LANGUAGE - KOORIES
On this page: Susan Hawthorne Lillian Holt, Yvonne Smith; Women's
Health in the North; Eve Fesl; Jean Taylor
I did some reviewing for Julie Copeland on First Edition and started to get a few things published. In 1984 the idea for a women’s festival came up, to be done in conjunction with the 150th state of Victoria celebrations. I finished up getting a job there as the writing, theatre and music co-ordinator. It was great. I had been unemployed for eighteen months or so, so I was eligible to go on the Commonwealth Employment Program (CEP).
The first event was in March when we had a community week and we invited Doris Lessing to come. She gave a talk in the Great Hall at the National Gallery. We sold all 500 seats, and 300 more as standing room.
All of us in that job felt uncomfortable with the celebration and did what we could to subvert it. One of the things I did was, after seeing a production of Eva Johnson’s play Tjindarella in Adelaide, I asked her if she would come to Victoria and put it on here, which she did. It was about the stolen generation. That was in 1985 so this talk about knowledge of the stolen generation not being available to the public until the 1990s is just garbage.
There was an exhibition of photographs of indigenous women at the State Library done as part of that. We worked with Aboriginal women in the community here in Victoria to put on Jettah Namarra, an Aboriginal Women’s Photographic Exhibition. We also organized a concert of women’s compositions and we had the very first occasion of a woman co
nducting women playing women’s work at Melbourne Town Hall. That was fantastic. Helen Quach was the conductor and it included works of Australian composers, Moya Costello, Lisa Lim, and Ann Carr-Boyd as well as a choral concert featuring works by Hildegard von Bingen, Pauline Oliveros, Louise Reichardt, and Helen Gifford.
I organised a women writers’ festival that was held at the Abbotsford Convent. I hear now that the writers at Como are about to go to the convent and think “We have been there and done that”. We had a nine day festival, three days at the beginning of talks and events, three days of writing workshops and then another three days of talks and events. The title was The Language of Difference.
We had sessions on women and class, sessions in which Aboriginal women were asked to come and talk, sessions on multicultural writing and lesbian writing. We looked at a whole range of issues. Audre Lorde was the international guest. She covered all sorts of amazing things: it was an incredible event.
There were about five hundred women there on a regular basis. But if you were counting it the way the Melbourne Writer’s Festival does with entrances to sessions counted, it would amount to thousands of attendances.
I think that was what got me thinking about publishing, because I had discovered publishers only had one head and were human beings, after all. The next year a position in publishing came up at Penguin. Although I didn’t get it, they rang me three months later and said another position had come up, so I did an interview in McCoppins Bar and I got the job. I started working on the Penguin Australian Women’s Library with Dale Spender.
Over four years I went from being a baby editor to a commissioning editor, learnt a lot about publishing and had a good time working with so many fabulous writers. There was a lot of energy and intellectual discussion, but it eased off over the years. Then it became quite pedestrian, so I eventually left after four years and set up Spinifex Press.
Another thing we did while I was at Penguin, Renate Klein, Jocelynne Scutt, Silvana Scannapiego, Gilli Gough and myself, was the Australian Feminist Book Fortnight. It was an idea which had come out of England, based on a catalogue of feminist books started by Carol Spedding (another Australian in the English publishing scene).
A selection was taken from the catalogue and publishers paid to have their books there and because I was at Penguin at the time I had the opportunity to convince them the benefit to them of doing free distribution.
There were events all around the country – two hundred readings and other events, from Broome to Burnley (as we said in our publicity material) in two weeks. We had events in Broome that brought in two hundred people. It was extraordinary.
The first one was in 1989, and the second in 1991. I went to Random House in 1991 and suggested that, as Penguin has done the distribution last time, they should this time – which they did. That was terrific. We were going to continue with them but Australia just doesn’t have the necessary population and the smallness to do these events in the way you could in England. The Books Alive program running now looks extraordinarily like our Feminist Book Fortnight.
Then there was the International Feminist Book Fair. It was in 1994 but we started thinking about doing it in 1990. I had been to the one in Montreal and another in Barcelona, and the next one was coming up in Amsterdam where we would have to do out pitch and see if they would run with the idea. We got in touch with Melbourne Major Events and had assistance from them in putting together in a bid. Not as big as the Olympic bid but pretty good!
They agreed. The problem was, as the Dutch co-ordinator said to us, “But it is a long way”. We said “Yes, we know, we come here every year”Although we did get a lot of international visitors, several dozen publishers and fifty or so of the three hundred writers, a lot of publishers who had attended previous book fairs didn’t come because they couldn’t imagine being on a plane that long. I think in many instances it wasn’t the cost, it was lack of imagination.
