Putting mob’s voices first, Magabala Books has been crowned Small Publisher of the Year at the 2020 Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA).

Based in Broome, Western Australia, Magabala has published over 220 titles by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creatives, illustrators and writers. Their work has escalated First Nations writing within Australia.

“This award is the culmination of 33 years of hard work. All those years ago, our Elders and cultural leaders showed such courage, vision and determination to establish Magabala Books. We dedicate this award to those Elders, and to all our storytellers, authors and illustrators from around Australia,” said Magabala Chairperson Edie Wright.

Magabala strives to build a culturally safe space for creation.

“[At] Magabala that is one of our strengths, we are able to support, mentor, [and] provide scholarships and professional development for our creators; to help them when they come to Magabala with a germ of an idea,” Wright said.

“We have always felt strongly that Magabala is, and must remain, a place where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can stand in their own truths,” said Magabala Publisher, Rachel Bin Salleh.

“This means being prepared to challenge the status quo, breaking down stereotypes, and never assuming that great stories need to emerge from ‘literate’ individuals and communities.”

“For Magabala, it has always been a complex juggling act of cultural, social and economic objectives. Whilst last year was the most successful in terms of sales, this award is also recognition of the breadth of what we do, including our extensive creative development work all over Australia.”

Magabala also had titles on the ABIA shortlist this year. These included Bruce Pascoe’s Young Dark Emu for Book of the Year for Younger Children; Kirli Saunders’ Kindred for Small Publisher’s Adult Book of the Year and Sally Morgan and Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr’s Little Bird’s Day for Small Publisher’s Children’s Book of the Year.

Jane Seymour’s Baby Business, and Jasmine Seymour and Leanne Mulgo Watson’s Cooee Mittigar, were also on the ABIA longlist.

“It thrills me to see Magabala recognised by the ABIA 2020 Awards for Small Publisher of the Year. Magabala are the leaders in Australia’s First Nations publishing, with their culturally safe, reciprocal and careful projects that honour our people, stories, languages, landscapes and cultures,” said Gunai creative, Kirli Saunders, whose shortlisted book was published by Magabala.

“I feel honoured to have been nurtured by them and would not be the writer I am without Magabala’s ongoing support and encouragement!”

Moving into the future, Magabala hopes to continue delivering scholarships and mentor programs.

“We want to really bed that down and really support the wealth of talent out there that may have been lost had we not had these opportunities through our philanthropic and cultural programs,” Wright said.

“Another area we want to really bed down is the education area. I think Australia is starting to really appreciate Indigenous literature from an Indigenous perspective, which only we can write.

“We can only write our stories, and our sorrows. Our happiness and our humanity, white people can’t do that.

“We are on a journey now and there’s no holding back. People like Kim Scott, he was the first Indigenous Miles Franklin, and now you have Melissa Lucashenko with Too Much Lip. We are on that roll and there’s no going back!”

By Rachael Knowles