Close to the Subject
Daniel Browning, a renowned journalist, has worked in the industry for 30 years. He is a Bundjalung and Kullilli man who has written about or interviewed more First Nations people than any other Australian writer. For many years he led ABC Radio National’s Awaye! program, speaking to Indigenous artists, activists, community leaders and Elders. Close to the Subject, a collection of essays, attests to the reach of Browning’s interests, supported by his powerful intellect and compassion for our people.
In “®eclaimed – Closing the Gap of Radical Apathy”, Browning argues for “the act of reclaiming or taking back something, which one once possessed but has since been deprived”. The essay discusses the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery ®eclaimed exhibition of 2011, which featured the work of, among others, the self-consciously provocative Richard Bell, who is driven by desire to (re)possess our culture from the coloniser. Browning gets to the heart of Bell’s practice with an astuteness that comes from being both a serious critic and brother.
Throughout Close to the Subject, along with those he writes about, Browning is himself involved in the act of reclamation. He “takes back” stories stolen from us – some commodified, others erased – and reasserts the authority and autonomy of a blackfulla narrative. Whether writing about Archie Roach or the humble and brilliant artist Julie Gough, among others, Browning privileges strength and vitality and, importantly, stories of love over prejudice and racism.
There are moments of beauty in Browning’s writing, as well as unforgettable memories of institutional violence. A short essay, “Breaking the Chains of the Punishment Tree: Two Survivors of the Kinchela Boys Home”, presents a conversation with two survivors of the notorious New South Wales home responsible for the incarceration of Indigenous boys for much of the 20th century. Not only were the childhoods of the boys “scarred” as a result of physical and sexual violence, the now grown men experience ongoing trauma.
While some essays are several years old, reading them today underscores the importance of First Nations writing that confronts the spectre of the “great Australian silence”. For instance, Michael Welsh, a survivor of Kinchela, commented to Daniel Browning that soon after his arrival at the home he recalled “looking out an upstairs window and seeing a boy below digging what appeared to him to be a grave”. Let us consider this memory in the knowledge that in 2023 Kinchela Boys Home is being investigated over the possibility that Indigenous boys may lie buried in the grounds of the home in conveniently forgotten graves.
Magabala Books, 368pp, $34.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 14, 2023 as "Close to the Subject".
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