Gomeroi woman Alison Whittaker launched her debut poetry collection, Lemons in the Chicken Wire, at an intimate reading and signing at the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Education on Friday.
The reflective and searingly honest book about space, displacement, family and love shares the stories of queer and transgender Indigenous Australians in the rural fringes of northern NSW.
The newly published author lays her personal experience bare, breaking down many of the barriers that often shield the community's visibility.
“It’s crucial to explore [queer and trans] stories, mostly because they go so unheard,” 22-year-old Alison tells NITV.
“When people talk about visibility they talk about disguise or attempts to hide, but we’ve been here for a really long time, since time immemorial, and I think a lot of the invisibility has been attributed to people looking for queerness on whiteness’ terms.”
Authenticity and the sense of staying true to the author’s original voice is also key, and Alison describes herself as fortunate for having had the support of Queensland’s black&write! association, which mentors Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and editors.
“This was written in the course of five years and in that time the first time that anyone looked at it as a collection was the black&write! team, and so having the chance to pass that collection among queer Aboriginal women in the black&write! program and then to an Indigenous publishing house [Magabala Books] was just amazing.”
The stories she relates in the collection are drawn from her own experience and that of people she grew up with in regional Australia.
“It was that I’d start finding out something about myself and then someone else’s story wove in,” she says.
The land and rural life is at the heart of the collection as it has been in Alison’s life.
Alison grew up in Gunnedah and Tamworth before moving to Sydney to pursue a higher education at 17.
“It’s something I didn’t really appreciate until I moved away,” she says of life in rural NSW.
“I just missed it so much, I [would] just think about the landscape - the colours of the sunset are remarkable because there’s just so much dust kicked up all the time”.