Stories of past, present and future
Must-read books written by First Nations authors
This article was compiled on the traditional land of the people of the Eora Nation. We pay our respects to the elders, past present, emerging and future.
For the last 65,000 years, stories have been passed down from generation to generation among First Nations people. As well as documenting the ancient rituals and traditions on which our land was built upon, these stories provide us with a unique opportunity to learn and discover the truth about our past and present.
Below, we’ve selected a diverse collection of poetry and prose – both fiction and non-fiction, that delve deep into the rich culture and achievements of the First Nations people.
1. Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia by Anita Heiss
Member of Wiradjuri Nation, born in Gadigal country.
One of Australia’s most well-known authors, Anita Heiss has written non-fiction, historical fiction and children’s novels. Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia was awarded Small Publisher Adult Book of the Year at the 2019 Australian Book Industry Awards. Heiss has worked in remote communities with Indigenous Australians teaching them the art of storytelling.
This anthology shares the stories and voices of 50 well-known identities, from sporting stars and school kids to authors sharing their experiences of what it was like to grow up in First Nations communities. It is a powerful read, sharing the honest insight and reality to the lives of modern day First Nations people which so many Australians aren’t privy.
A goodreads reader commented, “I want to say straight up that this should be mandatory reading for non-indigenous people in Australia. I learned so much from this collection of stories of growing up and life in Australia from Indigenous people all around the country.”
2. The Yield by Tara June Winch
Of the Wiradjuri people.
The Yield tells the story of August Gondiwindi, who returns home from Europe after her grandfather, Albert “Poppy” Gondiwini’s, death to discover her grandmother facing eviction and that their land is under threat of repossession by a mining company. August fights to save their land which leads her to discover her Poppy’s dictionary, the stories of her past people, retrace her Poppy’s personal history and learn the secrets of the river.
This is Tara June Winch’s third book. The Yield, published in 2019 has been awarded Book of the Year at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, the 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Voss Prize, and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award.
3. Bindi by Kirli Saunders
Winner of the 2019 Daisy Utemorrah Award and the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards, Bindi is a verse novel told from the perspective of an 11-year-old growing up in Gundungurra Country in south-east New South Wales. The tale reflects on her relationships with family, friends and the land that is ravaged by bushfires, it also includes Gundungurra words woven into the story.
Kirli Saunders says: “I wrote Bindi as a call to action for young people to understand their role in conservation and caring for Country. I want them to recognise their role as Custodians of this land…” It is a must read for all Australians.
In 2020, Kirli was named the 2020 NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year for her work developing the Poetry in First Languages program.
4. Finding the Heart of the Nation by Thomas Mayor
On May 26, 2017 history was made when the Uluru Statement from the Heart was formed. This book, Finding the Heart of the Nation is beautifully written by Thomas Mayor, highlighting what the statement is and why it is so important. Thomas was named a signatory of the Statement from the Heart and entrusted to carry the sacred canvas, he embarked on an eighteen month journey to garner support of the statement and treaties. This book shares his own journey and that of 20 other extraordinary people.
Thomas Mayor was one of the first-ever Torres Strait Islander authors to have a book published for the general trade. To date, he has written and published four books.
5. The White Girl by Tony Birch
Written by one of the most famous Indigenous authors, activists and academics, Tony Birch’s The White Girl is a tale of love and heartbreak. Odette is left to care and raise her 12-year-old granddaughter, Sissy after her daughter’s disappearance. Set in the 1960s when welfare authorities were known for removing fair-skinned aboriginal children from their families, Odette is forced to risk everything to save Sissy.
Birch won the 2020 NSW’s Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing and was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. This is Birch’s sixth book, with other award-winning novels including Shadowboxing and Ghost River.
6. Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko
Member of the Goorie and Bundjalung people.
From the multi-award winning author of Mullumbimby comes a twisted and humorous novel, Too Much Lip. The winner of the 2019 Miles Franklin Literary award, this book is an exploration of intergenerational trauma and abuse. After a lifetime of avoidance, Kerry Salter is forced to return home when her grandfather falls ill. What was intended to be a 24 hour visit turns into more as she falls into the trap of the Bundjalung country.
The Sunday Paper describes it as “an angry book and glorious for it…darkly funny and fierce..” The Saturday Paper. Melissa Lucashenko first started writing to fill the “glaring hole [for First Nations authors] in Australian literature.” Reflecting on when she first started to write Aboriginal fiction it “felt a lot like screaming out to mainstream Australia and the world “Over here! We exist! We exist!”.” These days her “impulse is simply about writing the best work I can.”
7. Kindred by Kirili Saunders
The second entry on this list by Kirili Saunders is her debut poetry collection, Kindred. This collection speaks of “identity, culture, community and the role of Earth as healer.” Kindred has been shortlisted for 2020 Australian Book Industry Awards and the 2021 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards for Indigenous Writing.
Author’s note: For more books written by First Nations authors, check out Magabala Books, “Australia’s leading Indigenous publishing house”.