• Ellen van Neervan (Photo/Noel McLaughlin) (Noel Mclaughlin)Source: Noel Mclaughlin
One of Australia’s best early career writers, proud Mununjali woman Ellen van Neerven, has revealed a personal story of experiencing racial taunts and social exclusion at high school, in an exclusive SBS podcast.
Yasmin Noone

9 Sep 2015 - 5:43 PM  UPDATED 10 Sep 2015 - 4:08 PM

Ellen van Neerven, proud Mununjali woman and one of Australia's best early career writers, has spoken of her experience of being racial taunted as an adolescent despite her successes on the high-school soccer field in SBS podcast series True Stories

In the online audio documentary, Confidence Game, written and narrated by Ms van Neerven, she discusses events that took place eight years ago and reflects on the daily teases she suffered at high school because of her physical appearance and cultural identification.

The accomplished writer explains that despite her sporting triumphs as one of only three girls in the school’s soccer team, she was not accepted by her teenage peers.

"When you are treated differently…things can add up after a while and it can really settle on a person and change them'

"When you are treated differently…things can add up after a while and it can really settle on a person and change them," Ms van Neerven said.

"This is my story about what gets imprinted on you."

Ellen van Neervan (Photo/Noel McLaughlin)

She referred to the recent ‘booing’ scandal involving AFL star, Adam Goodes, commenting that the incident partly inspired her to tell her story about her personal brush with racism and sport.

"What we really see with the Goodesy stuff is an explosion of something that happens all the time," she said.

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Ms van Neerven said soccer was her saviour from the resulting torment of social exclusion at high school.

"I can't tell you how much soccer meant to me back then," she says in the podcast.

“[Soccer] was teams not groups. You took a position on the field with the boys and girls. I felt like an equal but also knew I was better than half of them.

"Being in the soccer [team] gave me pride. It gave me more than being Aboriginal. It gave me more pride than anything else"

"Being in the soccer [team] gave me pride. It gave me more than being Aboriginal. It gave me more pride than anything else."

However, she explained, her successes on the soccer field failed to prepare her for the afternoon class where she would be teased, taunted by “giggles and whispers, [and] the wet balls of scrunched up paper”.

"Underneath I had a weak skin and those taunts pinched that skin," she said.

"…I just wanted them to leave me alone and get through the day. Sometimes I couldn’t."

Having won this year's shared title of Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelist, it was Ms van Neerven’s experience of being an outsider that has given her a creative edge in her storytelling techniques.  

The Brisbane-based writer is best known for her book Heat and Light, which won the David Unaipon Award for the way it fuses traditional with contemporary storytelling techniques.

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The novel was also shortlisted for The Stella Prize, the NSW Premier's Literary Awards, and the Dobbie Literary Award in 2015. 

Ms van Neerven currently works at the State Library of Queensland as part of black&write!  It is the first project of its kind in Australia created to foster a significant Indigenous writing community.

She is also the editor of the digital collection Writing Black: New Indigenous Writing from Australia.

Ms van Neerven’s podcast, Confidence Game, is one part of a weekly seven-part podcast series, True Stories, written and read by Australia’s best emerging and early career writers.

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The first season of podcasts centres around the theme "high school" and celebrates the good, the bad and the ugly of those complicated years.

The podcasts have been inspired by the new crime-drama series, The Principal starting on Wednesday 7 October 8.30pm on SBS.

A new ‘True Stories’ podcast will be published each week so check back Wednesdays for the latest episode or subscribe on iTunes.