“Fuck Australia”: Blak women take over The Lifted Brow magazine
A project years in the planning, the 40th edition of Australian literary magazine The Lifted Brow has been made entirely by a collective of blak women. “Blak” names the lived experience and identity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and this provocative, textually rich issue was born out of the conviction that blak women’s writing can “transcend off the pages and topple the patriarchy”.
Featuring poetry, song lyrics, and a conversational “yarn” between a mother and her daughter, Blak Brow’s eclectic composition reflects the myriad formats with which aboriginal women access their stories. Beyoncé lyrics bleed seamlessly into a discussion about why Megan was left holding the umbrella “like the help” on the royal couple’s first official visit to continent; An essay about mediocre male comics sits side by side with a manifesto to “Fuck Australia”. This issue is about breaking silence, motivated by the belief — as the editors put it — “that there is a mob of voices, words and shared stories that are hidden from mainstream Australia.”
We contacted the editors to find out more about self-determination, healing, and why Australia is a colonial construct.
Why did you want to make this magazine?
We could see and we understood that there’s a mob of Aboriginal writers within our immediate networks — and that these networks also knew many other young, old, inspiring and yet reticent writers. Making Blak Brow was a way to invite, encourage, and persuade such writers to share their stories, to write their lives and issues and challenge Brow readers to think, see and feel our Aboriginal spaces.
It’s a great way to tell stories and reach people you might otherwise not — who do you think of this issue as being for?
As a collective we really wanted to reach those in our community who we see as writers or creatives and tell them that their words are great; that their stories are really worthy of being in print and being shared with a wider audience. We also wanted to show the rest of the mob that didn’t get to be included that we will be coming back to collect their stories. And of course we wanted a big, broader mainstream audience to see the wealth and variety contained in blak women writers. The edition is a collection of emerging, new, established and young voices.
What does it mean to be able to have a platform like this for otherwise un- or at least under-heard voices?
The act of writing for a community embedded in oral traditions, a community that colonialism has stripped of language and cultural practice and has forced assimilation upon, means that our engagement in writing is often inherently dangerous for ourselves and our communal ways. Having The Lifted Brow engage respectfully with us in the first instance, and then understand our need to operate as a collective, enabled us to grab this opportunity and to hold true to our belief that there is a mob of voices, words and shared stories that are hidden from mainstream Australia. Lifting the lid on the Aboriginal topics covered in this issue is a healing experience for us as writers and as a community.
For those who aren’t familiar, can you explain the term “blak” and what kind of experience it relates to?
For Blak Brow and in this context, the term blak is attributed to the Melbourne-based artist Destiny Deacon, who coined it in the early 1990s. Destiny is a KuKu (Cape York) and Erub/Mer (Torres Strait) woman.
Destiny’s term blak names identity and lived experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in urban areas. We use it respectfully here as part of our voices — distinctly as blak women in both our urban, regional and country lives. We live off Country and on Country (Country being our traditional lands) but nurture our identities through creative expressions, culture, arts, storytelling, being and belonging.
A lot of people — particularly outside of Australia — will have no idea what “blak” means without digging any deeper — but that’s kind of the point isn’t it?
The point is to share who we are, with words and art. The Blak Brow edition speaks for itself and for ourselves. Other People of Colour and other Indigenous people outside of “Australia” (which is a colonial construct anyway) know and understand this term and how we identify as distinctly Indigenous or First Nations Peoples. We are blak and Indigenous. We are female and matriarchal. We are who we are and always have been, and always will. We invite people to read Blak Brow and experience our stories directly from us, by us, and for us.
What makes The Lifted Brow an ideal partner for this collaboration?
The Lifted Brow was the ideal partner because they were and are willing to listen and to hand the edition over to us.
Working with Sam Cooney and the Brow team has been a rewarding experience because we have been able to determine our content, direction, theme and everything to do with the edition. The Brow acknowledged that they are a predominantly white publication that wanted to do something genuine with our community – in this case it was our editorial collective that commissioned and curated the work in Blak Brow. The collective is made up of Karen Jackson, Pauline Whyman, Kim Kruger, Tony Birch and Paola Balla, and we mentored our managing editor Bridget Caldwell, a younger Aboriginal woman. We practiced self-determination, sovereignty and our collective ways of working with and for each other, to make sure that our cultural values, ethics of sharing and caring and ensuring collective voices were held within.
What would you like people to take away from this?
That us blak fellas are Super Deadly! And that blak women can write beautifully and tell very real stories that have universal appeal and connections.
We are unapologetic in our rigour to write within our rights of our own creativeness. We are very proud of the Blak Women’s Edition. The evidence of the united strength of blak women within the pages is only a small sample of who we are. Watch this space.