - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

“Terra Nullius” is a loaded term for all Australians, Indigenous or otherwise (for international Keeper Upperers, in brief, it was the term used to declare that Australia was “uninhabited” at the time of the white coloniser’s arrival, and as such justified their invasion of Australia as “settlement” of land not owned by anyone else, an obvious fabrication). So, it’s a powerful statement by Claire G Coleman to use Terra Nullius as the title for her incredible book. She projects the real-world systemic oppression of Indigenous Australians into a speculative alternative, forcing the reader to reconsider the Australia they think they know and the history they think they understand.

Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia (Anthology)

Local publisher Black Inc has done an incredible series of anthologies examining what it’s like to grow up in Australia, calling on an incredibly diverse range of voices to tell stories that might not otherwise have a platform. Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia, edited by Anita Heiss, was for me perhaps the most affecting and eye-opening. Contributors include both household names – like Adam Goodes and Miranda Tapsell – and emerging voices in the Australian literary landscape. All of the pieces seek to engage, educate, and enlighten, often challenging the stereotypes and preconceived ideas that other Australians might not even realise they hold.

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

Dark Emu - Bruce Pascoe - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Dark Emu was first published back in 2014, and yet it’s still making headlines, and still topping best-seller lists. I think of all books by Indigenous Australians, this one in particular has become emblematic of the resistance against those media commentators (again, who I will not name, because they really suck) who would seek to maintain a status quo that perpetuates inequality and oppression. Those self-appointed cultural guardians perhaps shot themselves in the foot by decrying this book so vigorously and so often – in so doing, they brought it to a far wider audience than it might otherwise have reached (though undoubtedly deserves). Dark Emu completely rebuts many of the lies perpetuated about the pre-colonial history of Australia, and lays out a strong case for an overhaul of how we teach, talk about, and dismantle colonial myths. Pascoe has also subsequently produced Young Dark Emu, a version that allows parents and teachers to introduce young readers to these ideas from the very beginning.

Blakwork by Alison Whittaker

Blakwork - Alison Whittaker - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It has been my honour and privilege to attend several events where I’ve heard Gomeroi poet, legal scholar, and life writer Alison Whittaker perform and speak. Basically, I’ll buy a ticket to anything that has her name on it. Blakwork is her incredible genre-bending collection of poetry, memoir, journalism and critique. In it, she examines different kinds of work (including what she calls “blakwork”, from which the collection derives its name), and the ways in which they intersect. It’s experimental, in the sense that it plays with format and perception, but accessible to all readers and curious minds. It has won and been short-listed for multiple awards, and in my view it is essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary Australian literature (not just books by Indigenous Australians).

One excellent way to support and celebrate our First Nations people is, of course, to buy books by Indigenous Australians – but if you want to do more, I highly recommend donating, fundraising, or making in-kind contributions to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Important note: Keeping Up With The Penguins is a project undertaken on the lands of the Gadigal people, of the Eora nation. This land was never ceded or sold. I pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and stand with their communities in solidarity against the forces of oppression.

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