Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

Unpenning Words: Releasing Literature from within Dreaming Inside-Voices from Junee Correctional Centre

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

Unpenning Words: Releasing Literature from within Dreaming Inside-Voices from Junee Correctional Centre

Article excerpt

'I knew I can paint my story, but I never knew that I could write it, too!' (workshop participant at Junee Correctional Centre, 2013).

From the letters written by Bennelong in 1796 and the work of Kevin Gilbert, who was awarded the National Book Council Award in 1978 and the Human Rights Award for Literature in 1988, to the award-winning books by Kim Scott (2000) and Alexis Wright (2007), both recipients of the Miles Franklin Award, Aboriginal writing1 has consistently contributed to Australian history and the canon of Australian literature. By comparison with other creative mediums such as Aboriginal art, performance or film, Indigenous writing2 does not have the same level of currency. In order to address this dichotomy, effective support of literary activities through fostering creative writing is needed. Effective support includes strategic federal and state funding that enables Indigenous people access and participation in cultural dialogue on all levels, from beginners to experienced writers.

The South Coast Writers Centre (SCWC) has a long-standing focus on the development and propagation of Indigenous voices in the Australian literary landscape. Since 2000, the SCWC has developed a literary program with and for Aboriginal people that not only celebrates but also recognises Indigenous peoples and identities and addresses the fact that Aboriginal writing is elementary to Australian history and politics. The program further addresses the fact that Aboriginal literature is less prominent in the public psyche than its counterparts in visual arts and sports. While efforts to achieve equity through the support of Aboriginal art are well established through art cooperatives, for example, Indigenous authors are far less nurtured. Tony Birch noted in his keynote speech at the 20th Edinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh World Writers Conference in 2013, that 'too many Australians remain ignorant of the creative and intellectual reach of Aboriginal writing, knowing little beyond the degree to which it serves us and fits within a national narrative' (2013).

Funding for meaningful literary activities is at the heart of long-term success, as has been pointed out by Anita Heiss: 'although funding and other mechanisms are in place and possibilities afforded Indigenous writers have improved, opportunities are still limited...' (2000). This is particularly true for those Indigenous Australians whose access to secondary and tertiary education is limited by personal circumstance. The SCWC is trying to tackle this limited access in two ways. One of the key projects in the SCWC's Indigenous literary program is the creative workshop series with male Indigenous inmates at Junee Correctional Centre, NSW, and the other is the Aboriginal writers mentorship program, both of which are coordinated by an Aboriginal project coordinator and by an Aboriginal project leader.

What is the Dreaming Inside-Junee Project?

Having previously conducted readings at the Junee Correctional Centre (JCC) in 2010 as part of the 'Write On The Murray Festival,' the SCWC's Aboriginal writers decided to make a return visit to the JCC in 2012. On this visit Black Wallaby project leader, Aunty Barbara Nicholson, flagged the idea of producing a publication of inmate work. The Junee project, now called Dreaming Inside-Junee Project, gathered momentum in 2012 with the help of regional funding from Arts NSW for the first year. During the Week of NAIDOC 2012 Aunty Barbara Nicholson, Simon Luckhurst, Bruce Pascoe and John Muk Muk Burke facilitated a series of workshops at the JCC and subsequently the tutors determined to pursue the possibility of publishing the proceedings of the workshop. This work were supplemented by some pieces written by the tutors, which were originally read at the final NAIDOC Ceremony at the JCC.

Since then, the Black Wallaby Aboriginal writers and guest tutors have conducted two series of creative writing workshops a year with the Indigenous inmates at the premises of the JCC. …

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