|Review By: Crusader Hillis|
This anthology collects several of Australia’s established Indigenous writers and some emerging voices, and represents a lively and engaging snapshot of both prose and poetic traditions. The Black Writing series of UQP has been instrumental in fighting the invisibility faced by many of Australia’s Indigenous writers, and this collection dips liberally into publications back as far as 1990. The scope of the anthology is huge, and there isn’t a badly considered offering in it. Readers of MCV will be pleased to learn that many of the writers collected here identify as either gay or lesbian, and includes Aboriginal writers from across the country.
My experience of hearing Lisa Bellear perform her work may have influenced me, but her brief pieces reproduced here stand out. Fresh Cuttings takes two selections of her longer work Dreaming in Urban Areas, ‘White Man Approval’ and “Come Dancin’”. Both have an acerbic political stance, tempered by an almost heartbreaking humanity that offers multiple perspectives from which to view the situations she describes. Powerful and lyrically expressed, these short poems are profoundly affecting.
Vivienne Cleven hit the literary scene a few years back with her wonderful, queer-edged satire of gender and racism in a backwater town, Bitin’ Back. Like most of the contributors in this book, Cleven has great facility with capturing speech patterns, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. While the excerpt chosen here highlights one of the difficulties of taking from longer works, it nonetheless offers an opportunity for the reader to enjoy Cleven’s use of simple structure and disarming humour to tackle complex and disturbing themes. An excerpt of her next book, Her Sister’s Eye, is also included. Written in a much more literary style, it extends Cleven’s study of racism in small communities, going deeper into her people’s history and traditions and the genocidal policies they have faced over the past two centuries.
Author of Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence (filmed 2001), Doris Pilkington Garimara’s Caprice (excerpt) has the same institutional setting as the film. It is a riveting and clinically told story of the Western Australian Aboriginal orphanage system. Its documentary style memoir structure is striking and perfectly pitched for her story.
Melissa Lukashenko is represented by excerpts from her two highly successful novels, Steam Pigs and Hard Yards. Deeply political and concerned with the minutiae of contemporary life, Lukashenko’s point of view embraces outsiders of all stripes, queer amongst them. If you haven’t read either of these books, Fresh Cuttings provides a great opportunity to sample Lukashenko’s talent.
John Muk Muk Burke’s poetic tale of being stranded by flood as a small child, Bridge of Triangles, is one of the most haunting stories in the anthology. His evocation of landscape and the often powerless position of the child is alone worth the price of this book.
The collection is rounded out by works by Greame Dixon, the great Jack Davis, ex-drover Herb Wharton, Samuel Wagan Watson, Alexis Wright, Larissa Barendt and John Graham. Fresh Cuttings is only part of the rich diversity of Indigenous writing and storytelling in this country – much of it has yet to be uncovered – but the anthology covers a lot of ground and introduces many of these writers to a wider public. It is a timely and incredibly satisfying addition to Australia’s literary canon.