‘Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia’ is a collection of about 50 or so stories that have been edited by Dr Anita Heiss. I listened to this as an audiobook, but also bought a copy in print as well. I found the print version to be an amazing compendium because it included younger photos of the contributors at the beginning of the book, as well as more recent photos at the end of the collection. While this was a really nice added bonus, I still highly recommend the audiobook personally, purely because these stories are so emotionally resonant, and so it’s often so much more powerful hearing these stories as opposed to merely reading them. It’s read by a group of six or so different Indigenous actors that narrate different sections of the book, but it comes across as so genuine and individualistic that you don’t even notice they’re actors.
As the title suggests, this book is about different people’s experiences growing up in Australia as Indigenous, and how this has consequently shaped their identity. The age of the contributors all varied, with the youngest being 13 years of age. This makes it incredibly powerful because you get to hear from a range of voices, some of whom are descendants from the Stolen Generation and are still grappling with the consequences of these atrocities, but many involve more modern stories that tackle present day iterations of racism which still exist in Australia. Geographically, this book also covers stories from all across Australia, as well as authors that range from celebrities to more ‘ordinary’ people, and therefore incorporates an extremely interesting blend of perspectives.
One thing that really comes across clearly is how different the experiences of growing up are for various First Nations people across the country, in both a positive and negative sense. It would be rare to find two Aboriginal people with the exact same story, but commonalities do exist because of intergenerational trauma and the damage that colonialism has had on people’s lives, their families, and their ability (or rather inability) to stay connected. Many people in the book discuss having to do DNA searches to find the history of their family. It was confronting to realise the immense privilege of non-Aboriginal Australians that undertake ancestry searches out of pure curiosity. Not only can DNA testing be an expensive process, but for many Aboriginal people their desire to find out about their history is born out of necessity as opposed to curiosity, since knowledge of their ancestry was otherwise ripped away from them. These reminders were incredibly heart-wrenching, but absolutely necessary. I believe this book should be mandatory reading for all Australians, because of how eye-opening these accounts are, as well as for the empathy and self-reflection they evoke. It is also a chance for non-Aboriginal people to celebrate Indigenous culture by becoming more informed and educated.
Going forward, I will continue to uplift, support and stand in solidarity with my Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends and peers. I cannot recommend this book enough, as it’s been one of the most powerful non-fiction Australian books I’ve ever picked up.
Article by Yousef Hakimi
Vice President (Darlinghurst) NDSJS 2020
Contact Yousef: firstname.lastname@example.org