Through poetry and prose, Elfie Shiosaki’s Homecoming gives the reader an insight into the intergenerational journeys of four Noongar women from the author’s family. Interspersed with quotes from old letters, newspaper articles, archival materials and audio recordings, this book has an integrity that honours the many voices it presents.
Often the poems are presented in staggered words and sentences that mimic how thoughts flit through the mind or how we grab memory before it is lost. These fragmented memories capture moments from childhood, fleeting images of Country and resurfaced traumas. Shiosaki also writes about the process of navigating government systems and searching archives to find missing details about their family.
The main themes are the enduring love of family and maintaining connection to Country. Shiosaki’s descriptions of Country and ancestral connections to water are interwoven throughout this collection of pieces. Whether she is writing of being submerged in river water or of clouds forming to bring longed-for rain, her imagery invokes sensual details such as the smell of river mud and a yearning for petrichor.
However, the memories and images conjured in this book aren’t always easy to take. It records abuse and histories of children being stolen. While Shiosaki reignites a love of Country and family, she confronts us with the pain when authorities who think they know better take these things away.
The memories are repetitive, which echoes how memories occur in the mind, and often the fragmented prose isn’t easy to follow. But the book’s structure brings a clarity to where we are in the thematic journey the author is guiding us through.
Three sections titled “resist”, “survive” and “renew” take us through the history of the mistreatment First Nations people have endured, how mob have fought against it, and the price of trying to make ourselves visible in a country that wants us silent and unseen. There is a deep sadness in Shiosaki’s writing for all that has been lost. But she reminds me of the importance of all that we do to keep our culture, our old people’s stories, and our histories alive: “I hold on to this sadness / to tell your story / if I let it go / I lose you…”
Homecoming calls a younger generation to gather all we can before it is lost, and reminds white readers that the real cost of this land they walk on is the lives that were torn apart. Sometimes “sorry” just isn’t enough.
Magabala Books, 152pp, $24.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 15, 2021 as "Elfie Shiosaki, Homecoming".
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