Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia by Anita Heiss


Anita Heiss compiled these 50 short pieces by Aboriginal people in Australia and has gathered a pleasingly varied anthology of voices. I read that some of the stories are by well-known figures, but they were all unknown to me. Some were successful in sports, some are musicians, some were quite young. I loved them all and grew addicted to the six readers.

Many spoke of their parents’ generation’s experiences in that horror, the Stolen Generation. Multiple times mothers were described as having broken lives as they were taken from family and reassigned new lives that didn’t work. One theme that was notable was how many spoke of being asked what percentage Aboriginal they were and how offensive they found that. In US racism percentages are not a question; it’s about the one drop of blood. Many spoke about being blond with fair skin and having the Aboriginal aspect of their lives diminished. Some spoke of valuing both their Aboriginal origins and their Irish (or other) heritages. The experiences are sometimes heart-breaking, sometimes inspirational, often both.

One story pointed out to me that there are some things even more unknown to me than the experience of racism. A woman looked back at her pre-teen experience of an evening when she and her friends were dressing up as particular Spice Girls. She was told by the dominant girl that she must be Scary Spice, presumably because she was Aboriginal and was assigned a less favored Spice Girl. She wanted to be Baby Spice, and had the support of her mother, who told her that in this matter and in her life, she could be whoever she wants to be. She says, “Fairy godmother just wanted Cinderella to get on with things and go to the goddam ball.” She used glitter hairspray that night and noted as an aside, “I really need glitter hairspray back in my life.” Someone that night asked her if she was Scary Spice. She was amazed at that:  “At what point did Scary wear pink or flowers, for that matter?” So educational.

I loved hearing this book and loved the warmth expressed for the families and extended families of people. It was a privilege to hear those stories.

Anita Heiss, Growing up Aboriginal in Australia, Black, Inc., 2018, 320 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available through Amazon.

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