Turning the tide on the state of Indigenous literature

9 May 2012

Dr Peter Minter, coordinator of the Indigenous Australian Studies major at the University of Sydney, will chair the discussion.
Dr Peter Minter, coordinator of the Indigenous Australian Studies major at the University of Sydney, will chair the discussion.

The Faculty of Education and Social Work in partnership with the Koori Centre is launching its series with Indigenous Australian writers and thinkers at the Sydney Writers' Festival on Thursday 17 May.

Called Turning the Tide, the inaugural event is to be held in the Great Hall and promises to be an incisive discussion about the themes and traditions of literature written by Indigenous women and men. This seminal event will also explore the role the literature plays in inspiring literacy in contemporary Aboriginal communities.

At the centre of the discussion will be Indigenous writers Lionel Fogarty, an activist, poet and author who has written about Aboriginal deaths in custody; Ali Cobby Eckermann, a poet who muses on the history of Indigenous people since colonial times; and Larissa Berendt, an academic and author, whose novels, Home and Legacy centre around city-based female protagonists whose lives straddle contemporary and Aboriginal cultures.

Chairing the panel discussion will be Dr Peter Minter, who holds many roles at the University of Sydney including coordinator of the Indigenous Australian Studies major.

In 2008, Dr Minter won a Deadly Award for co-editing The Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature and also contributes to the innovative national database, BlackWords, a digital project, which is a wide-ranging resource of information relating to the lives and stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and storytellers. He is also a poet: his latest book is called Blue Grass.

Dr Minter said: "At Turning the Tide I will be talking to the writers about their work, getting them to read a bit of it, and then discuss the history of their engagement with their genres, how they came to be writers, what inspired them, what audiences they write for and what effects they want to make."

The series was instigated and curated by the Faculty's Alumni and Events Officer Helen Loughlin with the support of the Dean, Professor Robert Tierney who has a special interest in Indigenous literacies, and the Director of the University's Koori Centre, Dr Janet Mooney.

"The Faculty of Education and Social Work has a long history of interaction with the local Indigenous community and in research projects around Indigenous education. We are particularly concerned with levels of literacy in the Indigenous community and showcasing its writers who have all come to this point in their careers through different routes. It's giving a 'voice' to the many elements of literacy," Professor Tierney said.

The panel will also consider the role of literature in education. The English literacy benchmarks of Indigenous Australians is well below the national average for non-Indigenous Australians.

As many as 87 percent of Indigenous children in regional and remote areas struggle to read and write. Early intervention and support in literacy and numeracy skills is vital to keep Indigenous children engaged in education.

"Reading authors from their own culture is inspiring to young Aboriginal people," Dr Minter says.

Two further Turning the Tide events are planned for later in the year.

Event details

What: Turning the Tide, part of the 2012 Sydney Writers' Festival 

When: 6.30 to 7.30pm, Thursday 17 May

Where: The Great Hall, the Quadrangle, Camperdown Campus


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