52 Weeks of Gratefulness: Wk 35 – Avid Reader, West End

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I have posted here many times about Avid Reader – the West End institution and haven for book lovers, the community minded, coffee and home-made-cake-connoisseurs. The bookshop owned by local legend Fiona Stager (below) is a navigation point for me in Brisbane. I measure distances from Avid Reader – my home is 1.5km by foot. The State Library is 1.3km. My Epic Good office is 800m. When I am in Brisbane Avid is not far from me. Or should I say I am not far from it!?

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The shop is not just about books. It’s about the way the staff – each and everyone one of them – makes people feel when they walk through the door. Everyone is a rock star; everyone is someone to be considered (or so it seems), as someone who belongs there. It is a place I always feel welcome. It is a place that helped me decided to move to Brisbane.

This week I am grateful for the sense of family that Avid Reader has given me. It is the reason I choose to have my book events there – because launches are about celebrating with family. It is the reason I put my hand up when I can to participate in events they have like National Bookshop Day. And community events they participate in like Swim The Reef.

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Thank you Fiona for being such a role model in the local community but also the literary world. Thank you Krissy (below) for not only years of unconditional friendship but for hosting the best events an author could hope for. Thank you Christopher for some of the funniest tweets the Twittersphere has seen. Thank you Stuart for the impressive treats your prepare day after day (please don’t let me eat too many!) and thank you to all the staff, you make being fabulous look sooooo easy!

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52 Weeks of Gratefulness: Wk 34 – Routine

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The calming effects of the Brisbane River is part of my daily routine

I live a good life; there is no doubting that. But while the flying around for events where I connect with readers and re-connect with old friends are all food for the soul and warm the heart, the travel also takes it’s toll on the body and mental well-being.

With that in mind, I am always grateful to come home to my own bed, bathroom, kitchen (okay so most of you know I don’t cook but it’s still my kitchen) and the peacefulness that living by the river brings me. It was the same when I lived in Sydney. I just wanted to get back to Matraville where I could swing by Maroubra Beach, suck in the salt air and feel the calming effects of an at at-times forceful sea.

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My morning walks with Shaz to the Goodwill Bridge for a coffee with Brendan and the biceps is a great way to start the day!

And so in Week 34 my gratefulness is the routine of daily life: wake at daybreak, run / gym alone or walk with Sharon , a smoothie or green drink, the library or Epic Good Foundation, coffee with a friend, lunch in the sun, home on my couch watching mindless television, ironing, talking on the phone, bed with a book. Routine. I love it. Routine you see keeps me sane.

Am I the only one who craves routine at times?

“I’m Aboriginal. I’m just not the Aboriginal you expect me to be.” // Review of “Am I Black Enough For You” by Anita Heiss #aww2016

Title: Am I Black Enough For You? Author: Anita Heiss Genre: Memoir/Non-fiction Date Read: 01/08/2016 – 09/08/2016 Rating: ★★★★ Review: Normally memoirs don’t really get more than three…

Source: “I’m Aboriginal. I’m just not the Aboriginal you expect me to be.” // Review of “Am I Black Enough For You” by Anita Heiss #aww2016

Thank you Cowra!

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On Friday August 5, the town of Cowra commemorated the 72nd anniversary of the Cowra Breakout. Within the day’s events, the Mayor Cr Bill West launched my latest novel Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms. I was grateful to be back on Wiradjuri country at the significant historical POW campsite and to be part of another moment in local history.

I’d like to thank the Mayor for his words about myself and the novel (some can be read in the Cowra Guardian coverage of the launch), and a heartfelt thank you to the Cowra High students Nathan Dixon and Caitlan Howarth (pictured below) for delivering a welcome to country in both the Wiradjuri language and English.

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I’d particularly like to thank all the locals who came along to share in the moment, because I wrote Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms for those in Cowra and for anyone who calls Cowra home.

I wrote this novel because I felt compelled to write the shared history of Cowra during the war, so that Australians understood there were two ‘camps’ at the time, one where my own family lived with fewer luxuries than the POWs. Paramount to my storytelling was weaving in my mother’s memories, paying tribute to Wiradjuri families of prominence and showing respect to local Aboriginal people who had fought in World Wars.

No story about history is ever owned by one person, and so I need to thank all those who were part of pulling together the many stories that became Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms.

