NAIDOC Week 2021: Fifteen must-read books by Aboriginal Australians

NAIDOC Week 2021: Heal Country, heal our nation

NAIDOC Week is celebrated by all Australians and is an opportunity to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. NAIDOC originally stood for ‘National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee’. It is a week long celebration from the first to second Sunday in July.

This year the theme is Heal Country, heal our nation. Country is family, law, lore, traditions, culture and language. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are calling for stronger measures to recognise, protect and maintain all aspects of culture and heritage for all Australians.

We have gathered a collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories. The list includes stories from all parts of our country; poetry, fiction, memoir and non-fiction. 

Click any of the links below to find these books at your nearest Cockburn Library (or check them out on your favourite library ebook and eaudiobook apps)

Benevolence / Julie Janson

Muraging (Mary James) is handed over to the Paramatta Native School in 1816 by her father. Benevolence tells her story of love and longing, and her search for a safe place in the colonial settlement around the Hawkesbury River, home of the Darug people. The writer challenges stereotypes and gives voice to an Aboriginal experience of early settlement. Benevolence was written as an Aboriginal response to Kate Grenville’s Secret River.

Book cover for Benevolence

Throat by Ellen van Nerveen

Throat is the second poetry collection from award-winning Mununjali Yugambeh writer Ellen van Neerven. Ellen van Neervan (They/Them) has won 3 literary prizes for Throat. It has been praised as a work of “beauty, honesty and power” by the NSW Premier’s Literary Award judges. It explores love, language and land with humour and heart.

‘Van Neerven’s ability to challenge and expand politics is thrilling, their flair for language is exhilaratingly intimate’

Nakkiah Lui

Actor, Writer

Book cover for Throat
Book cover for The wounded sinner

The wounded sinner / Gus Henderson

Mathew spends his life travelling between Leonora and Perth. Jeanie, his partner and five children live in Leonora and his ageing father Archie lives in Perth. It is a gritty novel about identity, ageing parents and chance meetings. Gus Henderson grew up not knowing his Aboriginal family and this book explores the conflict of family relationships.

Tackling misogyny, racism and identity through the “thorny clutter of a wasted life” this novel is an important addition to West Australian literature

Rashida Murphy

Writer

Book cover for Finding the heart of the nation : the journey of the Uluru Statement towards voice, treaty and truth

Finding the heart of the nation : the journey of the Uluru Statement towards voice, treaty and truth / Thomas Mayor

Thomas Mayor has travelled the country to promote the Uluru Statement from the Heart and its vision for a better future for Indigenous Australians.  On his journey he visits communities and interviews 20 key people about their vision for a better future. Thomas Mayor believes the way forward is for Indigenous Australians to be given a representative Voice in the Constitution.

 ‘To discover the emotional, intellectual and cultural strength of Aboriginal people, read this book.’

Willow Aliento

Journalist

Kindred / Kirli Saunders

This is the debut poetry collection of proud Gunai Woman, Kirli Saunders. Themes of love, connection and loss are explored in this collection. Kirli Saunders is an award winning children’s author, educator and artist and is the founder of the Poetry in First Languages project.

Book cover for Kindred

Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray (River of Dreams) / Anita Heiss

This is a novel of historical fiction based on true events. In 1852, the Murrumbidgee River breaks its banks and the town of Gundagai is devastated. It is the story of Wagadhaniiy (pronounced Wagga-dine), a young Indigenous woman who works for the Bradley family. It is the story of early White settlement and its impact on the Indigenous people of the area. The use of Warudyuri language adds to the power of this important novel.

The novel flows like the great Murrumbidgee River itself, with powerful undercurrents that sweep the reader along – I feel it’s a book that all Australians should read, to try and understand why our colonial past still causes so much pain and grievance.

Kate Forsyth

Writer

Book cover for Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray ( River of Dreams )
Book cover for Tell me why : the story of my life and my music

Tell me why : the story of my life and my music / Archie Roach

Archie Roach was only 2 years old when he was removed from his family. ‘Took the children away’ is his heartbreaking song about the Stolen Generations. This memoir is about his extraordinary life. Archie Roach has overcome enormous obstacles and his music voices the pain, sorrow and hope of his generation. 