All the same it went ahead. It was a very successful event. We had thousands and thousands and thousands of people coming through. We suspect that something happened with the selling of the day tickets, though. Some people thought if they paid for sessions, then they didn’t have to pay for the day ticket and there was a budget shortfall in the end which those of us on the committee had to pick up.
In terms of the books, the publishing, the writers, the readings, the conversations, it was a huge success.
I speak like this today, because I do not come with watertight
answers nor formulas for there are none, as far as I am concerned.
But the topic demands, I believe, that we look within
as well as without in deciding whether to be had or hard. It calls for
reflection as well as action.
Too often it is too easy to resort to structural procedularism.
And if I only do the latter, I fail to see beyond the surface and into
the depth of the human condition which James Baldwin, the black American
writer, so eloquently expressed and which applies to us all, not just
the "problem people". He said:words to the effect that "each and everyone
of us is a miracle, at birth. The dilemma of life is to recognise that
miracle in each and everyone of us, whilst coping with the dilemmas we
In my mature years of life, I'm interested in the miracles
within us all. I'm also interested in the disasters we have become, as
Baldwin put it. The paradoxes of the human condition. And the resultant
dilemmas and decisions which can then determine whether I will be had
or be hard. In some ways, being had and being hard means, in a split second,
that I have to recognise both and choose one which determines the way
I treat you.
This applies to life and not just the workforce. Which
is why I have shared some of my own story today to illustrate both work
and life's issues and areas.
Tauondi taught me much. And, of course, there were days
when I was hard, when I used the boxing gloves, and there were days, when
I used the kid gloves and perhaps I was had. But so what!
The being "had" was not earth shattering nor criminal.
It was more about survival!
And, perhaps the hardness was also part of the tough
love I felt was needed at the time. Especially, as I was dealing with
some hard characters. Ones who were hard because they had been had, by
the very systems and society which should have offered support and solace.
That is not to say that they were all good. But neither
were they all bad. They just were! And, in trying
to understand where they came from, it allowed me to understand myself
and where I was coming from.
So I think the most important things I learnt along the
way, was who I was as a player in all of this. For in discerning need,
it can be too easy to resort to the safety of the bureaucratic structures
and the policies and proceduralism in which one works. I can tick the
box and say "next please". It then safely remains external and structural.
But to know myself as player in it all, in the human
condition, behoves me to "Know myself". The tensions and contradictions
of being hard or being had, introduced me to myself. It was part of the
school of spiritual hard knocks which was part of my own journey. As
I said, I can't speak for anyone else. Nor can I tell you what you should
do. I can only share some of my own story.
I used the illustration of the young, white, male student,
in the seventies to illustrate the heavy handedness of being hard and
of only operating from the head. (I saw the pain on his face when I said
I wouldn't disagree with my colleague's mark).
I've talked about Tauondi which thrust me into the wonderful
journey of being introduced to myself and some of the hard decisions I
had to make, in my position of responsibility, whilst taking account of
the human condition. In doing so, I needed the tools of the head, the
heart and the hands.
In finishing, I'd like to say that just as importantly
I needed humour. And, if there is one thing Aboriginal people can offer
this country, it is the ability to laugh at themselves and others. That
ability to laugh at the human condition.
I was fortunate, at Tauondi, to have Aboriginal colleagues
who cut me down to size, so to speak, when I became too serious and in
danger of playing God. They invariably did it with humour.
In making decisions whether to be hard or had, I'd seriously
advocate the use of humour. The word humour comes from the latin "umere"
to moisten or loosen. And when I am loosened up, moistened up, the sunlight
of the spirit is allowed to shine, and I believe I can then make the right
Today, being hard or being had, is not so much about
"the other" as about myself. That, in turn, invites reflection as well
In reflecting upon my own condition, I can also reflect
upon society. Hence, from within, to without . From the microcosm to the
macrocosm. My formula for myself has essentially
been about honesty, humanity, humour and hope. If I apply that to myself
I then can apply it to other areas. Especially Hope. For as St. Augustine
said: "Hope has two daughters: Anger and Courage. Anger at what is wrong
and courage to change it".
- The women's movement had to invent their own language
to describe sexism and discrimination - they acquired their own voice
and the culture of silence was broken.
Even local action groups and cooperatives can become
alienating for the individual. Strong agendas can adversely affect the
dynamics of a group and ultimately defeat the purpose of the organisation.