Firstly, my mother Elsie told me her own stories about growing up at Erambie, and that process of sharing made writing this book worthwhile for me personally. What a wonderful project for us to do together. We sat at the dinner table, me with notepad and pen and she loving the opportunity to talk. She tells me she’d like to write book one day, but if she doesn’t, she has this one.

Anita Heiss Book Launch 050816 (14) But it was the support from people on the ground here in Cowra that really made this book possible. The knowledge and wisdom and generosity of time of some key people helped me complete the work: local Koori historian Dr Lawrence Bamblett is the author of Our Stories are Our Survival. Laurie advised me from day one when I sent my idea to him. I told him that if he thought it was a bad idea I’d bin it straight away. I trusted his judgment living and working on country, when I was so far away. His advice kept me on track and I’d like to thank him for sharing the vision of telling the world about Erambie history.

I owe an enormous amount of gratitude to Lawrance Ryan – former President of the Cowra Breakout Association – for touring me around the former camp site. He gave me so much detail about the history and the logistics that the work is richer for his input. Lawrance generously read drafts and did research way beyond what I could have hoped for when I first had the idea to write a story about the Breakout. I know first hand that Laurence Ryan’s passion for history is infectious and Cowra is blessed to have him as an educator and ambassador.

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Lawrance also introduced me Graham Apthorpe – the author of A Town at War: Stories from Cowra in World War II Graham rightly asked me, why a novel Anita? Why not a history book? Well, the thing is Graham had already written an outstanding and comprehensive history of the Breakout – it formed the foundation of my knowledge of the history. I wanted anything that I did to complement his work and that of Laurie Bamblett’s. I also wanted to capture an audience that might not pick up a non-fiction text to read about war, but might pick up something like Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms. I think there are many stories and many ways in which to tell them, so I see my novel working in tandem with others. I’d like to thank Graham also for his commitment to documenting the stories of Cowra so that others can learn about our town.

Through Laurence Ryan I also met Marc McLeish who introduced me to Aunty Norma Wallace (Newton) and over a couple of meat pies we sat around the kitchen table and I learned about the Newton brothers in World War II, and they have been included in Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms too. I experienced so much generosity from locals wanting to help make this book complete and I am overwhelmingly thankful to them, including Marc and his extended family.

I relied on family to read drafts and to be happy with representations and I thank Anne Weldon (Coe) for reading pages on behalf of the Coe family who I wanted to recognize in the story for their contribution to the Australian war efforts throughout history but also as a respected family at Erambie.

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I was fortunate enough to travel to Japan also to meet Professor Mami Yamada, (pictured above) – a Japanese historian and author who had done comprehensive research on the Cowra Breakout, interviewing many former POWs. She gave me an insight into some stories that had never been told publicly, and unfortunately are not published in English. She read drafts and gave valuable feedback particularly on cultural representations of the Japanese in the book.

Collectively, a lot of other experts have helped me weave the facts around the Cowra Breakout and life at Erambie into a love story between Mary and Hiroshi. It is important for me to say that I am not an expert on the Breakout; I am not an expert on Cowra or Erambie. I am just someone who wrote a book because I wanted school students around Australia to be talking about World War II from an Australian perspective, inclusive of Aboriginal people. I wanted book clubs to be reading this novel and discussing the themes within it. I wanted Australians generally to realize that while we treated the POWs here in the 1940s as we were meant to under the Geneva Conventions, we have gone backwards as a nation today where we have the UN Refugee Agency saying we treat those imprisoned on Manus Island and Nauru in inhumane conditions and we are torturing young people in detention in the Northern Territory in places like Don Dale. There are lessons to still be learned from the history of Cowra, and I hope that my novel goes some way to being part of the education process.

I also want the world to know that Cowra is a deadly place to be. That it is the home of the UN World Peace Bell as well as the home of past, present and future Aboriginal leaders – like Nathan and Caitlin.

I think this is my 15th book and it is the one that means most to me because it holds the story of where my own story begins. And with that it mind I sincerely thank anyone who chooses to read the work and I hope it speaks to your heart and mind.

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Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms is currently available from:

Avid Reader,

Riverbend Books

Readings

Gleebooks

Constant Reader

Booktopia

And for my international readers, Book Depository will deliver anywhere in the world for free.

