Anita Heiss [ed]
Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia

Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia is a mosaic, its more than 50 tiles –  short personal essays with unique patterns, shapes, colours and textures – coming together to form a powerful portrait of resilience. Some contributors, such as footballer Adam Goodes and opera singer Deborah Cheetham, are well known, others less so. Editor Anita Heiss has also included the stories of educators, journalists, military veterans, musicians, elders and students, many of whom are here published for the first time. Some had happy childhoods and others nightmarish ones, some grew up in their own families and others were stolen from them. They describe different paths to Aboriginal identity against the background of a nation that has yet to come fully to grips with a legacy of massacre, dispossession and persistent racism.

Contemporary Aboriginality is a richly complex proposition. Many contributors express pride in their European or other heritage as well, and claim other, “intersectional” identities, for example gay and lesbian, disabled, urban, feminist, vegan, Christian, atheist or even emo (“Aboriginemo”). Others don’t always see you as you see yourself. Melanie Mununggurr-Williams describes her father as “dark as night”, her mother “white as clay” and herself “caramel brown”. On a visit to her father’s family when she was 12, she went to pick up a toddler cousin. He screamed in panic: “Whiteman! Whiteman! Nooooo! Whiteman!” She wept for hours.

Even readers who consider themselves relatively “woke” will be shocked and shaken by some of these stories and memories. One older writer recalls the sight of a bullet from a new neighbour’s gun passing through his mother’s hair. A younger contributor, meanwhile, writes about dating an English bloke she met on Tinder: when a branch hit the car they were in, making a fud noise, he “joked” that it was probably just a “coon”. Swipe left. There is tragedy and awfulness on these pages, but there is also joy and laughter. Actor Miranda Tapsell’s account of fighting for the right to dress up as Baby Spice instead of Sporty Spice is hilarious, even if the message is serious.

“Until this country finally ‘grows up Aboriginal’ itself”, writes trade unionist Celeste Liddle, “and starts not only being honest about its history and the ongoing impacts of colonisation, but also making amends … I don’t feel I will be able to completely grow up Aboriginal myself.”  CG

Black Inc, 320pp, $29.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 13, 2018 as "Anita Heiss [ed], Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia ".

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Reviewer: CG