First Nations Women Shine Bright at the QLD Literary Awards

In September this year, the Queensland Literary Awards honoured Indigenous literature with a number of First Nations women taking home awards. The awards celebrate outstanding writers from QLD and around Australia in both published and unpublished categories. Among the six First Nations writers to take home awards were Gunai woman Kirli Saunders, Yuwaalaraay woman Nardi Simpson and Badtjala woman Dr Fiona Foley (State Library of Queensland). This is such an incredible achievement for each of these talented writers, and such a significant moment for First Nations literature!

QLD Literary Awards. Courtesy of State Library Queensland, 2021.

Kirli Saunders

Gunai poet, painter and playwright Kirli Saunders was awarded the Children’s Book Award for her illustrated children’s novel, Bindi. The verse novel was pictorialised by Bigambul man Dub Leffler, one of Australia’s most sought-after illustrators of children’s literature (Magabala Book, 2021). On top of this award, Bindi won the 2021 Australian Book Industry Award (ABIA), Small Publishers’ Children’s Book of the Year and was shortlisted for the 2021 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year awards for young readers. 

Bindi by Kirli Saunders. Courtesy of Magabala Books, 2021.

The verse novel for mid-upper primary students is written from the point of view of eleven year old girl, Bindi. Bindi’s school year doesn’t go to plan and her home town on Gundungurra Country faces the power and devastation of drought and bushfires. The moral of this story explains how, although a crisis like this can be devastating, it can also bring a community together and create a shared sense of hope and belonging (Underground Writers, 2021). 

The incredible part about the work is that it’s written in both Gundungauura language and English. This inclusion of both languages makes Bindi a book perfect for educating both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children (Underground Writers, 2021). 

Nardi Simpson

Song of the Crocodile. Courtesy of The Au Review, 2021.

Yuwaalaraay writer, educator, composer and musician Nardi Simpson was awarded the UQ Fiction Book Award for her debut novel, Song of the Crocodile. This debut novel was also a 2018 winner of the black&write! writing fellowship. As a founding member of the Indigenous folk duo Stiff Gins, Simpson has been performing nationally and internationally for 20 years (Hachette Australia, 2021). 

Song of the Crocodile explores the themes of Aboriginal sovereignty, survival, strength and connection. The story follows the Billymil family and their ancestral guides as tensions in the town of Darnmoor threaten their way of life. This beautiful novel is written in a lyrical and evocative style that really connects readers with the characters. Full of Yuwaalaraay language and exquisite description, the novel talks of change and the importance of the land that sustains us all (State Library of Queensland, 2021).  

Dr Fiona Foley

Badtjala visual artist, researcher and writer Dr Fiona Foley was awarded the 2021 QLD Premier’s Award for a work of State Significance for her book, Biting the Clouds. Dr Foley also received the State Library inaugural 2020 Monica Clare Research Fellowship for the book. As a proud Badtjala woman from K’gari (Fraser Island), Dr Foley’s artistic practice and research are based around her strong connection to country and culture (Griffith University, 2021). It was this strong connection to her country and her people that led her to writing Biting the Clouds.

Biting the Clouds. Courtesy of UQP, 2021.

The book is a historical account of the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act, 1897. It tells the story of how opium was used to coerce labour from Indigenous people. Dr Foley shines a light on the little known practice of paying Indigenous workers in opium and then displacing them to K’gari. Biting the Clouds is a reclamation of the Badtjala story, told in a unique way through both artwork and text (Good Reads, 2020). To further explore this time in history, Dr Foley has also curated a public art installation at the State Library of Queensland called, Black Opium.  

Here at Yarn, we’d like to extend a huge congratulations to each of these talented Indigenous writers and all of the Queensland Literary Award winners. First Nations literature is growing and finally gaining the recognition it deserves. As expressed by Kirli Suanders in an interview with NIT (2021): 

“There is so much power in Blak publishing, and so much power in us telling, holding and sharing our stories.”