• "We have a lot to hurt about but we also feel a strong sense of gratitude to our elders and family." (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Award-winning author and Mununjali woman Ellen van Neerven examines her identity and what being Indigenous means to her.
By
Ellen van Neerven

24 Nov 2016 - 9:41 AM  UPDATED 24 Nov 2016 - 9:41 AM

When I was young I learnt about the world through books and movies. That’s why when I got older and realised the absence of Indigenous perspectives through my schooling and university teaching, I decided I wanted to write us on the page and on the screen.

Authoring change is what we do as blackfellas. We resist stereotypes and refuse to settle for less. I feel a pride in my belonging. We have a lot to hurt about but we also feel a strong sense of gratitude to our elders and family. I become proud not only for what my mother and grandparents and uncles and aunties have done and what they have given us, but also of their struggle. Of the ancestors I haven’t met. Of my Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sisters and brothers in the arts.

I feel a pride in my belonging. We have a lot to hurt about but we also feel a strong sense of gratitude to our elders and family.

Of course we feel proud of our country. This is the land we belong to. We are not proud of our confused idea of nationalism that denies  acknowledgement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and continuing cultures and identities. The “national anthem”, “Australia Day”, and the recent Herald Sun front page continue to promote these clouded ideals.

Family and collective is where my identity is. Few weeks back I was at FEMPRE$$ - a hip hop event like no other I’d been to, featuring an all female line-up on the decks and mic - watching sis Hannah Donnelly aka SOVTRAX mix a set of tracks from First Nations artists with the flag on her back. I feel that. I was recently speaking in Newcastle with Summer May Finlay, Laurie May and Evelyn Corr speaking about poetry as resistance; telling real life truths in response to Don Dale and the Bill Leak cartoon, reading strongly from their work. I feel that. There is no line between activism and art and day-to-day life for us.

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As well as introducing myself as a Mununjali woman from the Scenic Rim, I also identify as Dutch Australian, my dad’s from Mierlo in the south of The Netherlands, and I have a big mob of family over there. I’ve had people ask me why I don’t speak overtly about this on panels and in interviews. There’s two answers. I was born here. And second: I’ve never felt discriminated in this country as a Dutch Australian. 

Most days I find some time to curl on the couch and read. Today it was Leah Purcell’s stage adaption of Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife. It is a strong piece of writing that made me think.

There is no line between activism and art and day-to-day life for us.

I try to keep my body active as well. I just got back from a swim at Musgrave Park. Tidda Anita Heiss and I have a dip a few times a week now that the weather’s good. It’s a place that holds a lot for me. I have early memories of NAIDOC Day, going there as a young fella. I’m heaps proud of my mum. Our mothers and fathers extend themselves to inspire others, grow up children to be strong. It is a hard job so I must say thank you.

Something happens when I come out of the water and the sun is a new wave of warmth on my skin. I can sit on the grass and hold off the world for a little moment longer.

Ellen van Neerven is a Mununjali woman from South East Queensland, and the award-winning author of Heat and Light (UQP, 2014), and Comfort Food (UQP, 2016).

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First Contact (season 2) airs on 29 November, 30 November and 1 December 2016 at 8:30pm on SBS. Across 28 Days, six well-known Aussies take an epic journey into Aboriginal Australia. Watch the trailer here, and catch-up on episodes after the program airs via SBS On Demand here.