52 Weeks of Gratefulness: Week 33 – Thank you Sydney!

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I landed in Sydney on August 3 and it was bucketing down. The perfect weather to stay in bed and read, but not so perfect to head out into the rain to get a new book. And yet, avid readers, my friends and my family all trudged through wind and rain to celebrate the release of Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms with an event at Stanton Library and a launch hosted by Jumbunna, Indigenous House of Learning at UTS.

This post is to thank the friendly and fabulous group at Stanton Library – with an audience made up of sista writers Lisa Heidke and Pamela Freeman – pictured above. Thank you also to Constant Reader Bookshop for coming along and also taking away a truck load of autographed books!

It was my first public appearance for the novel – released on August 1 – and the friendly crowd couldn’t have made the debut any easier for me. Thank you! (Can I just say also, that when I retire I look forward to going to the library to listen to guest authors because it’s a great way to spend your time)

IMG_1881A few hours later, in the dark and cold of the night, another group of well-wishers joined me as Professor Michael McDaniel – a Wiradjuri fella from Forbes – launched the novel. I have had the good fortune of working alongside Michael over the years and have seen the power of his own storytelling and the impact that has had particularly in the education system. (Check out Michael at his best here!)

And so I was humbled he agreed to read his first ‘romance novel as a form of social commentary’ and then share some thoughts on the book. Thank you Michael for your wisdom and enlightened words about how we need to look at the human rights abuses of today that are far worse than how we treated POWs in the 1940s. And indeed how the lives of Aboriginal people are still impacted on in many ways, in line with life on Erambie mission back then also. Resized_20160804_102931

Thank you to Professor Larissa Behrendt who MC’d the launch. Larissa is a longtime friend, a sista-novelist (check out her books here!) and a woman who has no fear when it comes to social justice and saying what needs to be said. Is it any wonder I have the strength to do what I do, when I have such amazing people like Michael and Larissa to learn from. (Thanks also to Larissa for the deadly interview on Speaking Out, recorded the following morning – and here we are in the studio above with Renee at the ABC!)

But the room in Building 10 was full of amazing people. Some I hadn’t seen for many years. Some I know from business networks, others from uni and school days. It was like a reunion and book-birth in one. Below is a dear friend Sonia – we first met at UNSW way back in 1992 and still see each other – infrequently, but always quality!

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Launches are really about the opportunity for the author to thank the many people who support us along the way; which I did on the night. But right now, I want to thank those who braved the weather to share the moment, for I am now, as I was on the night, incredibly grateful. I am sometimes embarrassed but always humbled by the support of friends and family, and even strangers who come along to my bookish events.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked my dear friend Julie Reilly ‘Why are you so good to me?’ – when she had ventured out in the blistery cold of Melbourne to see me at my hotel. She responded, ‘Because I love you’.

It felt like there was a lot of love in the room last Wednesday night, if not for me, then for storytelling and books. And for all of that I am grateful.

Finally, thank you to the staff at UTS for hosting the evening. I’m proud to be associated with Jumbunna and I’m thrilled that the launch of Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms could be part of your cultural program.

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Here’s a group of amazing women that inspire many – Michelle Deshong, Becky Harcourt, Terri Janke and Robynne Quiggin. And I get to call them friends!

 

 

52 Weeks of Gratefulness: Wk 32 – Australian Outback (half) Marathon

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I’m leaving Uluru and I don’t want to. Every time I visit here I leave filled with gratitude – for the Anangu people who welcomed me, for the spirit of the landscape that enriched me, and for the tranquility of the place that allowed me to just be present.

I’m writing this blog while I wait for my delayed flight and I’m reflecting on what has been an extraordinary visit, yet again. The last four days have given me new friendships, new levels of fitness, new ways to consider place, and time to reflect on how blessed I am to even be able to travel to the heart of this country. FullSizeRender

I came here to run in the name of reading. I wanted to use the Australian Outback Marathon to raise awareness and cash for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.  I set up an everyday hero page and over the course of two months and the race, I was supported by 74 donors who generously gifted over $6000 to the cause. THANK YOU! I am incredibly grateful to each and every one of you for your support.

