"Who is this Jon Ra fella?"
Many conversations, panels and yarns at #BlakBright16 have returned to the same point: as writers we are continuing an oral tradition of handing down stories.
In the keynote session on Big Stories Big Genres, ‘genre’ itself was rejected as a western concept constructed around Aboriginal writing. The origin of classic genres is not ours and it is sometimes an uncomfortable concept to be applying to our art forms. I imagine if I were round a campfire pre-colonisation asking people what genre their story or song was, they would probably think I was tripping on too much pitchiri.
At the metaphorical campfire of Blak and Bright "everything is story." In western art everything is segmented. Rather than submitting to these segmented genres, Bruce Pascoe talks of the "stories story" and movement across forms rather than restricting yourself to one genre. This is because #wearethefirststorytellers.
We share these stories to reveal the wrong ones told by colonisation. So it is contradictory to share them defined by colonial genres. Bruce Pascoe talked about this act of revealing, as an act of resistance. When white people arrived they papered the land with a new history that saw the land (and us) as savage and alien. As blak writers we are "using the putty knife to scrape away that [maroon fluer de lis] wallpaper and reveal the Australian rock."
As the conversations on genre where happening around me over the past few days, I remembered that I never used to define my own writing. I did not refer to a genre until someone else categorised me as spec fic. At Blak and Bright I learnt genre doesn’t matter, it is all story. Introduced invasive genres will only degrade our story landscapes and ecologies like feral rabbits.
Story is bigger than all of it. Perhaps as Jane Harrison said at the launch, we can "make blak books a genre."
About Hannah Donnelly
Hannah Donnelly is a Wiradjuri woman from New South Wales who grew up on Gamilaroi country. Creator of Sovereign Trax Indigenous music website and co-editor of the Sovereign Apocalypse zine, Hannah’s personal work experiments with cli-fi and future imaginings of Indigenous responses to climate change.
Writers Victoria was proud to support Hannah as Blogger in Residence for the Blak & Bright Indigenous Literary Festival in February 2016.
This commission was supported by the Australia Council for the Arts.