PWF14 catch-up post, Paper & Glass. On indigenous story-telling.

This is the second-last catch-up post for the festival. Sorry it’s taking me so long, I just need to fit it in around all the other important things in my life like going to the opera and lying in bed during the day reading Game of Thrones. You know how it is. Oh, and writing. There’s my writing as well. Going pretty slowly at the mo, but that’s fine. It’s just fine.


This session started with a question directed at oral storyteller Clarrie Cameron. Apologies for my sketchy notes, I loved this session and found myself completely absorbed and forgetting to take notes.

Q: Why do you like to tell your stories?

Clarrie: All the old stories, the old uncles are dead. There was no tv, no radio. People told stories, over and over again. Clarrie said he doesn’t use the terms ‘aboriginal’ or ‘indigenous’ – he uses blackfella/whitefells. ‘It is what they are, and people like that.’ Clarrie said humour has helped [them] to survive as a nation.

Q to Alexis Wright: What makes you use novels to tell your stories?

A: She loves stories and somehow attracts people who tell her stories wherever she goes. Her fiction is political, and through it she responds/celebrates heroes, stories about our people that ‘we weren’t seeing in the media.’ The first book was a response to the ‘grog problem’ and the second, to mining. Alexis says that her responsibility as a fiction writer is for her readers to wake up, to question, to challenge.

Kim Scott: the literary realm is intimate. A South American writer said (and I didn’t catch the name if Kim mentioned it): You can send messages to all friends unmet.

Fiction is a way of sending messages to all friends unmet

– Kim Scott, writer

[JA note: I thought this was a lovely idea and wrote a thought: while writing fiction is a very solitary activity, it IS a way of speaking to other people in a very intimate/private yet strangely public way.]

Kim Scott: we like to tell our stories, the ‘spirit of our stories’ and ‘we become stronger ourselves as we tell our stories; we take on a power.’ (I think this was in the context of telling aboriginal stories to non-aboriginal people.)

The Noongar word for kiss, to say it — ‘boon’ — you have to pucker up and made the word/sound. ‘It’s magic.’

Scott talked about the idea that it makes others stronger to hear these stories: ‘landscape operates as text, you read the landscape, that’s the story.’

Digital storyteller Tyson Mowarin said that with rock art, there’s a story in the country, it’s more than just scratchings in rock. The young men, their initiation ceremonies and rituals around the first kill, the question is how is the urban indigenous (and non-indigenous) young male achieving their ‘first kill’? Tyson said ‘I feel disappointed when I hear a convict shelter on the east of the world gets heritage listed but rock art, 15 or 20,000 years old, doesn’t.’ [People clapped, Kim Scott leaned across and touched Tyson’s leg. I have to say Kim Scott was amazing; he didn’t talk about his writing at all. He was there in the capacity of his work with the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project. And Alexis also was so modest, only touching on her writing — I sensed — because she was asked directly about it.]

Stu Campbell, the other digital storyteller on the panel, said that going to the Pilbara, there are more than a million rock carvings and for a comic creator, it was like ‘going to the oldest comic on earth.’

[We looked at some clips from their project, at Neomad Comics. Read about it HERE.]


Next up: The closing address by Richard Flanagan.


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