Indigenous Literacy Day falls on 1 September every year, and the theme for 2021 is 'Celebrating Stories and Language'.
The joy of reading your favorite book, curled up with a cuppa on a rainy day or in some Sunday morning sunshine, is a feeling very familiar to many of us. For some First Australian communities, especially in remote parts of Australia, the scarcity of literature and resources for reading, coupled with low levels of literacy makes these kinds of romantic reading dreams difficult to achieve. Thanks to the work of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, this is changing. It is not just children that are finding their love for reading - their parents, grandparents and Elders are as well.
With lockdowns in place for many parts of the country right now, we’ve put together a selection of material you can access online to help you celebrate Indigenous Australian stories and language, wherever you are.
History of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation
The Indigenous Literacy Foundation began as the Riverbend Readers Challenge, launched by Suzy Wilson in Bulimba, Brisbane, in 2004. The goal was to raise money to help improve literacy skills in First Australian students and provide more reading resources for Indigenous Australian communities. By 2007, the movement Suzy Wilson had created had drawn the support of the Fred Hollows Foundation and the Australian Book Industry and was renamed the Indigenous Literacy Project. In 2011, it rebranded again, this time becoming the Indigenous Literacy Foundation we know today.
Thanks to ongoing generous donations and strong community support, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation continues its work. To date, the Foundation has given over 500,000 culturally appropriate books to over 400 remote communities across Australia and the Torres Straits. The Indigenous Literacy Foundation also runs programs to promote early literacy education and community publishing projects, which is allowing more books to be published in traditional languages.
Celebrating Stories and Languages with the National Library of Australia
Even though we might not be able to gather together in person this Indigenous Literacy Day, we can still Celebrate Stories and Language! Check out the following online resources from the National Library of Australia and other institutions across the country to get into the spirit of the day:
Looking for stories to listen to?
You can access a range of the Library’s oral history and folklore recordings online via Trove. Hear Sir Neville Bonner, a Jagera man from Ukerebagh Island and the first Aboriginal person to become a member of Parliament, telling interviewer Pat Shaw stories about his family, life experiences, and political career. If the world of music is more to your taste, you can hear singer-songwriter Kev Carmody, a Murri man from northern Queensland, delivering an address to the National Press Conference. You can also hear Lowitja ‘Lois’ O’Donoghue, a Pitjantjatjara woman from Indulkana, South Australia, who worked as a nurse and public servant and is a strong advocate for First Nations peoples’ health and wellbeing, speaking at the National Press Conference. You can also hear activist Galurrwuy Yunupingu, a Gamatj man of the Yolngu people and band member of Yothu Yindi, addressing the National Press Club. Or listen to boxer turned auto-biographer Keith Saunders, an Aboriginal man of strong will and persistence, discuss the story of his life with interviewer Heather Rusden.
You can access many other written and spoken First Nations stories via Trove. To find out more, visit Trove’s First Australians webpage. There, you will find information about Cultural safety for First Australians, some curated material of interest, such as Behind the lens: representations of Indigenous Australian through images, and advice about how to search Trove for First Australian content and Language groups.
Information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers, storytellers, their works, and other curated content is available online via the AustLit database, BlackWords. The National Library of Australia subscribes to AustLit on behalf of our readers. For full access to BlackWords and AustLit’s other resources, sign in with your Library card details via the Library’s eResources portal. If you are not yet a member of the National Library of Australia you can Get a Library Card for free. To find out more about becoming a member, see our Getting Started page. For more information about BlackWords, have a read of our blog Introducing BlackWords by AustLit.
You can also listen to many stories written in language being read on the Indigenous Literacy Foundation’s website. Or read an interview with Dub Leffler, a Bigambul man and one of Australia’s most sought after children’s book illustrators on our blog Illustrating Indigenous Australia.
Want to know more?
Want to learn more about the Indigenous Literacy Foundation or want to get involved? Check out their website or head to their YouTube channel to catch up on last year’s event and all the things that have been happening since.
You might also like to investigate the various First Nations publishers responsible for bringing Indigenous Australian stories to readers of all ages, including Aboriginal Studies Press, Magabala Books, IAD Press, and Keeaira Press.