On 3 June, 2015 the EWF was fortunate to bring together a group of passionate emerging and established Aboriginal writers and representatives from a number of key organisations who work with Indigenous writers. In the forum, over two hours, the group discussed a range of key topics and concerns, and these have been brought together in an EWF Manifesto.
The aim of the Manifesto is to inform and improve processes around how to better engage with and support emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and how the EWF and other organisations within the Wheeler Centre can enhance their programming of Indigenous writers in the future.
- The experiences of Indigenous men and women can be different – writing can be a gendered experience.
- Women can have a lived experience of trauma – an intergenerational “journey”.
- How do Indigenous women construct and document their stories?
- What are the protocols on how to document stories e.g. who owns a story? When an Indigenous person who is not a writer has an amazing life story and collaborates with a non-indigenous writer to tell the story, who owns the writing? By law, ownership reverts to the writer. So how do Aboriginal people retain authorship of their story when in collaboration with non-Indigenous artists? There is the potential to mark lived experience on works as a “story witness” – but is that enough?
- Collaborations also impact on areas such as royalties.
- This is too big an issue to solve in this forum so how do we put it on the table?
- ACTION: How do we provide information to Aboriginal writers and communities regarding their rights regarding sharing and telling of stories, and make information on intellectual and property rights available so that Aboriginal people are informed? This could be through fact sheets, workshops etc – explore the options.
- Writers want the opportunity to meet with other writers to work on their own stories and to develop new stories collaboratively.
- Are there currently Indigenous writing group writers can access? There is an Indigenous writers group at Victoria University, which meets fortnightly. Participants write together, critique work – in this instance, facilitated by a non-Indigenous mentor. This could be replicated in other workplaces, for instance.
- With a writing group, there is a need to determine the agenda together as to what the group wants to achieve.
- One alternative is for a group to be set up online e.g. Facebook, which would also make explicit the resources available for Indigenous writers – a centralised body. Social media is a quick and easy way to reach the community – put the word out to Indigenous writers.
- Alternatively, a physical writing institution that would be a safe space for writers. Venues can be very problematic – can be very intimating. SLQ has made sure there is an Indigenous person on the front desk, and that signage is welcoming.
- Writers groups could include professional development opportunities for writing in different genres – or this could take place within a festival. NB South Australia has an Indigenous writers’ group that provides workshops and a skills transfer.
- There could be guest facilitators or readings by experienced writers that would get people to attend. The space needs to be accessible.
- Celebrities and champions have star power/ can be a draw card to attract young emerging writers to workshops/events such as Festivals
ACTION: Explore the setting up of Indigenous writing groups. Explore existing models and network with already existing Indigenous writing groups. Explore physical locations where a group/groups could meet. Share information that would help other people set up their own writing groups.
- Mentorship can develop a mentees confidence. Mentorships can be a two way process, with both gaining.
- Organisations need to follow the best practice of FCAC as it takes long-term investment to get community support. For example it took 5 years to build community support that lead to an Elders in Residence program.
- ACTION: Identify established Indigenous writers who are interested in mentoring.
Rural/outer suburban writers
- There is a need to create sustained engagement with Indigenous writers who are not living in the city. There are stories that aren’t being told that communities should be making/creating. The opportunities need to be provided – the effect of this dispels myths about Indigenous people to a wider audience.
- The funding needed to facilitate these opportunities will be affected by changes to Australia Council funding. Organisations within the Wheeler Centre need to continue to lobby the government about this.
- Writers orgs just put up grants and competitions etc and don’t advertise and promote within the Aboriginal community then expect that diversity ‘just happens’. We want more than just funding, we want to build long term relationships.
- There needs to be more assistance in the application process for arts funding – if this does not happen, diversity in who art practitioners are will not change.
- ACTION: Share with forum information on the First Nations Australia Writers’ Network Conference in August and information on Creative Victoria grants to pay for travel/ registration for FNAWN.
Barriers to organisations within the Wheeler Centre
- Provide opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers/editors/ publishers to network.
- Although it is a national organisation, where is the Victorian equivalent of Black+Write to create writing communities?
- Venues can be inaccessible e.g. the CBD location may be a deterrent for Indigenous people in outer suburbs to attend their events.
- Welcoming/ signage is important. There is a need to create culturally safe spaces.
- Footscray Community Arts Centre (FCAC) is an example of achieving Indigenous engagement. It took five years to make Indigenous groups feel welcome. Organisations need to be committed, as success will be incremental.
- ACTION: Look at ways to build sustainable relationships with Indigenous writers using the Victorian Indigenous Literature Officer position to create a hub at the Wheeler Centre. Look at ways to make the Wheeler Centre venue culturally safer. Potential to create a bookshelf in an organisation such as The Wheeler Centre which share books by Indigenous writers.
- Accessibility of getting published – You write and write but then you think, who’s going to publish me. How do I even begin to speak to a publishing house?
- Sweatshop model from Western Sydney. Provides professional development guidance, workshopping, a way of coming together.
- There are opportunities too with self-publishing/online. It would be wonderful if there were more digital avenues for young Indigenous writers to get their writing visible and to let young people know about these.
- Centre for Indigenous Story is a new online avenue for sharing stories and is looking for content.
- Likewise in theatre nearly 100% of dramaturgs are white and then wonderful black voices are shepherded into white dramaturgy frameworks. How to break these paradigms?
- Build more pathways for Indigenous editors, publishers, front cover designers, etc. We need to address the lack of Indigenous people working in the publishing industry. State Library of Queensland Black & Write is a good model.
- What other opportunities are there for writers? Artists in schools program seeks writers.
- ACTION: Share information regarding online opportunities. Create factsheet/guidelines for the publishing industry on how to edit Indigenous writers. Provide support on how to contact publishing house/ how to pitching etc. Playwriting Australia to look at developing Indigenous dramaturgy processes.
- How do you develop audiences/readership? Is reading a lost art form?
- How do you create a hype around people when new writing comes out? One way is to make a deliberate choice to buy black writers to give as gifts.
- Aboriginal readers need to read voices and hear and see authors and protagonists that they can relate to. Reading black voices and writers is an act of decolonisation.
- Also need to build more Indigenous reviewers who review both Indigenous and non indigenous theatre/ writing/ film/ art.
- Famous Indigenous people could promote books by Indigenous writers to the general public a la Ophrah’s book club.
- Overall the forum felt it was important that we talk about these issues and attempt to achieve new outcomes rather than waiting to get it 100% right.
- ACTION: To bring together Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander writer to discuss these issues on a regular basis and to measure the progress of our ACTIONs.