Saturday, March 12, 2016

Narrative Witness 2 - Indigenous Peoples, Australia and New Zealand

In fall 2015, 32 indigenous writers and photographers from across Australia and the United States came together in an online exchange to create fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and photography centered on a theme of "narrative witness." Led by writing and photography workshop facilitators, the group workshopped their photo essays and texts online over the course of two months. Reflecting on her experience in the workshop, Australian participant Timmah Ball said, “Narrative Witness was a powerful experience and opportunity to see the parallels and enduring legacy of colonization in both America and Australia. Workshopping my ideas with other first nation writers was enriching; allowing me to push some of the issues I have been wanting to explore even further.” More information on the exchange can be found on the International Writing Program’s website.

The International Writing Program is proud to present the collected work of Narrative Witness: Indigenous Peoples, Australia-United States

So excited my story is published alongside these amazing international artist and writers. 

Official launch will be Tuesday 15th March, but you may read now. 

See all the amazing work -




"Talk about laugh!" Every time I hear this from an aunty or cousin, usually accompanied by a raucous 
laugh, I know that a hilarious yarn is to follow. My mob use this phrase to precede a funny story. It’s 
not just the content that makes my family's stories funny. It’s the way my mob tells them. The 
language my cousins use, the accompanying theatrical gestures of my aunties and uncles – the 
performances that have audiences hypnotised with enjoyment, titillation and laughter. Exuding a 
natural ability that can outshine the best comedians, they combine a set of perfectly timed 
ingredients that produce the best type of laughter. The kind that makes your belly ache and your 
eyes flood with happy tears.

"Ah ya wonder why you’re black".

Then out of nowhere, you’re hit with an ending to a story personifying the genre of Blak humour. Sound strange? Not really. Not if you’re from peoples and a culture that are used to oppression, 
familiar with discrimination, and accustomed to inexplicable change. What may sound like jokes 
of self-disparagement are in fact lessons in intelligence, humility and strength. The lesson of survival 
inherited through humour has been passed down to me through generations. Talk about laugh…


Empathy was never a preference for my father as a parenting method. Yet my tear filled eyes 
elicited some form of loving wisdom as I whined.

"She’s calling me an Abo".

"So", he laughed. "You are!"

Tough love is what my parents and grandparents grew up with, and hence it is what my brother and I 
grew up with, too. It was something we didn’t appreciate at the time, but are definitely grateful for on reflection.

Sharon (Shazza) Davidson was the typical golden blonde, blue-eyed, tanned Australian girl. The 
archetype portrayed in tourism campaigns that reinforce the sun kissed, athletic, beach going Aussie stereotype. She had her own clique, miss popular, excelled in sport, teacher's pet, and an A student. 
Sharon had also been my personal bully from day one at my new school. It's an understatement to say 
that the outer seaside suburb of Brisbane got a bit of a surprise when an Aboriginal family moved 
into the neighbourhood. The government’s 1970s integrated housing plan enabled minority groups to 
do more than add just a bit of colour to the place, that’s for sure. Little did Sharon (Shazza) Davidson 
know, I was about to burst her bubble.

Dad’s broad grin projected the question, "So what’s the problem?" It made me feel like I was in the 
wrong for being upset. I had to re-evaluate. I sat back in my seat, as confusion set in. 
Could I be wrong?

"Don’t worry about her. Just focus on your running", he said.

I looked across the breakfast table at my mother whose smile preceded her maternal explanation.

"It’s just short for Aboriginal". A new transforming perspective smoothed out my frowning face.

My breathing muted all sound as I tried to keep my pace to the end of the race. Motion seemed to 
slow as I threw my arms in the air, crossing the finishing line in first place of the 200-metre sprint at 
my Grade 3 Sports Carnival. Second place must have felt like a decade away for Sharon (Shazza) 
Davidson. I moved to the sideline and sculled a whole cup of orange cordial whilst waiting for her. 
I crossed the line so far in front that my Aunties’ post race jokes amused us for days later.

"Haaaa we could’ve had lunch and an afternoon nap waiting for that Shazza to finish", cackled 
my Aunty Ninny.

