Tag Archives: education

Book Review – Tiddas by @AnitaHeiss #aww2015

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aww-badge-2015Okay, here is my first review as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge. I’m not exactly sure how to do it, so let’s just take a deep breath, hold hands and get through this together. I’ve chosen Anita Heiss as my first author to review as I believe that she would be a firm, yet gentle, writer. Perfect for my first attempt at this. So here goes….

Tiddas- by Anita Heiss

Love that the main characters of this novel are slightly older than what is standard in this genre. There seems to be lots of books about women in their 20’s, 30’s then a big gap and they start again over 60 with some saucy senility texts. This book fills a big fat gap that has just been waiting to be filled.

I’m in my 30’s and loved this book. It’s about friendships, it’s about success, it’s about questioning what your dreams are and negotiating your own morality in the face of friends and society. Heavy themes but covered in a very fresh way so that you do not feel lectured at. Loved it.

tiddas

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Memoir of a Teacher: The Principal

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All schools, all principals, that have held and hold rule over teachers and student are either run by the senior executive or by principals. Principals are generally decided via nepotism, in which their ability to kiss the right arse has been long established; or they are new and are fluent in buzz words, and again, kissing arse. The new are either entirely new from some other school or they’ve slimed their way up the ranks at the existing school. Such schools thus acquired are either accustomed to live under a tyrannical principal, or to live in wild chaos as the existing principal merely flatuleted about the place and routinely forgot to do their fly up; and are acquired either by the plotting of the new principal and their cronies or else by the fortuitous retirement of the aging principal.

CONCERNING PRINCIPALS that have wormed there way up through the school.  I will keep to the order indicated above, and discuss how such such schools are to be ruled and preserved. I say at once there are fewer difficulties in holding entrenched schools, and those long accustomed to the existing establishment, than new ones; for it is sufficient only not to transgress the customs of his predecessor, and to deal vaguely with circumstances as they arise, for a deputy raised to principal of average abilities to maintain himself in his existing school, unless he be deprived of it by some extraordinary and excessive force; and if he should be so deprived of it, whenever anything sinister happens to the usurper, he will regain it. For the promoted deputy has less cause and less necessity to offend; hence it happens that he will be more tolerated; and unless extraordinary vices cause him to be hated, it is reasonable to expect that his subjects will be accepting of his short comings; better the devil you know.

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#Indigenous Representation in Speculative Fiction

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There is a lack of Indigenous Representation in the type of literature that kids like to read. This is something I initially posted about on my personal Facebook profile rather than on this blog because I was concerned about being torn apart like so many people trying to tackle this incredibly sensitive issue before me. I’m white, I’m female, I’m educated and these days I’m middle class, so what do I know about these issues? True. I am utterly unqualified. I am not an Indigenous Australian, I have not lived an Indigenous existence and I do not live in an Indigenous community. I cannot deny that, nor am I trying too. But I have decided that this issue is too important for me not to say something. So even if I get called ignorant or superficial at least people will be thinking about it. And hopefully those thoughts will help come up with a solution. So here is my Facebook post cut and pasted directly here.

Alright people. I’m doing it. I’m going political… or cultural. I’m going something controversial, not sure of the label but it definitely would have one.

Let’s talk about the lack of representation of Indigenous Australian characters and stories in Australian Literature and “white man’s” (self included) fear of portraying them.

I think we can all agree that there is a lack of Indigenous representation across all genres. Sure there is some literary and memoir style Australian fiction out there looking at settlement/invasion/colonisation, but let’s be honest, how many children sit about thinking, “Gee, I’d love to read some literary historical piece that can be very heavy handed and judgemental.” Not many. They’re thinking things like, “Harry Potter is awesome, Twilight is tots romantic, Hunger Games is the bomb yo.” So if we want our youth (black, white, green, purple, sparkling) engaging with Indigenous issues/characters/themes, then surely we need to but it into novels that they’ll actually want to read.