Health in the North
There must be processes in place to allow for proper
democracy to develop such as listening properly to members of the group
… and not becoming too task orientated.
One of the big problems with many public activists
is they get bogged down in the task because the world needs saving straight
away and they don't look at whether someone in the group is distressed
or if someone is being too bossy.
Today in activist groups, you hear comments like 'we're
not interested in all that hippy stuff and navel gazing', but I believe
you can't save the planet just by being an activist, you must be a reflecter
and a carer.
- When I was dealing with Aboriginal women's history
there was a problem. The struggle had been based so much on land rights
and women's rights were dependent on their relationship to land. This
couldn't be incorporated into any women's history.
I got in touch with Eva Fesl and asked if she would agree
with putting in a timeline history, which she provided.
The result, minus an index and some of Eve's material
– because we were over budget and pages – is TAKING TIME,
Women's Historical Data Kit, Compiled and Edited by Yvonne Smith, Published
by UAW. Available from UAW Victoria, 2/247 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Vic 3000, $15.00 including postage in Australia.
... I have had some interesting experiences from the
book. I once went out to a large Catholic girls college where a musical
program was taking place and when we went into the dining room for a cup
of tea there were all these little excerpts about women on placards around
the room – they were taken from TAKING TIME.
I was thrilled to the back teeth. Once my granddaughter
told me the book was in her school library. It has been used as a study
guide at many other educational institutions.
- HOW THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS USED TO PUT KOORIES DOWN,
DENY US RIGHTS, OR IS EMPLOYED AS A POLITICAL TOOL AGAINST US
Eve D Fesl (Gabi Gabi & Gangula Clans), Monash
University - Rev.8/87 cited in TAKING TIME, A Women's Historical Data
Kit, Compiled & Edited by Yvonne Smith, UAW, Appendix 4, page 87.
Aborigine and Aboriginal
Have you ever wondered why sometimes we are described
as 'Aborigines' and sometimes as 'Aboriginals'? Let's look at the question:
: The word 'aborigine' is a noun which refers to an indigenous
group of ANY country. It is a term which the English first used to describe
our people when they invaded our country. As a name of a group of people
it is non-descriptive, placing us into a hodgepodge of peoples, without
giving us a named identity. Into this linguistic 'stew' they have also
placed the people of the Torres Strait Islands, whose language and culture
differ considerably from ours.
: In response to Koorie demands, some attempt was made
to make us a little more distinctive by spelling 'aborigine' with a capital
: The word 'aboriginal' is an adjective (or describing
word) used to describe something associated with Aborigines, eg 'aboriginal
paintings'. So why is the form 'Aboriginals' used, ungramatically, as
a noun when the word today should be 'Aborigine'?
: With a few exceptions, eg Commonwealth and Victorian
Department of Education, you will notice government departments always
refer to Australian Koories as 'Aboriginals'. This is because they were
instructed to do so. To find out the reason we must go back to 1901.
: The law at that time gave the Commonwealth power to
legislate in relation to any race of people except aboriginal natives.
Thus, through British law and the use of the term 'aboriginal natives',
we were denied an identity as a race of people (popular belief at the
time being that Koories were dying out anyway). An 'opinion' was sought
from government legal officers, who advised that 'aboriginal natives'
should continue to be excluded from that law and that we should be known
as aboriginal citizens or natives (note the small 'a'). The term 'aboriginal'
(meaning aboriginal native or citizen) came into use as a noun
and in the case of more than one person was changed to aboriginals
(meaning aboriginal natives).
The other major area
I was involved in was the Aboriginal Rights Solidarity Group that started
up in 1986. I was a founding member and we did a lot of actions under
the direction of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community here
in Victoria. I am also a member of the Koorie Heritage Trust and have
continued this as a way to look at and challenge the racism inherent in
I am appalled at
the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in this country
and I feel I need to do something. By the way, even though I think Howard
ought to have said sorry about the Stolen Generations, perhaps one of
the positive aspects about his cowardice is that the rest of us had to
do something. Not only did we individually sign 'sorry' books but local
councils, churches and the whole of Australia had to get up and say sorry
about the children being taken from their families and communities, about
the massacres, the land being stolen and a whole host of brutal and demoralising
Over these past fifteen
years, I have continued writing and have enjoyed attending lesbian events
such as the National Lesbian Festivals and Conferences round Australia.
I joined the Women's Circus in 1991, started the Performing Older Women's
Circus in 1995 and continued to attend events for lesbians over 40.
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