The Kids' Bookshop sat down with Anita Heiss to discuss her novel Our Race for Reconciliation.
1. As an Indigenous woman, how did you feel seeing Cathy Freeman win gold at
the Olympics? I was watching the race with family in Canberra and we were all so very excited. I was incredibly proud of her – even though I didn’t know her. Just knowing the amount of work and emotional, physical and physiological energy it would’ve taken to get that far. And then to win. I think all Australians watching that race would have been proud of Cathy Freeman that night.
2. When Mel and her family head to Sydney for Corroboree 2000 they are filled with hope for the future. Now, 17 years later, how would Mel feel about how things have progressed? I think Mel might be disappointed that while an Apology has been given to the Stolen Generations thanks to the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (2008), she would be old enough to also understand that there are other human rights abuses that need to be address, such as the NT Intervention and ongoing Black Deaths in Custody. Having said that, she would also know that the Reconciliation movement has continued and there is power in community coming together for causes.
3. Having a personal hero can be a powerful motivator for a child. Did you have any personal heroes growing up? Both my parents where my heroes. They worked very hard and family was everything. I am who I am because of them. I also had Evonne Goolagong Cawley as a hero – I wanted to play tennis just like her.
4. Did you attend Corroboree 2000 and if so, can you describe the atmosphere? I was in Austria teaching at the time and was surprised to see how much international coverage the event got. Even in the little village where my father was born, people were talking about it.
5. What do you hope readers take away from Mel's story? I hope readers come to understand the power of words – for good and bad – and that we can impact other people’s lives through our words and actions. The role of ‘saying sorry’ is as much for the those who have been hurt as it is for those who need to say it. I also hope that the story reveals for readers some of their own heroes.
6. Looking back at question 3, I wonder if you have anyone now who you see as a role model or hero to you? My mum and dad are still my heroes – they are legends in my mind. My father has passed away but not a day goes by that I don’t wonder what he thinks about things I’m doing - would he approve? What advice would he give me? In a writing sense my heroes are the late Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Ruby Langford-Ginibi and my contemporaries Melissa Lucashenko and Alexis Wright.
7. Do you see your role as a writer of children's books important in terms of telling stories that Aboriginal children will hopefully see themselves in? Absolutely, it’s not rocket science, reading needs to be relevant if we want any children to pick up books. Everyone likes to see themselves reflected in the literature they see. I started writing adult novels because I never saw women like myself in Australian literature.
8. Your life as an activist, fundraiser, writer, academic and public speaker must keep you extraordinarily busy. Does running help keep things on an even keel for you? I guess you could say that. Running helps me clear my head at the start of the day (I mainly run first thing in the morning). I do a lot of thinking as I turn my legs over. I plan my stories, my dialogue, any speeches I am booked to give. And the endorphins that running generates means I am happy afterwards. It’s much easier to be productive when I’m happy and not miserable.
9. When is the best time to write for you? I write in blocks of time and nearly always in the morning (unless I am desperately late for deadline). When I was writing Our Race for Reconciliation, I was up early in the morning, sometimes at 5am typing away. It’s the best time of the day in my opinion.
10. Are you busy writing now? Can you share with us what's coming up next? I’m working on the Growing Up Aboriginal anthology which will come out in 2018. I’m the commissioning editor, so I get to read all the submissions and it’s an extraordinary privilege. I also have ideas for two new books, but I can’t tell you about them just yet.