I’m glad I read this book….but it wasn’t an easy read and it made me feel sad… very sad at times.

The author is Chelsea Watego, a Munanjahli and South Sea Islander woman born and raised on Yuggera country.  First trained as an Aboriginal health worker, she is an Indigenist health humanities scholar, prolific writer and public intellectual. (pg 2)

In the first instance, Chelsea tells me this book is for Blackfullas. ‘This book is a think-out-loud story comprising a compilation of essays that seeks to engage mob in a conversation centred around strategies for living in the colony.’  ‘We simply don’t need more texts that teach whitefullas about us on their terms.  We need stories that are written by us and for us, that challenge us and nourish us – exclusively.’ (pgs 15, 16)

Chelsea then goes on to offer an invitation to others to pick up the book.  ‘Of course, the colonisers may find something of use here, though I find they are most comfortable with learning about us rather than from us.’ (pg 17)

So with that challenging introduction I went forth.

This book gave me an opportunity to deeply read and think about the absolute day-to-day difficulty of living Black in Australia. Some examples:  The strength it takes to send your kids to school – where they learn a white history of their country.   The frustration of working in Aboriginal health- where the focus is always on the health problems not the health strategies that Aboriginal people want to offer.

There is a chapter on ‘ambiguously indigenous’.  Again this is a challenging chapter where Chelsea discusses ‘a rapidly emerging tribe among “the native population” of so-called Australia.  They speak of an Indigenous ancestry while being unable to name their ancestors, or Indigenous cousins even.‘ (pgs 101 onwards).  This was a particularly difficult and interesting essay for me to read and understand.

This book is not for the faint-hearted.  It is written by an Academic and I felt I was punching way above my weight to read and digest it.

In the first instance, it has helped me in two, simple ways:

  • It gives me greater understanding of outspoken Aboriginal advocates, like Lidia Thorpe; and
  • It gives me a better ability to critically read and understand Aboriginal focused literature and media.

I recommend this book.  Be brave and go looking for it:  Delve more deeply into your ‘learning and unlearning’. It’s available free on line through Yarra library, as a hard copy book at Brunswick Library and other retail outlets.

Claire Foley
living on land never ceded
by the Traditional Owners

15 November 2022