Thinking of travelling to Australia or have already booked your ticket? Instead of reading the usual travel guides, I ask celebrated author Ali Cobby Eckermann, who’s visiting Singapore for the Singapore Writers Festival 2018, for recommendations that are close to her heart.
There are a lot of things to love about being a writer and a poet. Just ask Ali Cobby Eckermann.
“I do appreciate the busy solace that writing brings to my life,” says the Indigenous Australian author, who’s penned poetry collections (Inside My Mother), verse novels (the award-winning Ruby Moonlight) and a memoir (Too Afraid To Cry). Tackling issues such as identity, broken families, loss, estrangement, separation and isolation, Ali was awarded the Windham-Campbell Prize in Poetry by Yale University last year.
“I love the play with words, the paring down of opinion or voice, the urgency to promote an understanding, the respect of listening,” she muses. “I love that poetry form is not constrained, neither in the writing nor the reading. And I do enjoy listening to the spoken word at festivals and community events.”
Which is why she’s looking forward to the Singapore Writers Festival from 02 to 11 November 2018. An annual gathering of writers and thinkers from all over the world, it includes talks, workshops, screenings, book launches and the like under the theme jie, which in Chinese refers to “the world(s) we live in”.
“I do appreciate these international festivals,” she admits. “The discussions shared enable me a wider view of international relationships, (to) learn from the past and look toward the future. I learn so much from these exchanges, both personally and professionally. I enjoy immersion in cultural diversity, and I enjoy the diversity of cultural expressionism.”
It also lets her explore a new place. “Usually I live in and around small rural towns in South Australia, and I also spend time in remote desert communities,” says Ali, who’s busy with her first prose novel. “Singapore is an exciting destination, as it is so different from my home environment. I have several poet friends who live there and have offered to show me the sights.”
Speaking of South Australia, you’ll likely find Ali in Koolunga. “Living there allows the senses to be in tune with the seasons, to be aware of the changes in nature and the habits of birds and animals,” she describes. “Country life allows more time spent outdoors, in the garden, a close association of the sky. I feel healthier close to nature. And in smaller environments I find there is often a stronger sense of belonging.”
Inspired by Ali to book that trip to Australia after the festival, or maybe even right now? For a different reading and travel experience, here are five of her favourite meaningful books with an Australian perspective, and Australia as the setting, to guide you.
#1 My People by Oodgeroo Noonuccal
“Oodgeroo was the first Aboriginal Australian to publish a volume of poetry in 1964. She was also an awarded actress and political activist who publicly challenged and rejected the mainstream dialogue in regard to Aboriginal people. Oodgeroo always advocated for our human and cultural rights; in 1972 she established an Education and Cultural Centre at her home on Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island) in Queensland. She is a true hero of mine.”
#2 That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott
“The novel tells the story of colonisation from the Aboriginal viewpoint, retold through impeccable archival research and his belonging to the Noongar people of the south-west of Western Australia. It is the true story of broken promises by the newcomers, the broken friendships that remain unmended. In 2011, That Deadman Dance won the Miles Franklin Award, setting Kim Scott as one of Australia’s finest writers.”
#3 Don’t Take Your Love To Town by Ruby Langford Ginibi
“This is a powerful autobiography written by a powerful writer in the most beautiful style entwining hardship and humour, for which she was well known. It is the story of many Aboriginal families who struggle against the ever-present government policies, moving from traditional country and lifestyle to the city. In 1988, Ruby was awarded the Human Rights Award for Literature.”
#4 Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
“This is a prize-winning revolutionary read, offering proof that Aboriginal Australians were much more than hunter-gatherers as labelled by the British. This is a well-researched argument showcasing skilful farming practices of native foods across the continent, (of) sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing, the true story of Aboriginal ecological management. In 2018, Dark Emu was represented to the stage by Bangarra Dance Theatre.”
#5 Maybe Tomorrow by Boori Monty Pryor
“This is a terrific book for young men; it is a coming-of-age essential read. Autobiographical, it is a gripping read, from the Aboriginal fringe camps where he was raised to the modern challenges of life in the city. It is a beautiful telling of Boori’s life, his pain, his joy and his hope, told in a way as to resonate with many. Boori’s work was recognised in 2012 as the inaugural Australian Children’s Laureate. His life story from Maybe Tomorrow has now been told in the TV series Wrong Kind Of Black.”