All the school staff and locals were surprised and stunned that the new kid, an Aboriginal, stole the 
crown of fastest sprinter from the local golden girl. I stood so proudly on the podium to receive the 
first place trophy from my disingenuous teacher, Mr. Monty. The same Mr. Monty whose own 
covert racism enabled constant in-class bullying. He blatantly ignored a table of kids’, including 
Sharon’s, racist verbal abuse of me. Their taunting faces are still embedded in my mind. Only when 
inconvenienced at the sound of my uncontrollable crying did Mr. Monty address the issue at the end 
of class with...

"Now you guys! Angelina is just like the rest of us".

My mob’s enthusiasm was second to none. Their yelling and cheering drowned out the 
carnival’s MC. Sharon’s stature literally shrunk as she stood in second place on the podium next 
to me. I remember staring back at her with a smirk and thinking...

She called me an Abo. So!


Mum and Aunty Dot casually maneuvered their trolley through a crowd of frantically crazed 
shoppers. Our normally serene local supermarket resembled a major outlet’s end of year sale. 
Self-absorbed panic replaced any form of social etiquette as products flew off the shelves.

Shopping trips are more than just a chore for Mum and Aunty Dot. They are outings, an event, and 
an excuse to catch up on gossip.

"Mmm look who's coming", whispered Aunty Dot. A divorcĂ©e in a tight dress and heels is always fair 

"She shouldn't be wearing dresses that short at her age. They should be knee length at least!" Mum 
pointed out.

"Yeah! She should be wearing a dress like mine, hey", said Aunty Dot.

In disbelief Mum looked her sister up and down. She wasn't fond of Aunty Dot's attire either. Mum 
never can understand why Aunty has to wear those multi coloured floral Islander dresses just 
because she is married to an Islander.

"Whatever Dot", said Mum.

Their focus quickly changed back to the task at hand.

"People just go crazy when this stuff happens", said Mum.

"Yeah migaloos, see, stupid", said Aunty Dot.

I followed behind them giggling as they continued their commentary down aisle after deserted aisle. As we turned the corner into the bread aisle they suddenly stopped. The atmosphere sang the theme from 
‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’, as a woman stood poised with her trolley at the other end. On a 
shelf half way down the aisle was a lone loaf of bread, the last of the stock. With no warning, 
the woman rushed at the loaf of bread sweeping it into her trolley, and flew straight past us with 
a look of triumph. Mum and Aunty Dot simply shook their heads with a shared bemused look. My 
mother and Aunty had no intention of grabbing the final loaf of bread. They had their own plan.

"People panic too much", said Mum.

"This mob are all womba", laughed Aunty Dot.

We passed a bunch of shoppers arguing over the last carton of milk in the refrigerated section as 
we found the aisle we were looking for.

"Here we go", stated Aunty Dot.

"Yeah this is all we need", said Mum.

We managed to make it to the checkout amongst all the craziness. Other shoppers queued with trolleys 
stacked with loaves of bread, cartons of milk, bottles of water, toilet paper, batteries and 
canned food. Amongst perplexed onlookers we unloaded our trolley of packets of flour, and 
a mix of powdered and long life milk. The glances of pretentious judgment and bewilderment that 
annoyed me went totally unnoticed by Mum and Aunty Dot.

We sat back and watched TV in a lounge room filled with the aroma of freshly baked damper. I 
placed a freshly brewed pot of tea in the middle of the table, as we got an update from the local 
news and weather report…
"Supermarkets quickly sold out of all essential foods and supplies today, in anticipation of Cyclone Sam. Locals are battening down the hatches as Sam is due to reach the mainland at approximately midnight tonight. The bad weather is predicted for at least another week".
"Well I hope that white woman’s one loaf of bread lasts her. I can make heaps of bread, damper, 
and scones out of just one packet of flour, and litres of powdered milk", said Aunty Dot.

"Yep that’s right hey Dot, we can feed the mob for weeks", laughed Mum.

Revelling in their wisdom, I grinned as I watched Mum and Aunty Dot smugly devour jam drenched
damper and cups of tea.

The sound of thunder and rain slowly rolled in.


"‘The Wind Beneath My Wings!’ I was thinking I could sing that song after the Eulogy. Just here 
before the pastor’s speech", insisted Aunty Kay.

I know that funerals are a time of mourning and songs of joy aren't exactly appropriate. But what is it 
with our mobs’ habit of stringing a medley of tunes together that stretches out the sadness to the 
point of exhaustion and dehydration? I wasn't going to let that happen at Dad's funeral. His 
favourite bands, The Beatles, The Eagles and The Rolling Stones, were all that was going to be heard.

