Literary Victoria

Victoria in story, memory, and the imagination. A guide to stories and works about Victoria and Victorians in fiction, personal narratives and non fiction works.

Warning

State Library Victoria advises that this research guide contains information that may be culturally sensitive, including images and names of deceased people. In addition, the Library catalogue contains information and resources about Australian culture and history that reflect attitudes or language used at the time of publication that would not be considered appropriate today. 

Introduction

This guide will help you to:

1) Discover writing by prominent Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples, and find it in the Library. 

2) Discover the lives and works of Aboriginal First Nations writers and storytellers in BlackWords, an AustLit intitiative

5) Find other useful resources about the literature and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including anthologies and bibliographies

Aboriginal First Nations literature

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples have a proud tradition of storytelling that predates European settlement by many thousands of years. In the context of this rich history, the concept of 'literature' is relatively new:

"As an Aboriginal writer I am constantly aware of literature being the ‘little sister’ to other artforms like visual arts, theatre, music and dance. The ‘little sister’ syndrome exists largely due to the fact that literature is a relatively new artform for Aboriginal people, visual and performing arts being part of our culture since the beginning of time. We have now mastered the same language that was once used against us – describing us as barbaric and savage – and we have empowered ourselves to tell our stories, in our styles, for our people." (Dr Anita Heiss, Protocols for producing Indigenous Australian writing, p. 2)

You can read more about literature written by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples, as well as the protocols and principles in place to protect cultural knowledge, stories and other expression in the wider cultural environment, in Protocols for producing Indigenous Australian writing produced by the Australian Council for the Arts.

Finding literature by Aboriginal First Nations peoples in the Library

You can browse the shelves for works of literature by Aboriginal First Nations peoples in the La Trobe Reading Room ("the Dome") on level 3. Works are not located in one concentrated area but are spread diffusely across the literature section, depending on their form. So for example, whilst fiction by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is located at call number LT A823.3,  poetry is located around call number LT A821, and anthologies are located at LT A820.989915.

As of Thursday 5 December, you will also be able to find literature by Aboriginal First Nations peoples, including fiction, poetry and drama, in the Library's new browsing collection of Australian and Victorian literature in The Ian Potter Queens Hall Reading Room, on level 3 of the Library. 

You can browse our full collection of Australian fiction using the library catalogue.You can search for specific titles or authors, or you can browse search by Subject, AuthorTitle or Call number. Visit our Help pages for more useful tips on how to search the catalogue.

Cultural heritage search 

You can also search for works by writers of a particular cultural heritage. 

For example, the site now occupied by Melbourne was home to traditional owners the Woiwurrung (now referred to as the Wurundjeri) and the Boonwurrung peoples, who belonged to the Kulin nation.  To find stories by or about the Wurundjeri and their land, enter the word Wurundjeri in the Search box and press Enter. 

You can filter your results using the facets on the right eg you can filter by Subject, Resource type, Creation date, Author/creator, SLV collection etc. 

Other useful keywords you could try include: 'Wurundjeri', 'Birrarung', 'Kulin', 'Woiwurrung' and 'Boonwurrung'. 

To find the names of Traditional Owners and their land, see our research guide: Finding the meaning of an Aboriginal word, which includes a section on Victorian Aboriginal clans.

AustLit

BlackWords

BlackWords is an AustLit initiative that records information about the lives and works of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and storytellers. The BlackWords database covers all forms of creative writing, film, television, criticism and scholarship, both by and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and literary and storytelling cultures.

BlackWords remains unique in that the content and representation of Indigenous authors, their stories and their literary voices, are generated and maintained by a team of First Nations Australian peoples.

How to search BlackWords

The best way to search BlackWords is to use AustLit's Advanced Search function: 

Choose Blackwords from the Project box, which you will find half way down the Advanced Search page on the left:

BlackWords can be searched by author, heritage, birth and death dates, titles and types of works, publication dates, and publisher. Just type your search terms in the appropriate fields and press Enter when you are done.

Useful resources

Useful links

Bunjilaka Cultural Centre

Bunjilaka Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum It was developed to empower Aboriginal First Nations peoples to interpret their own cultural heritage, for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

Culture Victoria: Indigenous Culture

Discover stories spanning from traditional to contemporary life, of land & spirit, art & artefacts

KooriHistory.com

John T. Patten is a Yorta Yorta and Bundjalung educator, multi-disciplined artist and historian who works at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum. John produced this website primarily as an education resource for both the Aboriginal community and educators. Koori History explores the cultures of Australia’s First Australians via a range of key themes, including technology, culture, and language.

Koorie Heritage Trust 

The Koorie Heritage Trust promotes, supports and celebrates the continuing journey of the Koorie peoples of South Eastern Australia

Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council

The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council was created under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (Vic) to ensure that Koorie peoples throughout Victoria play a central role in the protection and management of their heritage

Yarra Healing

Yarra Healing promotes the voices of local Aboriginal First Nations peoples of Melbourne and its surrounding areas. It gives expression to their stories and to the growth of the Reconciliation movement not only in Melbourne but across the nation

Magbala books

Magabala Books, Spreading the seeds of our culture

Magabala Books is one of Australia's leading Aboriginal First Nations publishers. Magabala Books works to celebrate the talent and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices through the publication of quality literature.

Other Indigenous publishers include: AIATSIS, IAD Press and Keeaira Press.

Prominent First Nations Victorians

William Barak        Doug Nicholls    
Tony Birch        Bruce Pascoe            
Vicki Couzens        Archie Roach 
William Cooper        Titta Secombe 
Lisa Kennedy         Margaret Tucker
Tommy McCrae         Simon Wonga
Laurie Moffatt        

Dark emu

In Dark Emu, author Bruce Pascoe puts forward an argument for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer tag for pre-colonial Aboriginal First Nations peoples. Almost all the evidence comes from the records and diaries of the Australian explorers.

Tony Birch

"Archie Kemp knows trouble when he sees it, and he sees it when 13-year-old Sonny Brewer moves in next door. But life for the dirt-poor kid of an alcoholic father in hard-knocks Collingwood can be brutal, violent even, so it's lucky for Sonny he finds a friend in Archie's stepson, Ren...and both boys find freedom and adventure along the winding banks of the Yarra..."

Tony Birch is a Victorian poet, short story writer and novelist. His novel Ghost river won the 2016 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Indigenous writing. 

Thinking black

Thinking black: William Cooper and Australian Aborigines' league tells the story of William Cooper and the Australian Aborigines' League - their passionate struggle against dispossession and displacement and their fight to be citizens in their own country.

If you are a Victorian resident and you join the library, Thinking Black is also available as an ebook.

Margaret Tucker

If everyone cared: autobiography of Margaret Tucker

Margaret Tucker was one of Australia's earliest and most notable Aboriginal First Nations activists. Read her life's story in: If everyone cared: the autobiography of Margaret Tucker.

Dharmalan Dana

Dharmalan Dana: an Australian Aboriginal man's 73 year search for the story of his Aboriginal and Indian ancestors

Read about a Yorta Yorta man’s 73-year search for the story of his Aboriginal and Indian ancestors including his Indian Grampa who, as a real mystery man, came to Yorta Yorta country in Australia, from Mauritius, in 1881 and went on to leave an incredible legacy for Aboriginal Australia.

You can find information about researching Indigenous family history in our research guide: Aboriginal people and family history.