Now the three novels that I’ve mentioned above that have taken youth by storm are all Speculative Fiction, which to me means Australian writers need to put Indigenous content into this genre. But how can we when we’re too scared too. Yep, there I said it, I admit it, I’m too scared too and I’m not the only ones. Now I’m sure Indigenous authors aren’t too scared to. That they feel totally comfortable writing about their own heritage but there’s a slight problem with that. The problem isn’t only that we have an education gap making literacy levels low amongst indigenous populations low, hence writing a whole novel and going through the long journey to get published quite challenging. But also that even in an ideal world where this gap is bridged, the Indigenous population only accounts for around 3% of the Australian population. And let’s face it, not everybody is born to be a writer, so we’re looking at a very small drawing pool. On top of that not everybody has exactly the same taste is books. Even amongst Speculative Fiction fans you have those that both love and hate Tolkien. So to expect this small drawing pool to produce works of mass appeal is just ridiculous. Sure it only take one, like JK Rowling to come along and inspire a generation, but we cannot expect every writer in the Indigenous community to be the next Rowling anymore than we can expect it of any other community. Not only that, not every writer wants to write for children or young adult. The pool gets smaller yet.

So, how do we fix it? Forced breeding to increase the population? Let the petrified white writer have access to the stories as well? Do nothing but whinge? Do what we do now (self included), have Indigenous minor characters but avoid drawing on the Dreaming or any settings or major characters? I honestly don’t know how this issue can be fixed. I could rather glibly say that stories should be available to everyone. That Celtic and European folktales, myths, legends, history and religion seem to be open slather for anyone to appropriate, so why can’t writers of any culture just draw on anything and anywhere to serve their story. But I can tell you this, I love the stories from Hinduism but I’m sure not going to write about that either. Because not only am I scared that this Celt would unintentionally offend someone but also because I know I would get crucified for it. White writers who tackle other cultures, even previously popular writers, have a history of being torn apart. I, an unpublished, very pale skinned, blue eyed, woman of Scottish and Welsh heritage, am surely not the one to fly in the face of this history and solve all problems. So for my part, I’ll continue to have Indigenous minor characters and refer to Indigenous plants but who will do more? Who can bridge this gap and solve this lack of representation? Thoughts?

I would normally blog about something this lengthy (and yes I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of this incredibly complex and sensitive issue) but quite frankly I have no desire to be called a stupid racist by complete strangers… I’ll leave that to my friends 😉

This rant was inspired by something #KateForsyth said at the Monsters Under the Bed discussion hosted at the New South Wales Writer’s Centre #nswwc about the need to increase the representation of Indigenous stories and the complexities involved in this.

Monsters Under New South Wales Writer’s Centre #nswwc

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– art from http://odessasawyer.deviantart.com/art/Monsters-Under-My-Bed-153492618

This evening I attended “Monsters Under the Bed” at New South Wales Writer’s Centre featuring Kate Forsyth, Matt Finch and Nyssa Harkness. It was an interesting discussion on the portrayal and purpose of fantastical baddies. The entire evening was fascinating but I thought I’d just quickly share the point that stood out the most for me.

Darker social realism is generally read by fairly safe and secure kids not children with horrific problems (paraphrased from what panelist Kate Forsyth said in response to an audience question, unfortunately I did not get the exact quote which was far more eloquent). Children with real problems often prefer the escapist nature of Fantasy. Now that isn’t to say that safe secure kids don’t like Fantasy, because plenty do, but that forays into realistic darkness is generally too painful for children suffering abuse and so they prefer Fantasy. This really interested me as a teacher who has sat through many conversations with colleagues who actively put down Fantasy as pointless and silly. It is these kinds of attitudes that prevent our most at risk students reading what they will enjoy and actually need. Some healthy escapism is what these children crave, yet we insist on adding salt to their wounds. They need a world where good can triumph, where monsters can be overcome, a place that shows that in the end anything can be conquered. Unfortunately literary snobbism has perpetrated schools and we often insist that children read material that further depresses them, further abuses them and further increases their sense of helplessness. Even as the teacher in the classroom I find it difficult to teach a particular text on the gang rape and murder of a girl I knew. I’m in my 30s, the incident was decades ago, yet I walk out of each lesson where I am forced to engage with that text sickened and shaken. A fellow teacher of mine slid further and further into depression having to face this text daily that she too knew intimately that she didn’t just leave the school but the entire country.  I can only imagine how traumatised my students are who have recently been raped or had a family member raped. To force students to endure something so close to their personal life and so recent to them seems absolutely barbaric. So is it time that us English teachers got off our high horse and allowed our students to engage in texts that could actually heal them rather than further traumatise them? Or should we continue on our preference of dark “realistic” literature? Is it really better plotted, structured, characterised or written? Or are we simply being snobs and forcing our preferences onto youth for no actual good reason? Food for thought for writers and teachers alike.

Thank you to the New South Wales Writer’s Centre for hosting such an interesting discussion topic with such insightful panelists, Matt Finch, Nyssa Harkness and of course Kate Forsyth who inspired the topic of this blog.