"The Wind Beneath My Wings", a favourite of Aunty Kay’s, was regularly sung on her karaoke 
circuit. She stood behind me, pointing at the computer screen as I type up the draft proceedings 
for Dad’s funeral. I looked up to see the faces of three cousins gasping in horror at the suggestion. 
With silent facial protests targeted at me, my Mum entered the room at the opportune moment.

"Mum! Aunty Kay has offered to sing at the funeral", I said.

"What?! Oh I dunno Kay, let’s just wait and see hey. A lot of people want to pay tribute, so maybe 
at the end, or at the wake hey", said Mum.

Aunty Kay was a little taken aback, but totally undeterred as she launched into an explanation of 
how Dad always loved her singing. I stealthily deleted her name off the proceedings, as she emptied 
the room with her spontaneous rendition of ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’. Dad never liked her 
singing. In fact, he hated it. She never could quite sing in tune. He often threatened during the 
claims of boredom by my brother and myself that...

"Well, we can go down to watch Aunty Kay sing at the local RSL", he used to cackle. It was a 
suggestion to which an alternative was always quickly found.

Sorry Business is never easy. The protocols, behaviour and expectations all impacted on my ability 
to simply mourn on the day. Duty, obligation, strength and order all weighed heavily on my soul. 
Can’t I just laugh; can’t I just cry; can’t I be angry; can’t I just lie? We couldn’t afford an expensive 
coffin, but as it passed down the aisle everyone admired it’s beauty, painted and decorated by his best 
friend’s hand. All black, it was covered with the tools of his visual artist trade paintbrushes, paint 
tubes, a pallet, and spatulas. It was crowned with one of Dad’s prints, the totem of our family clan, 
Gnyala the Owl.

As the church doors opened to let us exit a room filled with sobbing and tears, in the eucalypt trees, 
a murder of crows appeared. As Aunty Kay pounced on her opportunity to sing and took the podium, 
apt and on cue the crows squawking drowned her out and killed the unscheduled tune. Dad’s coffin 
got loaded into the hearse and my sorrow turned to laughter, as I whispered...

"Ha ha ha, thanks Dad!"

Like most, it’s in solitude that I sit back and reflect on life, happy that karma takes care of things 
like anger, jealousy and spite. I laugh out loud to myself a lot, and on occasion fear that others may 
think my humour is queer. Racism, survival and sorrow are just a few of the obstacles we as 
Aboriginal peoples have had to endure. Humour has enabled me to never wonder why I am black, 
but to live with pride and without regret. Humour is our healing. It’s been our salvation. For this 
inherited gift, to my Dad, my Mum, my Elders, my family, my mob, I applaud you and am grateful.

Click on Comments to add or view them.


  1. What a publishing coup! Great to read those items.

  2. Anne-Marie PlunkettMarch 12, 2016 at 1:40 PM

    Congratulations Angelina. This is a wonderful achievement. Missing you in NY!

  3. Congratulations Angelina!!

  4. Congratulations Sis X Your iwp story is great sis I have just read it and chuckling to myself lol great work from the school, supermarket and the wings beneath my wings lol.

  5. Nice one Ange!! Congratulations!

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Fantastic luvee!! Just stated the reading...Congratulations!! Red x

  8. Read your story my cuz. Very impressive kept thinking how is Shazza and Aunty Kaye might think of themselves immortalised in your musings. Want to punch the racist teacher though...

  9. Great work Angie!! So excited to read. Too deadly! xx

  10. Rosemary JohnstonMarch 12, 2016 at 3:29 PM

    This is wonderful, Angelina!

  11. Good read cuz nicely done congrats !!

  12. Talk about laugh alright. Smiling as I read and remember the days. Didn't know you were that sad at school I would have come and .... those kids but seems like you knew how to handle them eventually. Uncle never did let things worry him - just get on with it. Thanks for sharing Ange Pange.x

  13. Congratulations Cus. Good read! Look forward to more.

  14. Nganyamea Nagarra TorresMarch 12, 2016 at 3:34 PM

    Congrats sis....

  15. Tracey Kathleen CooperMarch 12, 2016 at 3:44 PM

    Well done.

  16. Congratulations!! This is wonderful news.

  17. Kia ora Angelina!

    You are an absolute genius!

    Much aroha and respect.