I’m also grateful to Jenni Curtis – a sista from Western Australia – who first introduced me to the Outback Marathon. Last year Jenni invited me to run with her and a group of yorgas as part of their team. I didn’t have the funds to get myself here back then, but I vowed to do the run this year. It became a bucket list priority for me. And so when Antoinette Braybrook – a sista from Melbourne – said she was keen, we booked. And we didn’t look back.

The event was more than just running for me. In fact, the race became secondary as I spent time with likeminded people, running on Anangu country with Uluru and Kata Tjuta as backdrops. It might sound strange but I don’t remember my legs moving across the landscape for 21km – it didn’t feel like I was running like it does back home. Maybe that’s because I was too busy talking, laughing and taking photos of Antoinette and our other running tidda Wendy – because, well, that’s how we roll in life.

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Photostop at 18km with Uluru in the background

I expected the red earth underfoot to make it difficult to run. I expected I would struggle on soft sand and feel my usual aches in the knees, ankles and hips. But I felt none of that. I felt at peace. I felt fulfilled. I felt like I was much lighter on my feet than my actual body frame is. I felt like I was part of an extraordinary life experience that married some of the things that matter most to me; running, being around good-hearted-fun-people and fundraising for charity.

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There’s nothing like holding the finisher’s medal🙂

So I leave Uluru today incredibly grateful – to the locals, to my tiddas Antoinette and Wendy, to the organisers of the Outback Marathon, and to me – for ticking the run off the “bucketlist” and preparing me for the next challenge in life.

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Thank you Tina from Travelling Fit for being the most awesome rep to work with!

 

 

52 Weeks of Gratefulness: Week 31 – Working with the mob

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The best thing about my job is being able to work with the mob. And week 31 of 2016 had me hanging with deadly students doing amazing things, and for that I am grateful.

On July 22nd I was part of the Goodna State School NAIDOC Celebrations, which included the singing talents of the school choir, the cultural traditions of the Torres Strait Islander dance group, and a series of performances by students I had worked with earlier in the year. Those performances included poetry, raps, theatre and explanations of the flags of not only Indigenous Australia but also those in the Pacific.

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As I sat in the hall with (I’m guestimating) around 1200 students and school community members I felt the heartstrings tugged by Aboriginal pride in identity in the space. I smiled at the energy and enthusiasm of 120 young preps singing and dancing like kangaroos and brolgas and eagles. I had, for a fleeting moment, a desire to have one of those little cherubs all of my own.

NAIDOC Week is such an important week to celebrate stories and culture – to showcase all that we have to offer as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, and all we want to share. I was so proud of all the students participating that day, and all those who so politely listened and learned and hopefully took away new ideas and maybe inspiration as well.

I thought to myself as I stood on the stage – ‘If only all Australian children to go to Goodna State School – how lucky they would be.”

Congratulations to Principal Gerchow and all the GSS staff for nurturing a supportive environment for all students to learn and grow within.

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Dr Sandra Phillips and the lads at the author signing table🙂

As if Friday at Goodna wasn’t enough food for the soul, I had the enormous thrill of celebrating with another group of deadly students the next day in Melbourne. These students were older and from Jawoyn country, also known as Katherine. And our celebration was for their book Shock ‘Em! Stories of the Big River Hawks.

My own former publisher, tidda and academic Dr Sandra Phillips and I were thrilled about working with the Big River Hawks in June (and you can read about it here!). It was an experience neither of us will forget, not only for the memories created, but also the fantastic book the lads produced.

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Big River Hawks, with Luke Hodge who launched the book

It was wonderful to be at the Hawthorn Football Club with staff from the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, co-founders of the Epic Good Foundation, http://epicgood.com.au/ and players from the Hawks to publicly congratulate each and every one of the new authors on their ability to take to the writing desk what they take to the field: focus, determination, passion and heart. And it shows on the pages Shock ‘Em!

Shock ‘Em! will have a huge impact on young men and women around Australia who also love football, who want play football, have AFL and world heroes just like the BRH do. Shock ‘Em! proves that reading and writing is also important in any football career. And I’m also grateful for the awareness-rasising this book will have in terms of Indigenous literacy.

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I am grateful to the Big River Hawks for being such stellar and committed workshop participants and for making it easy for Sandra and I to teach them how to get their stories onto the page. I’m grateful for their humour, their manners and for teaching me so much about the game of AFL – I learnt more about footy in three days with them than I’d learned over my lifetime.

