Blak Excellence at the Brisbane Writers Festival

The 2021 Brisbane Writers’ Festival was a blakout. Ellen Van Neerven, Mununjali poet and writer, opened the festivities at First Word by acknowledging the 32 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who would be presenting at the Festival. They reminded us that the Yuggera, Jagera and Turrubul land, that the Festival is held on, has always been a place of storytelling.

I spent most of my Festival in kuril dhagun.  It’s an intimate, inviting space. I got to walk through the Deadly Threads exhibit before taking a seat overlooking the Brisbane River. Then I got to listen to conversations between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander storytellers where they discussed their work and their lives in ways that didn’t reduce them to, or deny, their indigeneity. Discussions flowed from craft to culture, from the writing process to the politics of writing in Language without awkwardness or placing one above another.  This made for really rich discussion through a First Nations paradigm.

I met many wonderful, intelligent people. I spent too much money on fantastic Australian books. Most importantly I was inspired by the show of blak excellence at BWF.

Nadia’s Highlights:

Biting the Clouds

Badtjala academic, Dr Fiona Foley discussed her book Biting the Clouds. Her talk was interspersed with anecdotes about the politics of creating Blak art in a coloniser’s world.  I went and bought this book immediately. Biting the Clouds is about the history Indigenous people being taken to K’Gari (Fraser Island) against their will and being paid for their labour in opium. This is an important part of history that has gone largely unacknowledged until now. Of all the books I bought at BWF, this is the one I am most excited about reading.

Fire Country

When you sit down and yarn with someone who is deeply rooted in their Culture you feel a particular energy. You feel grounded and you feel their ancestors in the room communing with your own, this is how I felt hearing Yuwaalaraay author, Nardi Simpson, discuss her book Song of the Crocodile. It’s also how I felt sitting on the Queensland Terrace listening to Victor Steffenson talk to Rhianna Patrick about Fire Country. Victor, who is from the Tagalaka people of Northern Queensland, was honest, raw, and full of wisdom. I am looking forward to the follow-up book to Fire Country.


Nadia Johansen is an Editor Intern with State Library's black&write! project. The black&write! project was established to train First Nations editors to work in the Australian publishing industry, and to support First Nations authors in their career development.


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