  18. Dr Jessica Milner DavisMarch 12, 2016 at 4:05 PM

    Sincere congratulations! I'm delighted you are being recognized as you deserve!

    It's a shame that the latest AHSN Humour Studies Digest has just gone out, but I shall post this in next month's to make sure our members know about it and your evolving work.

  19. Genevieve GrievesMarch 12, 2016 at 4:07 PM

    Yay! Very exciting!! Congratulations sis xxx Just read it...Beautiful xxx

  20. Loved reading your stories Angela, it was such a great read and kept me engaged from the moment I started reading until the end.

    Certainly bought back memories of my own childhood but the thing I do recall with the damper scenario was our mum making it late at night and us kids hoeing into it while it was still hot loaded up with margarine and vegemite...end result heart burn.

    Thanks for sharing in advance and congratulations deadly woman keep up your great work!!
    Hope you are keeping well.

    Xo - Glenda

  21. Thank you for sharing – I love reading your work!

    Could really relate to the running at school and being the poor black kid flogging the white girls in the little athletics squad lol… and Dad’s funeral – we had to navigate around avoiding open mic at the funeral service so that certain uncles wouldn’t use the opportunity for alter call bless! I think the significance of humour in how it protects black bodies can not be underestimated – it has been part of my armoury and a means for reclaiming a sense of agency most definitely. Even as a parent, mocking migloo ways has been an apparatus for positive racial socialisation - instilling a healthy sense of identity in a social world in which our identity only ever has negative connotations.

    I love how you tell a yarn and the places it takes the reader.

  22. Wow! You are such a high achiever. Well, I'll be there in spirit, Angelina!
    Congratulations once again. I shall look forward to reading your story.

  23. Congratulations Angela a great effort!

    Will certainly read.

  24. Angelina congratulations! This is totally fantastic news! Well done! You are a talented writer and you deserve this for all your hard work and commitment!

  25. Well done Ang.

  26. Too deadly cuz...luv ur work!!

  27. congratulations

  28. Hello dear Angelina

    Lovely article, nice to think about your Dad too, and you.

  29. Good one Angie - loved the supermarket.

  30. Congratulations Ange!

  31. Patricia Penn HILDENMarch 12, 2016 at 4:28 PM

    Yay Angelina!!! Can't wait to read this!

  32. Anthony NewcastleMarch 12, 2016 at 4:34 PM

    Angelina thank you so much for sharing your writings. Laughed out loud as I could picture your mum and Aunty with their trolley in the shops. Am sure too every black family has a "Karaoke Aunty" who believes karaoke is a skill or gift that must be shared. Loved lesson 3.

  33. Congratulations Angelina, that is wonderful news. Thank you so much for sharing Ange, the visuals as I read your words were amazing. I was angry at Shazza, I smiled with your Aunts and your Mum and
    shed a tear when you said good bye toy our Dad. Your words are precious, and truly beautiful.

  34. Well done. It's brilliant. You are so talented X

  35. Nice work. Congratulations.

  36. Solid my sista Angelina Hurley!!

  37. Thanks! I really enjoyed this and it made me think of home and my own folks....Grandma and Grandpa, the funny ones...and my dad who always joked and...
    We are lucky.

  38. Well done! Some great stories in there Ange. Thanks for sharing. KJ

  39. Congratulations and thanks Angelina for sharing this wonderful story. I too am a great believer in humour both for enjoyment and therapy! Please keep writing and sharing: we all benefit from it in our own different ways.

    Thanks again

  40. Thanks for sharing this Angelina - great to start the day by reading some fantastic writing!


  41. Congrats Angelina!!

    Narrative Witness looks great, look forward to reading it.


  42. Shannon FaulkheadMarch 14, 2016 at 6:07 PM


  43. Congratulations gerl!! Long time coming J (Got the book notice)!!

  44. Dear Ang,

    I absolutely love your Inheritance of Humour pieces in Narrative Witness, especially the one about your Dad's send off. really funny, powerful and touching story telling.

    Thanks so much for sharing, congrats again! It's so brilliant to see real stories with such a strong voice out in the world to teach with, learn from and listen to,


  45. You are a woman of great talent keep up the good work. You will go from good to great. Beautifully written piece of work. I can definitely relate to what u wrote myself. I come from a Greek-Cypriot background came to Australia at the age of 3 many years ago (I am 65 now) I had/have olive skin although not so dark now. But when I was young my skin was very dark and I was often called an "Abo". Being quite shy and sensitive I used to get upset cry And hated going to school. My mum (God rest her soul) would always tell me to be strong and ignore the remarks. She was strong and would go to the school and complain to the headmaster on my behalf. I remember some of who I thought were my worst enemies became my best friends.

