April Reading Update

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April turned out to be quite a busy month, with Easter, ANZAC Day, and an Australian history essay to get done somewhere in between.  So the reading was a little steady, however I did manage to read …

  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan 
  • Eden by Candice Fox
  • Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington
  • People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
  • Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell

… and ticked off two more boxes for Book Bingo.

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  • Novella (less than 150 pages) – Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington
  • Crime – Eden by Candice Fox

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington was both a reread and part of an Australian history assignment. It tells the story of three young Aboriginal girls who are taken from their home in the Pilbara region of Western Australia to a settlement far away from their family. Molly, the oldest girl and Doris Pilkington’s mother, decides they’re not staying and so begins their long journey back home, following the rabbit-proof fence.

 It is 1931 and the child removal policy is in full swing. The child removal policy was at best misguided and at worst rooted in prejudiced and racist ideology. Indigenous children were separated from their families in an attempt to destroy the link with their culture and assimilate them into white society. They are the Stolen Generations. Sadly Doris was also separated from her mother Molly for many years. She says that writing the book helped her to reconnect with her family and culture, and heal the pain and trauma of the loss of her family, culture and identity. 

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence belongs to a genre of writing often known as Aboriginal Life Writing and I think it is helpful to understand a bit about Aboriginal Life Writing when reading Pilkington or any other texts from this genre. Aboriginal Life Writing is often different from the usual kind of memoirs or autobiographies that are written in the western tradition. Storytelling is a very important tradition in Indigenous culture and Aboriginal Life Writing continues that tradition. But it also serves as a mechanism for healing the pain and trauma of dispossession, for reconnecting Indigenous people with their history and culture, for teaching non-Indigenous readers about Aboriginal culture and their own history, and for promoting the necessity of reconciliation for all of us.

 In 1992, the then Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating, said….

[Reconciliation] begins, I think, with that act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine these things being done to us. (Attwood 2001, p. 201)

It is shocking to think that here we are almost 30 years later, and still little seems to have changed. Racism, inequity, poor health and shorter life expectancy plus numerous other social issues continue, but the capacity for Indigenous writers such as Pilkington to extend forgiveness and compassion is deeply humbling. In an interview with Anne Brewster, Doris explained how her involvement in the reconciliation process revealed her own need to forgive, saying

“…how can I expect them to say sorry to me, when I don’t have any forgiveness and compassion for them? ” (Brewster 2005, p. 145)

 Forgiveness. Compassion. Repentance. Respect. Dignity. Consideration. Equality. 

These are the building blocks of a kind, just and ethical society.

I live in hope. 

Happy Reading

 

Attwood, Bain 2001, ‘”Learning about the truth” The stolen generations narrative’ in B Attwood and F Magowan (eds) Telling Stories: Indigenous history and memory in Australia and New Zealand, Allen & Unwin: Crows Nest, NSW, pp. 183-212

Brewster, Anne 2005, ‘The Stolen Generations: Rites of Passage: Doris Pilkington interviewed by Anne Brewster’, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol 41, No. 1, pp143-159

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Lifeline Bookfest 2019

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Every year thousands of booklovers across Australia count down the days to their local Lifeline Bookfest. For Toowoomba booklovers this is usually the first weekend in March. Early on the Saturday morning a long of line vehicles can be seen crawling down Glenvale Road towards the entry gates of the Toowoomba Showgrounds. Inside the main pavilion sit rows and rows of boxes filled with books just waiting to find a new home. Like many other booklovers, we’ve been looking forward to this day so much it’s been highlighted on the calendar. 

Lifeline is an Australian charity organisation which provides a range of counselling and support services for children, youth and families as well as emergency relief. It was founded in 1963 by Reverend Dr. Sir Alan Walker. Concerned about the often devastating impact of loneliness, isolation and anxiety, he began a crisis line to provide critical support for people in need. Today Lifeline has around 40 centres across Australia, employing around 1,000 staff and attracting 11,000 volunteers who donate their time. The Lifeline book sales help to raise funds to continue this vital service.

 

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This year was the 39th Lifeline Bookfest held in Toowoomba and according to the local paper, it was going to be even bigger than before. There were seven shipping containers filled with books and volunteers worked throughout the week to have everything ready for 8am Saturday morning. The books are organised into a variety of categories including sci fi & fantasy, crime & thrillers, fiction, non-fiction and children’s. And it’s not just books. Pre-loved magazines and toys are on sale too.

Seasoned book-festers usually come prepared. Some bring shopping carts or wheeled suitcases. Some come with a list of desired titles. Others are just content to take home an armful of new books. We didn’t have a formal list of titles that we were looking for, but we did have a few things in mind. Bec was after some Star Wars novels and I was on the look-out for Australian, literary and award-winner titles, plus anything that might be on The List – the 1001 list, that is.

One of the cool things about the Bookfest is that you can hire a shopping trolley for $2. Do you know how many books you can fit in a shopping trolley? Quite a lot.  We weren’t the only ones with a shopping trolley, but we did get a few strange looks because our shopping trolley was pretty full. It also attracted a few comments, all good fun of course, about how much we read and how long the trolley load of books would last. A few weeks one person asked.  

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We were pretty happy with what we managed to find. Bec found some Star Wars books and some Kathy Reichs. I found some Anne Rice, Margaret Atwood, Richard Flanagan and the first ten books of Sookie Stackhouse – just to name a few. The Bookfest is always a bit of a lottery. You never know what treasures you might find. So yes, we did buy a trolley load of books but we also helped to raise money for a very worthy cause. The Toowoomba sale raised $75,000 for Lifeline, while the Bookfest held in Brisbane in January raised $1.4 million. That’s some serious money raised out of second-hand books.  

The only trouble now is to find some space on the bookshelves and more time to read.