Tell Me Why is an extraordinary odyssey and offering. Archie has come through snares, pits and suffering to bring us an inspiring tale of survival, grace and generosity. This book should be in every school.

Paul Kelly

Singer, songwriter

Book cover for Pictures from my memory

Pictures from my memory : my story as a Ngaatjatjarra woman / Lizzie Marrkyli Ellis

Lizzie Maarkyli Ellis remembers her life growing up in the Great Western Desert. Lizzie is from Ngaatjatjarra country ( west of the border between Western Australia and the Northern Territory).  Her style of storytelling crosses Western and Indigenous cultures and is a wonderful insight into her lived experience. Lizzie is a renowned linguist and interpreter and has had an extraordinary life in two cultures. There is a lot to learn from this enjoyable book.

Sand talk : how Indigenous thinking can save the world / Tyson Yunkaporta

This remarkable book is about everything. It looks at global systems from an Indigenous perspective. At the heart of this book is a deep respect for Indigenous Knowledge. Tyson Yungaporta gives us examples of how we can change our perspective to create a better understanding of the world and the global challenges we all face.

Open it to any page, read and enjoy. You’ll never think about your hands, Dante, Trump or emus the same way again

Elke Power

Editor Readings Monthly

Book cover for Sand talk : how Indigenous thinking can save the world

The Yield / Tara June Winch

This is the second, multi-award winning novel of Wuradjuri woman, Tara June Winch. The word ‘yield’ and its contrasting definitions in English and Warudjari are at the heart of the story. The richness of the story is how the writer weaves three different perspectives through the main characters. Reclaiming Indigenous language and culture make this a celebratory novel.

It is a brilliant novel: deeply thought provoking, challenging, intelligent, sophisticated in style, and beautifully written, despite the brutality and sorrow that the history, and narrative, is awash with.

Theresa Smith

Writer

Book cover for The yield
Book cover for Two sisters

Two sisters : Ngarta and Jukuna : a true story / Ngarta Jinny Bent, Jukuna Mona Chuguna, Pat Lowe, Eirlys Richards.

This beautiful book tells the story of two sisters from the Great Sandy Desert. Part one is Ngarta’s story of her nomadic life and her separation from her sister. Part two is Jukuna’s story. Part three is written in language and is thought to be the only published autobiography in this language. The book describes the change in their way of life and is an important historical record.

Book cover for Homecoming

Homecoming / Elfie Shiosaki

Fragments of stories are pieced together using poetry, prose and historical colonial archives to create a restorative work about four generations of Noongar women. The women of each generation are given a voice to tell their stories of Country, kin and culture. This is a first poetry collection and the culmination of 5 years of research.

Debesa : the story of Frank and Katie Rodriguez

Cindy Solonec has written about her parents, Frank and Katie Rodriguez. It is a social history of the West Kimberley spanning four generations. Frank Rodriguez from Spain meets Nigena woman Katie Fraser. They marry and buy a small sheep station, Debesa. Through her father’s journals and oral histories, Solonec chronicles the lives her diverse cultural heritage.

Book cover for Debesa : the story of Frank and Katie Rodriguez

God, the devil and me / Alf Taylor

Alf Taylor grew up in the New Norcia Mission in the fifties and sixties. His father and grandfather had been there before him.  Despite the cruelty he endures, this memoir is sharp and witty. Learning to read as a child gave him an outlet for the trauma he experienced. Alf Taylor is a well known poet and short story writer.

Book cover for God, the devil and me
Book cover for Carpentaria

Carpentaria / Alexis Wright

Carpentaria was first published in 2006 after being rejected by every major publisher in Australia. It became a literary sensation and was the winner of the Miles Franklin Award (2007). It is set in the fictional town of Desperance (like Cloncurry where Wright grew up) in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The major theme of the book is dispossession of Aboriginal lands by the white newcomers. It is a an epic tale, unorthodox and imaginative.

Carpentaria demonstrates the dynamic play between knowing and not knowing, and between speech and silence in the layers of truth about our history. As such, it stands as a profound and vital vision of twenty-first-century society and an instant classic of Australian literature.

Meera Atkinson

Writer

NAIDOC Week 2021 can be celebrated by reading a book from our list.

Let us know an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander story you have read and enjoyed. Share it with us.