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Blackfulla Book Club shines light on First Nations writers and storytellers

Rachael Knowles -

Two deadly tiddas, movers and shakers Teela Reid and Merinda Dutton have created an Instagram page to share and celebrate blackfulla storytelling.

Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman, Reid and Gumbaynggirr and Barkindji woman, Dutton, created @blackfulla_bookclub in response to COVID-19 isolation.

Lawyers by day and avid readers always, Dutton and Reid are hoping to share their love of blak literature with the world.

"It is about connecting to people in a time where we have the potential to feel really disconnected and isolated," Dutton said.

Both Reid and Dutton have fond memories of sharing stories around the campfire from a young age and their platform, at its core, is a celebration of blackfulla storytelling in all its forms.

"One of our biggest messages is celebrating Aboriginal stories and Aboriginal voices. And to us, [it's about] accepting and placing value on the way that Aboriginal people tell stories ... we tell them in different ways that don't necessarily comply with the white man's rules about what is right and who is a good writer," Dutton said.

"It is a platform that remembers our ancestors are the original storytellers and that First Nations languages matter," added Reid.

"It is about creating a safe space to share blackfulla stories and it is about mob empowering one another through their storytelling."

"The page also has the intention to support mob in their own writing and encourages them to be brave and put pen to paper," Reid said.

"The writer's world can be an intimidating space, because a lot of our stories were not always put on paper, they are written into the landscape and passed down orally around the campfire."

Within two weeks of their first post on April 5, the women created a community of over a thousand people.

"The engagement with the @blackfulla_bookclub has been a really nice reminder that we can stay connected through our stories, it is something we have always done," Reid said.

"It's clear mob love to read lots; especially stories that connect them to Country and ancestors that enable a sense of healing. And it's clear non-Aboriginal people have a lust to learn the truth-telling of First Nations stories in Australia."

Dutton (L) and Reid (R) are sharing their love for books with mob on Instagram. Photos via Instagram.

"I've been so surprised how much people will message, and people have said, 'I've ordered that book you posted!'" Dutton said.

"And it's even started to morph into other ideas, people want us to do a blog and we are talking to other pages about book swapping. It is evolving every day."

The pair have started a Zoom book club and followers have proposed the idea of 'mob street libraries' which will enable the sharing of books in community.

Both Dutton and Reid have found connection in some of the books already shared on their page.

Dutton is currently reading Ellen Van Neerven's book, Heat and Light.

"At the moment I'm halfway through it, but you know those books that really make you feel things?" she said.

"It is a short story collection ... I just have to step back; I'm so connected to the way she writes."

Reid spoke of her love for the trailblazing book, Talkin' up to the White Woman: Indigenous Women and Feminism by Aileen Moreton-Robinson.

"Growing up, I'd heard the concept of feminism, but I always just thought it was a concept for white women because I never ever saw myself growing up wanting to tear down the patriarchyâ€"although that has certainly changed now. I understand now how power and privilege works," she said.

"As a black woman having grown up in a strong matriarchal family, I never related to the role of white feminism. For me, our struggle for sovereignty and land rights is inextricably linked to the struggle alongside our black brothers.

"A lot of those feelings that are unpacked in Moreton-Robinson's book; I feel in my day job as a lawyer.

"You are constantly grinding the system; you are constantly pushing back and being a voice for your client. Or you are personally being judged because you don't fit the profile of what a lawyer should look like, or speak like, or dress like.

"For me, black feminism is not about climbing the ladder to the top, it's about shaking the system to its core."

"[Talkin' up to the White Woman] has brought more clarity around my own personal journey ... I think we are yet to see the real systemic impact of First Nations feminism in Australia that directly speaks truth to power."

Talkin' up to the White Woman helped Reid better understand her personal journey with feminism. Photos via Instagram.

Dutton and Reid also share children's picture books on @blackfulla_bookclub, which are particularly popular.

"This should be core learning and reading for all kids whether they are black or white. At school ... we were told that Aboriginal stories were just myths. It made us believe that these were not real or true and I think that is a deep flaw in the way in which these stories were treated in the education system," Reid said.

"Blackfulla kids' stories that focus on the Dreamtime bear powerful narratives about how the world was created and empower children to trust their instincts and follow their intuitionâ€"their inner voice. These kids are going to have [a much] better understanding of truth, creation and connection to ancestors.

"If every Australian sat down and connected with a Dreamtime story not just as a sidenote, but something deep within their centre, they would understand these are powerful stories that connect them [on] a deeper level to this ancient land and to a bigger sense of kinship."

In a time of isolation, @blackfulla_bookclub has created a space of healing for those following and those leading.

"It has been a good reminder for me about reconnecting with myself and that fast-paced life that we normally lead, which sometimes doesn't let you connect with parts of yourself or be reflective about who you are and what you value," Dutton said.

"At its core, it is honouring our ancestors and remembering their stories through our storytelling and languages. Not allowing COVID-19 or isolation to stop our movement forward for truth and justice," said Reid.

To stay up to date with all of Dutton and Reid's recommendations, follow @blackfulla_bookclub on Instagram.

By Rachael Knowles


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