Wiradjuri woman Anita Heiss, is a poet, editor, author and social commentator who champions Indigenous writing and literacy. In this work, she has brought together 52 Indigenous people from all round the country to write about their experience of growing up in Australia as an Aboriginal. Heiss comments that she had many more contributions than she could include in the book. Importantly, as is stated in the introduction ‘each account reveals, to some degree, the impacts of invasion and colonisation on language, on country, on ways of life, on how people are treated daily in the community, the education system, the workplace and in friendship groups’.
Although the names of many of the contributors may be unfamiliar others are well-known and their stories are all compelling. There are people from all walks of life, from the country and the city and from older people to the young. This miscellany highlights for the reader the diversity of Indigenous groups in Australia, something that is still sometimes overlooked. As Heiss says in her introduction, there ‘is no single way to define what it means to grow up Aboriginal in Australia’.
Each entry is enhanced by a black-and-white photograph of the writer at the beginning of their entry – photographs of them as children, emphasising the book’s focus on childhood and growing up. There are stories of the Stolen Generations, others emphasise the significance of education, language and Country, among other things. Running throughout is the importance of identity and family. Poet Tony Birch, soprano and actor Deborah Cheetham, footballer Adam Goodes, illustrator and author Ambelin Kwaymullina, and award-winning novelist Tara Jane Winch are just some of the contributors who will be familiar to readers of this book. Their stories give an indication of the richness of the collection. Tony Birch’s moving story of his father is interspersed with poems which reflect on his father’s life. Deborah Cheetham reveals she is a member of the Stolen Generations and did not grow up with the extended family she might otherwise have had. Adam Goodes tell us how sport was always an important part of his life. Ambelin Kwaymullina reflects on the racism she has experienced, and Tara Jane Winch writes of the unspoken history that was part of her growing up. To bring the book full circle, at the end there is a brief biography of each contributor and a photograph of them as a ‘grown up’.