Indigenous characters in popular Australian YA Fiction – do we represent? … by Casey Carlisle

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                The silence of our stolen generation echoes in our YA literature…

I’m not trying to be political, or clever, but growing up in Alice Springs, NT, aboriginals were my classmates, my friends, my neighbours… and it was only natural to include our native Australians as characters in my novels. I didn’t think twice about it. So when I did a little research recently on YA novels, particularly the Australian market – not only for interest’s sake, but a little market research – it upset me to find very little representation of not only Indigenous writers, but also Aboriginal characters within popular YA publications.

When tackling the global market and the most recent prolific titles for the YA industry, the only title that stood out depicting indigenous characters, was Twilight’s Jacob Black. Australian Authors didn’t even make the top ten on the list. When actively looking for cross-cultural content, you can find it. But you have to be looking, it’s not on best seller lists, shown in billboards, being made into movies (as is the current craze). Is it that we aren’t tooting our own horn enough? Going that extra mile to market Australian talent overseas? Staying true to the ‘Australian Brand’ in our writing?

Then I thought about my favourite movies and television shows produced in Australia and struggled to find any which had an Aboriginal character as a part of the main cast. Suddenly I felt very disappointed in our Entertainment Industry.

With a secondary character in the ongoing series ‘Smoulder’ and a half-cast protagonist for ‘The Understudy,’ Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are in the forefront of my cast it was never my aim to be culturally diverse. And it was a surprise in recent feedback on drafts, with beta readers praising the inclusion of characters of colour, which had me responding, “It really shouldn’t warrant comment. These types of characters should be mainstream in Australian content. Their representation wasn’t on purpose, I write drawing from my experiences.”

So I guess this is my social commentary on the sad fact that the only exposure overseas readers get of Australians and our indigenous brothers and sisters is of stereotyped characters like Paul Hogan, Steve Irwin and the nameless shadows clad in a loin cloth, propped on one leg with a spear. I really hope that more modern, Australian content starts to appear. Characters artfully written in YA novels with intricate and intelligent storylines to challenge preconceived ideas of the developmental rift between our two cultures. This topic leaves me itchy and uncomfortable because there is so much more that could be said, and so much more light needs to be spread over this topic. But I want to refrain from getting on my soapbox and concentrate on staying true to my voice. I guess I have to be one of those instruments of change – keep writing, continue to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander characters in my novels. And hope that others will start to do the same and show Australia for the truly unique country it is.

 

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© Casey Carlisle 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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