This year, NAIDOC Week’s official theme is ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’—recognising and celebrating the fact that First Nations people have occupied and cared for this continent for over 65,000 years. Though the official dates for NAIDOC Week 2020 have been pushed back to November, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought to the forefront the idea that this recognition and celebration isn’t something to be relegated to a single week of the year—it should be recognised always, in all ways.
Recognising this, Brisbane's Metro North has decided it will still honour the original date and continue with their plans for a series of virtual events and films, taking place at 10am each morning from July 5 to July 12. Each day will see a different Brisbane First Nations business and community group highlighted, one of which is QueenMode Collective—a group of indigenous women established to empower women of colour and affect social change.
Lauren Appo, Collective ambassador and proud Mamu woman from Innisfail, now living in Brisbane, runs the QueenMode book club, an online group that celebrates and shares black authors and narratives with an ever-growing number of women. She originally created the group for Indigenous women, however the club has now grown to include women of all backgrounds and walks of life, discussing incredible Indigenous works, the importance of Indigenous representation in all books and other media, and the benefits reading can have on mental health and stress relief. It’s that last topic she’ll be discussing during her virtual talk on Monday 6 July, but we caught up with her in advance to chat about how the book club came about, and what Indigenous books we should be reading to celebrate NAIDOC Week this year.
So tell us, how did the QueenMode Book Club come about?
QueenMode Bookclub was an idea born from a passion for books, creating safe spaces for WOC and sharing knowledge. Elena, one of the Directors of QueenMode saw my passion for books and approached me to co-collaborate on a book club within QueenMode Collective. We decided to create a virtual book club as a sign of appreciation or a love letter to black women in our community. A space to showcase, promote and broadcast black women and HERstory.
What are you hoping the book club, and the discussion of these amazing stories with other women of colour, will achieve?
We hope that our book club enhances our audience members’ lives and sharpens the way they see the world and the people in it, themselves included. I hope they find a passion for books and the continued act of learning through reading, because we are never too old or too young to learn something new.
The book club seems like an amazing avenue to promote the importance of indigenous narratives and celebrate black authors—was there an experience or moment in your life or at school that made you realise the importance of representation in literature?
Books about black people matter because WE MATTER. I grew up reading a large range of books. I went through my “Babysitters Club” phase to the “Harry Potter” and the “Twilight” phase and I never saw myself in these books. After that, I actively sought out books that represented me.
I choose to push positive representation by promoting POC books so others are able to see themselves reflected across life's spectrum. Everyone deserves to be represented by a champion in the room, in every room! It’s necessary to write, publish and read books that normalise our humanity and existence. We want to read stories about black people thriving, not just surviving. It’s important to me that we explore books that are about black people falling in love, exploring life and living as their most authentic selves.
If you had to choose just 5 books by or representative of Indigenous authors that all Australians should read, what would they be? (Editor’s note: Descriptions added by Urban List writer)
#1. Dr Anita Heiss | Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia
This anthology, compiled by award-winning author Anita Heiss, attempts to answer the question ‘What is it like to grow up Aboriginal in Australia?’ by showcasing the varying experiences and stories of many people who did just that. In it, you’ll read contributions from well-known authors and identities as well as newly discovered voices, all of which challenge stereotypes and show the impact of invasion and colonisation on language, country, family and way of life.
Once you’ve finished that, Lauren also recommends Tidda’s, Avoiding Mr Right and Manhattan Dreaming—basically, read Heiss’s entire collection of works.
#2. Aileen Moreton-Robison | Talkin’ Up To The White Women
In Talkin’ Up To The White Women, Goenpul woman Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson examines feminist literature written by white scholars to show that white privilege and power is an invisible and unchallenged norm. She illustrates how the ways in which Indigenous women are represented contrasts starkly with the ways they represent themselves, and how this affects them, in order to demonstrate the need to include Indigenous perspectives in all teachings and practices that impact Australia’s pluralistic society.
#3. Stan Grant | Australia Day
The follow up to Stan Grant’s Talking To My Country, Australia Day talks about reconciliation and the Indigenous struggle for belonging and identity in Australia. Moreover, Stan asks the questions we should all be asking ourselves on Australia Day—who are we? What is our country? And how do we move forward from here, while recognising our past?
#4. Leah Purcell | The Drover’s Wife
Originally written as a play, The Drover’s Wife is also soon to be released as a movie—but you should always read the book first. This novel reimagines Henry Lawson’s short story of the same name, exploring the legend of Molly, the drover’s wife, and exploring themes of race, gender, violence and inheritance in the process.
#5. Kevin Gilbert | Because A White Man’ll Never Do It
First published in 1973, Because A White Man’ll Never Do It focuses on the effects of colonisation on Indigenous people and proposes a number of solutions from the point of view of an Aboriginal person: land, compensation, discreet non-dictatorial help and to be left alone by white Australia.
Are there any Indigenous or black authors who are really inspiring you right now?
We have a huge range of beautiful children’s books that really inspire me. A particular book that comes to mind is Our Home, Our Heartbeat by Adam Briggs with illustrations by Rachel Sara.
NAIDOC Week is a celebration of the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples—what does it mean to you?
I love being a part of NAIDOC celebrations every year and I am looking forward to our accomplishments and achievements being celebrated all year round. Our traditional practice and sharing of our culture is a daily experience that spans across our year and can’t be contained to one week. The truth is, we are DEADLY 365 days a year!
I’ll be chatting about our work as part of Metro North’s Virtual NAIDOC Week at 10am on Monday 6 July, so tune in here.
You could also tune in to these six epic Indigenous podcasts.
Image credit: Lauren Appo