Almost 100 people braved a suddenly chilly Sydney evening last night to celebrate Indigenous Literacy Day at the State Library of NSW, where Sydney PEN and the Indigenous Literacy Project had joined forces to host a panel discussion inspired by selected performances from the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature, which was published earlier this year.
But this was no ordinary Q&A session. For one thing, the panel featured award-winning writer Tara June Winch, playwright and national treasure Wesley Enoch, and the passionate and articulate Dr Chris Mead, whose arguments in his recent monograph on the state of Australia’s writing for the stage complemented the pride in Indigenous storytelling evinced by the first two conversants.
The discussion was moderated by the excellent Julianne Schultz, editor of Griffith Review. While I had suggested the inclusion of pieces from the anthology in the event, it was her idea to shape the discussion from the ideas of the performed pieces – beginning with the first known piece of Aboriginal writing, a letter by Bennelong to Mr Philips, through Kevin Gilbert’s poem “Redfern”, and ending with a poem by Samuel Wagan Watson, “Cheap White-goods at the Dreamtime Sale”. Two NIDA actors expertly performed the pieces, which riveted the audience and brought to life the visceral quality of so much Indigenous writing.
The event raised money, collected by the Fred Hollows Foundation, for distribution of literacy resources in approximately 30 remote Aboriginal communities.