• Charmaine Papertalk Green's mother during the late 70s when she was sending letters to her daughter. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Letters from her mother helped connect a Yamatji poet to culture when she moved away from home as a teenager - 40 years later, a book inspired by those letters has won the Australian Literature Society's gold medal.
Nadine Silva

10 Jul 2020 - 12:02 PM  UPDATED 10 Jul 2020 - 12:09 PM

Charmaine Papertalk Green shed a tear for her mum when she found out her poetry collection Nganajungu Yagu won the Australian Literature Society’s gold medal on Monday.

The collection was inspired by letters her mother wrote to her after she left home at age 17. 

Ms Green believes it wasn’t a coincidence the news of her win came on the 15-year-anniversary of her mother’s passing.

She told NITV News, “if there was going to be an award for it, it was going to happen on her time”.

“It really shows the spiritual connection that we have even when our old people pass away; they're always with us and that’s the beauty of our culture that keeps us really strong.”

Ms Green is from the Wajarri, Badimaya and Southern Yamatji peoples of the Mid West region of Western Australia.

To stay connected to her culture, community and family, she carried her mother’s letters everywhere she went for 40 years.

Nganajungu Yagu now serves as a way to connect others with this culture as Ms Green said, “literature from the Yamatji region is really limited.”

Wiradjuri author Professor Anita Heiss wrote in her blog that she honours Ms Green for “keeping our people, our stories, and the Yamatji language on the literary radar and accessible to all readers through her poetry.”

Coming from a small rural town that’s made the news for many reasons, Ms Green had no idea her book could put Mullewa on the map in this way.

It provides an insight into our community during the 70s and 80s for outsiders who’d probably never get those types of glimpses into rural Western Australia or the things that happened for us as Aboriginal people.”

Ms Green said her poetry collection also serves as a message that “the time has passed where other people represented us and other people told our stories”.

“How we tell our story is important. It’s not important how other people tell our stories and we need to be true to ourselves for that.”

More than just letters, Ms Heiss said the book “gently reminds us of the sacrifices made by most of our matriarchs over time.”

While turning the pages of Nganajungu Yagu, Ms Green hopes people will reflect on the meaning of their own relationships with their mothers.

“And also handwriting! Do you ever hand-write letters now or is it all Facebook messages, texts and emails?”

The love and respect penned in the book, Ms Heiss said, will inspire any readers to think about “the ways we should engage.”

As for the letters she wrote to her mother, Ms Green said she has no idea where they are.

All she knows is her mother used to read them to colleagues at the hospital where she worked, and that her brother would take some of them to Geraldton.

“People were struggling to survive and doing a lot of things in a harsh environment so I think those letters are lost to time.”

Take It Blak podcast - EPISODE 9 Poetry & Protest

Join NITV Online's Take It Blak hosts Jack Latimore and Keira Jenkins as we talk poetry and protest with guests Evelyn Araluen Corr and Ellen Van Neervan. We examine the newly released poetry anthology from UQP titled, Fire Front; Desert Pea Media's anthology, Homeland Calling; Evelyn's own soon-to-be-released collection, Dropbear; Ellen's already released (and increasingly celebrated) collection, Throat; plus we hear from Fire Front editor Alison Whittaker, and Raelee Lancaster reads Haunted House. There's also the street demonstrations, systemic racism and crows (like actual crows talking on the podcast. Yup). All that and more on episode 9 of Take It Blak.