Monday, 30th October 2017

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Three Australian authors on climate change, aboriginal writing and more

A quick chat with Lisa Heidke, Bronwyn Fredericks and Anita Heiss

  • Published 3.03.20, 7:10 PM
  • Updated 4.03.20, 1:31 PM
  • 4 mins read
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Australian authors Lisa Heidke, Anita Heiss and Bronwyn Fredericks at the Apeejay Kolkata Literature Festival 2020 Picture: Rajkumar Mondal

Lisa Heidke writes contemporary women’s fiction and has six published books from Allen and Unwin and also teaches creative writing at the Australian Writers Centre in Sydney. Bronwyn Fredericks is a professor at the University of Queensland and the pro vice-chancellor in indigenous engagement leading strategy for indigenous activities and reconciliation. Author of books, articles and papers aplenty, Anita Heiss is a professor of communications at University of Queensland and author of 18 books — children’s books, academic texts, fiction, memoir — and has edited some anthologies. She writes because she wants to introduce aboriginal characters in the Australian and world landscape and wants to see aboriginal stories in book clubs and schools around the country. The three authors were a part of the Australian contingent who arrived in Calcutta to take part in the Apeejay Kolkata Literature Festival. The Telegraph caught up with them for a quick chat. Excerpts...

Because you write distinctly different forms of literature, do you ever feel a disconnect between books of Australian origin and the global stage?

Lisa Heidke: I don’t think so, unless it’s a language barrier. Because I write contemporary fiction focusing on women relationships — family, colleagues, siblings as well as romantic elements, I think my stories find resonance in the US or the UK.

Anita Heiss: I think Australian writers have a very strong presence internationally. It’s a little boastful of me but my work is now being translated into French, Spanish, Mandarin, Hindi and Farsi. I do think a lot of aboriginal literature is being translated into French because the French are quite happy to read and learn about what the English have done in Australia as a coloniser! (Laughs) I think Australia is coming under the microscope, gaining prominence internationally for a few reasons so they are interested in stories that come out of Australia, across cultures.

Bronwyn Fredericks: I can see when I access some of the library data of my work or colleague’s works it shows the country where it was downloaded. A greater bulk comes from Australia because some of them are serious academic texts about the country. It doesn’t mean the rest of the world is not downloading those articles and reviews. I know now that people in the western world are increasingly interested in Australian literature.

Lisa: Very few Australian authors write about real romance but the ones who do, their work resonates with Europeans a lot. Countries like Germany. I reiterate that romance is universal!

Australia has been on the radar of global media for the bush fires. What are your opinions on the media response?

Lisa: I definitely feel the Morrison conservative government absolutely failed with complete dereliction of duties. They should have listened to people who were educated — the climate warriors, citizens and firefighters. Think tanks were saying out loud, “This is what is happening”, and here was Morrison denigrating Greta Thunberg and saying “What does a 16-year-old know?”, and the entire issue was dismissed. That was the attitude, completely dismissive of any climate change conversation in Australia.

Anita: I have only one sentence to say — the government is complete climate-change deniers. They are not even listening to all the names Lisa mentioned, let alone act upon them. And now we have such a large portion of the country burning with a government that believes that its not related to the climate at all.

Bronwyn: Understanding climate change aside, there is still a need to act on this understanding and they are failing to act on things that have happened. The aboriginal fire management practices for example, in some areas have not been carried out for many years. So, it’s not just people who have been campaigning for change in policy, but people on the ground as well who need to be heard. And if those aboriginal fire management had been carried out diligently, we wouldn’t have the fuel for the fire, which is the debris. There is a need to look at climate change and management of country and land along with climate changes. The current policies that we have are not going to sustain the continent of Australia as we know it.

As for the second part of your question; I diligently follow news outlets like BBC and American TV and the fires have been well covered by all major international media outlets in varying degrees and various understandings. However, I feel that the focus has been on the animals that have been lost and not necessarily the impact on humans. Also, some of the sacred sites that were aboriginal learning places have burnt and are now lost. I know for a fact there are bridges in the New South Wales area that have combusted because of the materials they use and due to this, there was a cave containing some rare paintings that was destroyed. There are thousands of years of knowledge and history that was lost and that is my concern.

Do you find a correlation between crisis and the emergence of new literature?

Anita: If I were to talk about aboriginal writing in Australia, there was a poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal whose poem from 1964 is still as relevant today, if not more. So I think there is more access to platforms, to have a voice and to write. We met young poets here who are writing poetry on Instagram and I think there are more opportunities now to be heard. But I think the need to write in my community for human rights and social justice hasn’t changed.

Bronwyn: We always see when there is a catastrophe or emergency of some sort, like the bush fires for example, a call for collections of writing. I responded to one when Fukushima (nuclear disaster) happened and there was a call from Japan. There was a call from India about violence and women and about reclaiming the night, that I wrote about. As Anita has just said, the issues with human rights and indigenous rights continue, and we would see young people writing about those. I hope and encourage them to do that but I also hope there are emerging new issues that are important to them — whether its about identity, what it means to be Australian, what it means to be gay, what it means to be a woman, what it means to live with a disability.

Lisa: I teach writing and I have seen a dramatic increase in people attending my classes to write life stories. This encompasses people of all ages — from eight to 80. Whether that’s memoir looking at their own lives or just snapshots of a part of their lives. They also want to often write about their grandparents and their lives as well. And now technology has made the process easier. We have the Internet, we have self publishing, so many platforms for people to write and tell their stories.