    Congratulations Angelina well done.

  46. Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed it. Congratulations on the publication.


  47. I love the way you talk about humor! Can I use this site for introducing narrative discourses to my students? Well done.

  48. So pleased to learn of this. Looking forward to the read.

  49. Jennifer FoersterMarch 17, 2016 at 1:44 PM

    This is really a wonderful piece. Your structure of three lessons is effective. Each lesson is succinct, funny, touching, and detailed – provides just enough information for a good story and also a real commentary on serious issues of racism, survival, and sorrow. Thank you, Angelina!

  50. WOW Angelina ,

    This is stunning writing and I really love how you have shaped the voices. I defintely could walk into the story and look around. All three lessons are very moving and I am sure we can all find something in this that we relate to. Humour is a great tool , as you know. It is skillful and can have a real ability to get people thinking . I loved this lesson the most. I am but a novice in this writing buisness , I learnt a lot from reading your work , the clarity of images and the way things are described . Really good work . I will read it all again to absorb more and look forward to reading other work you do. Thanks a lot and thanks for your comment on my rather raw exposing peice.

  51. Angeline, I loved these!

    It is so good to see someone using humor when dealing with the very real issues of racism and loss that affect our indigenous communities every day. Your use of humor is so natural, so appropriate in each circumstance, that it easily communicates with the reader. It amuses and teaches. And it portrays aboriginal people as winners, reminds us that Native people can be in control of their own lives and not perennial victims! Wligen! Good! It reminds me of some of the writing of such serious Canadian Native authors as my friends Drew Hayden Taylor and Tom King--two guys who really know how to use laughter to get across some powerful messages.

    By the way, I'd love to see a whole collection of your essays. I really got to like your family from those three pieces and I want to get to know them more!

  52. Wai Angelina, I love your writing and really hope that you continue writing. I can see a novel being created here, the experiences that we all have suffered and endure today, the Murri (Aboriginal) humour, the generational dialogue. You have captured this very well. Each section stands as a short story, together there is a longer narrative for Young Adult Fiction. Keep writing!

  53. This is so good! I related to it so much the stories are so similar to my families experiences. I absolutely love the way you have structured it with headings it frames it so well and makes the themes and ideas really strong. Are you going to continue with this narrative structure? I would love to see Humour vrs Anger or Humour vrs Happiness.

  54. Wonderful work, Angelina! It seems humour is the one defense mechanism Aboriginal people always have that no one can take away!

    Your descriptions of your family is so warm and personable, that I visualised my own Aunty Dot when I was reading. The way they laughed at the womba people shopping etc...totally got that! We do the same thing and smugly laugh at panic shoppers too!

    And so yes, it makes me want to read more about your family too!

    Looking forward to seeing more of your work! Thank you for this small glimpse in to our ways!

  55. Sharon MununggurrMarch 17, 2016 at 1:53 PM

    Angelina thanks so much for sharing , i could relate to so many things in this story , i read it with a tear in my eye and also a laugh at times. Great writing and looking forward to more of your work .

  56. While reading this piece, I found my voice singing which makes me smile because there’s poetry in your words. Thank you for this opportunity to view your work. I found it fascinating to read about another culture (outside of the US) and how they deal with racism. The other day I was called a redskin. In a way, I was appalled but stood my ground with the white man; yet, his words hurt me. Your words reminded me of my own as it worked in vignettes with titles. I liked that the titled directed me in the direction of humour being the anecdote, the solution to sadness, racism, and survival. Once again, thank you.

  57. thanks Angelina. This is a really good insight into your own family way of deflecting what is inappropriate, and also focusing on what is important instead.

  58. Allison Hedge CokeMarch 17, 2016 at 1:57 PM

    Love the tension play in the sections. This has rich content and exceptional potential.

  59. Wow! That article is amazing! Thanks so much for sharing!

  60. Good one, Angelina!

  61. Hey, read your story - it’s lovely - captures something very real and funny about your family. I bet they loved it. Nice one - good luck with everything, hope you’re still beating the Shazza’s of this world.