Books & Literature

Book Review: Growing up Wiradjuri, edited by Dr Anita Heiss

ANTHOLOGY: Featuring stories by Aunty Isabel Reid, Uncle Stan Grant Snr, Aunty Lorraine Tye, Aunty Elaine Lomas, Aunty Cheryl Penrith, Uncle James Ingram, Aunty Mary Atkinson, Uncle Norman Little.

A perfect little book written by Wiradjuri elders, giving a wonderful insight into the lives of indigenous Australians particularly in the '60s and '70s.

Feature image credit: Magabala Books

Dr Anita Heiss is an Aboriginal Australian author, poet, cultural activist and social commentator. She writes mostly non-fiction, historical fiction and women’s fiction. She is also a lifetime ambassador of The Indigenous Literacy Foundation and a proud member of the Wiradjuri Nation of Central NSW.

Dr Heiss has gathered together stories from some of the Wiradjuri elders and compiled them into the anthology Growing up Wiradjuri, which began as a community development project as part of her Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri language. She sees this book as “a gift to the nation by some of our most treasured elders who have generously shared stories that document a range of experiences growing up on and off Wiradjuri Country.”

Each story is spoken from the heart and definitely feels like it is written directly as it has been told. The reader can almost imagine sitting down next to each storyteller as they recount stories from their childhood. Some parts are sad, some tragic and difficult to read, but overwhelmingly they are stories of the joy of growing up on Country with family, wide open spaces, and lessons to learn.

Each contributor has their own story to tell, including those from the Stolen Generation, surviving racism, food shortages, and lack of housing. But overwhelmingly, they speak about the love of family, and the stories they were told as children. We can feel the love and respect they had for their elders, and the simple pleasures of spending long days with their cousins and brothers and sisters. Hunting, fishing, games in the bush, campfires and working on the land are all an integral part of these stories.

Growing up Wiradjuri is a small hardcover book, the size of a novel. There are eight contributors (their individual bios are at the end of the book) with each story being no more than eight pages long. This makes them a perfect length for children. Indigenous kids will love to hear or read the stories from their Elders, which will now be preserved in history, but non-Indigenous children will get a sense of what it was and often still is like for those who lived here before the white people came.

The stunning purple front cover, with its circular dot paintings and Indigenous symbols, makes you want to pick up the book and look further.

But this book is not just for children. Adults will also learn what it was like to grow up in Australia at a time when being different was hard, and maybe that hasn’t changed much, even now. We can all learn from these stories.

Growing up Wiradjuri would be a perfect stepping stone for discussion in a classroom giving a wonderful insight into the lives of Indigenous Australians, particularly in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Teachers will be able to use this book in a variety of ways. Young people could write their own stories from their childhood, interview older relatives, research some of the stories and/or story tellers, discuss how the world has changed for, not just Indigenous children, but all children.

Dr Heiss wants this book to help us realise that the Wiradjuri “have always worked hard, been able to laugh and have fun, and that we are epic story tellers.”

She has certainly hit the mark!

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Magabala Books
Released: September 2022
RRP: $24.99

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