Working with the mob is such a privilege in so many ways, and I am grateful for each and every opportunity to do so.

Photo credits: Goodna pics courtesy of Goodna State School. Big River Hawks pics courtesy of Scott Barbour of AFL Media. Thank you!

 

 

52 Weeks of Gratefulness: Week 30 – Training for #UluruRun4Reading

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Attempting the steep incline at Mt Coot-tha – it was hard!

On July 30 I will be I’ll be doing the half-marathon in the 2016 Outback Marathon as a way of raising awareness and cash for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. Why? Because I can’t imagine a world without books, and I know that reading opens doors! And I want kids without adequate literacy resources in remote communities to have all the opportunities that reading can bring throughout life.

I named my effort the #UluruRun4Reading – pretty catchy I reckon, although it does use up a few of the 140 character limit on Twitter.

This week, as I head into the final leg of training, I am grateful to all those who have supported my many runs over the years through donations, running with me as a team, offering kind words of support, and hitting the training path with me.

After some legwork in the gym this week, I took to the Powerful Owl Trail at Mt Coot-tha. It wasn’t what I expected. Well, I don’t know what I thought a trail run would entail, but I certainly didn’t realise it was going to be so steep, for so much of the way. But I did the climb to the Channel 9 tower and back again, grateful that my running buddy Megan offered support along the way. For the record, Megan is 17 years younger and probably 15 kilos lighter (maybe more) than me, so I played both those cards along the way. Oh, and there were a lot of cuss words. Oops.

There’s not long until the run now and I am excited. I have self-funded the trip to Uluru and all donations to the run go direct to the ILF and are tax deductable.

If you would like to support my run, however small (or large!), I’d be SUPER grateful. My everyday hero page is here!

Also, grateful for any last minute trail running tips you may be able to offer me!

Media Release: SHOCK ‘EM! – Young Indigenous footy players from NT tell their stories

Shock 'em! coverShock ‘em! – a new book written by a team of young players from the Big River Hawks in Katherine – will be launched on Saturday 23 July at Hawthorn Football Club, Melbourne.

Shock ‘em! is the 44th book to be published in the Indigenous Literacy Foundation’s (ILF) Community Literacy Program which provides writing and illustrating workshops for Indigenous children living in remote Australian communities. The program brings together some of Australia’s most talented and successful authors with children of all ages to create and illustrate their stories and to develop important literacy skills.

Dr Anita Heiss who is an ILF Lifetime Ambassador and Manager of the Epic Good Foundation, ran the workshops for the eight young boys over a three day period in Katherine. Working with Dr Sandra Phillips and a team of designers and publishers at ILF, the whole book was produced in less than a month.

‘As football players the Big River Hawks are impressive. As writers they are deadly!’ said Anita Heiss.

As well as entertaining pieces of fiction about playing in a Hawthorn grand final, Shock ‘em! includes personal pieces where each boy has written about significant places in their lives as well as sharing letters to their heroes: their dads, Dr Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali, and sports heroes like Luke Hodge.

‘We are incredibly proud of the result,’ said Karen Williams, Executive Director of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. “We learnt so much reading the book about the boys and their lives and we hope that it has given them a taste of what it’s like to be an author. The ability to be able to tell your story, who you are and where you come from is as important as playing in a grand final match. They are skills you need for life”.

Heiss, who has authored 15 books of her own found the experience of working with the young players enriching on many levels.

‘It was an extraordinary experience helping the team translate their love of football into stories they wrote to share with others. Their passion for the game helped create suspenseful pieces of fiction. I believe it was the opportunity to write in a safe space that allowed them to be so productive, and I felt privileged to be part of the process of creating Shock ‘em!’

Stuart Fox, CEO of the Hawthorn Football Club said, ‘Education and literacy are key focuses of our Indigenous Program and with the financial support of the Epic Good Foundation it is great to see this project come to fruition. Our new partnership with the ILF allows us to have an impact on these young players outside of the football arena and help build stronger educational foundations in Katherine.’

You can order your copy of Shock ‘Em! direct from the Indigenous Literacy Foundation here!

 For media enquiries contact:

Karen Williams (Indigenous Literacy Foundation) – Karen@ilf.org.au / (02) 9280 0655

Hannah Greasley (Hawthorn Media) – hannahg@hawthornfc.com.au / 0425 741 331