By Anita Heiss, Charmaine Papertalk Green and Zoë Sadokierski
Since Charmaine Papertalk Green’s poetry was first published in The Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets in 1986, her voice on the page has been consistent: eloquently powerful, respectfully challenging and true to her role in life as a Yamaji Nyarlu. Nganajungu Yagu is no different, considering, as it does, respect for ancestors, connection to country, the role of the poet and Yamaji identity.
The writing in Nganajungu Yagu is dedicated to Papertalk Green’s mother, and is built around a series of selected correspondence between her and her mother; each provides a deeply personal insight into not only their relationship, but the cultural, political and social landscape of her Yamaji country during the 1970s.
As Papertalk Green writes, these are ‘not just letters’. Rather, they create a tangible story and bond between Yagu and Daughter, and gently remind us of the sacrifices made by most of our matriarchs over time. Each letter and response provide not only a ‘mark of existence’ for the writer but a medium for mother and daughter to connect while at a distance. Her gift is one that makes us pause and reflect on our own behaviours. The love and respect penned here will inspire readers of any age and identity to think about the ways we engage people we love through words. Or, more importantly, the ways we should engage.
The revival of letters here not only reminds me of the nearly lost art of letter-writing, but the impact a letter has on its receiver. ‘I could feel the love hugs springing off the paper’, she writes in ‘Paper Love’.
I challenge any reader to put this book down and not feel compelled to write a letter to someone in their life – past or present.
It is through the bilingual poem ‘Walgajunmanha All Time’ that Papertalk Green clarifies her role as a First Nations writer, and I honour her for keeping our people, our stories and the Yamaji language on the literary radar and accessible to all readers through her poetry. When the academy, the literati and festival directors discuss Australian poetry in the years to come, they should all have Nganajungu Yagu on the top of their lists, and Papertalk Green as a key voice in the poetic landscape.
In the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, Nganajungu Yagu is a work of cultural significance and educational influence. As I closed this book for the first time, I found myself circling back in my mind to a number of phrases. Those that keep recurring are –
Yagu, I always remembered the beauty of our culture
despite the racism seen in every step I took along years
culture love was and is the anchor for everything done.
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Anita Heiss is the author of non-fiction, historical fiction, commercial women’s fiction, poetry, social commentary and travel articles. She is a Lifetime Ambassador of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and a proud member of the Wiradjuri nation of central NSW. She was a finalist in the 2012 Human Rights Awards and the 2013 Australian of the Year Awards. She lives in Brisbane.
More by Anita Heiss on Cordite Poetry Review →
Charmaine Papertalk Green is from the Wajarri, Badimaya and Southern Yamaji peoples of Mid West Western Australia. She has lived and worked in rural Western Australia (Mid West and Pilbara) most of her life, and within the Aboriginal sector industry as a community agitator, artist/poet, community development practitioner and social sciences researcher. Her poetry has appeared in Antipodes, Artlink Magazine, Cordite Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review and The Lifted Brow, as well as in the anthologies The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry, Inside Black Australia: An Anthology of Aboriginal Poetry, Ora Nui: A Collection of Maori and Aboriginal Literature, The Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets and Those Who Remain Will Always Remember: An Anthology of Aboriginal Writing. She lives in Geraldton, Western Australia.
More by Charmaine Papertalk Green on Cordite Poetry Review →
Zoë Sadokierski is a Sydney-based designer and writer. She has designed more than 250 books for various Australian publishers, and is Vice President of the Australian Book Designers Association. Zoë lectures in the School of Design at the University of Technology, Sydney, where she runs the Page Screen research studio, experimenting with publication models for limited edition print and digital books. She also writes a column on book culture and reading in a digital age for The Conversation.