To celebrate NAIDOC Week 2023, we’ve pulled together 12 must-read books from First Nations authors. We’ve got beautifully written, page-turning fiction like Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip and Tony Birch’s The White Girl. There’s also thought-provoking, informative non-fiction reads, like Growing up Aboriginal in Australia and The Dreaming Path: Indigenous Thinking to Change Your Life. Whatever your preference, there’s a book you’re sure to love.
NAIDOC Week 2023
This year, NAIDOC Week runs from Sunday, July 2 and ends on Sunday, July 9. The 2023 theme is “For Our Elders”.
The theme is about acknowledging and paying tribute to the important role that Elders have played in First Nations communities and families, across every generation.
“They are cultural knowledge holders, trailblazers, nurturers, advocates, teachers, survivors, leaders, hard workers and our loved ones,” states the official website. “We pay our respects to the Elders we’ve lost and to those who continue fighting for us across all our Nations and we pay homage to them.”
To celebrate NAIDOC Week 2023, here are some great page-turners you won’t be able to put down.
Black Is the New White
Written by: Nakkiah Lui
Synopsis: The smash-hit play, in print for the first time with a foreword and notes from multitalented playwright, writer, commentator and actor Nakkiah Lui. Love, politics and other things you shouldn’t talk about at dinner.
Charlotte Gibson is a lawyer with a brilliant career ahead of her. As her father Ray says, she could be the next female Indigenous Waleed Aly. But she has other ideas. First of all, it’s Christmas. Second of all, she’s in love.
The thing is, her fiancé, Francis Smith, is not what her family expected — he’s unemployed, he’s an experimental composer … and he’s white! Bringing him and his conservative parents to meet her family on their ancestral land is a bold move. Will he stand up to the scrutiny? Or will this romance descend into farce?
Love is never just black and white. It’s complicated by class, politics, ambition, and too much wine over dinner. But for Charlotte and Francis, it’s mostly complicated by family. Secrets are revealed, prejudices outed and old rivalries get sorted through. What can’t be solved through diplomacy can surely be solved by a good old-fashioned dance-off. They’re just that kind of family.
Where to buy: Booktopia
Written by: Kim Scott
Synopsis: From Kim Scott, two-time winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award, comes a work charged with ambition and poetry, in equal parts brutal, mysterious and idealistic, about a young woman cast into a drama that has been playing for over two hundred years.
Taboo takes place in the present day, in the rural South-West of Western Australia, and tells the story of a group of Noongar people who revisit, for the first time in many decades, a taboo place: the site of a massacre that followed the assassination, by these Noongar’s descendants, of a white man who had stolen a black woman. They come at the invitation of Dan Horton, the elderly owner of the farm on which the massacres unfolded. He hopes that by hosting the group he will satisfy his wife’s dying wishes and cleanse some moral stains from the ground on which he and his family have lived for generations.
But the sins of the past will not be so easily expunged.
We walk with the ragtag group through this taboo country and note in them glimmers of re-connection with language, lore, country. We learn alongside them how countless generations of Noongar may have lived in ideal rapport with the land. This is a novel of survival and renewal, as much as destruction; and, ultimately, of hope as much as despair.
Written by: Anita Heiss
Synopsis: Five women, best friends for decades, meet once a month to talk about books … and life, love and the jagged bits in between. Dissecting each other’s lives seems the most natural thing in the world — and honesty, no matter how brutal, is something they treasure. Best friends tell each other everything, don’t they? But each woman harbours a complex secret and one weekend, without warning, everything comes unstuck.
Izzy, soon to be the first Black woman with her own television show, has to make a decision that will change everything. Veronica, recently divorced and dedicated to raising the best sons in the world, has forgotten who she is. Xanthe, desperate for a baby, can think of nothing else, even at the expense of her marriage. Nadine, so successful at writing other people’s stories, is determined to blot out her own. Ellen, footloose by choice, begins to question all that she’s fought for.
When their circle begins to fracture and the old childhood ways don’t work anymore, is their sense of sisterhood enough to keep it intact? How well do these tiddas really know each other?
Too Much Lip
Written by: Melissa Lucashenko
Synopsis: Wise-cracking Kerry Salter is part of an Aboriginal family living on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. She has spent a lifetime avoiding two things — her hometown and prison. But now her Pop is dying and she’s an inch away from the lockup, so she heads south on a stolen Harley. Kerry plans to spend 24 hours, tops, over the border.
She quickly discovers, though, that Bundjalung country has a funny way of grabbing on to people. Old family wounds open as the Salters fight to stop the development of their beloved river. And the unexpected arrival on the scene of a good-looking dugai fella intent on loving her up only adds more trouble — but then trouble is Kerry’s middle name. Gritty and darkly hilarious, Too Much Lip offers redemption and forgiveness where none seemed possible.
The White Girl
Written by: Tony Birch
Synopsis: Odette Brown has lived her whole life on the fringes of a small country town. After her daughter disappeared and left her with her granddaughter Sissy to raise on her own, Odette has managed to stay under the radar of the welfare authorities who are removing fair-skinned Aboriginal children from their families. When a new policeman arrives in town, determined to enforce the law, Odette must risk everything to save Sissy and protect everything she loves.
In The White Girl, Miles-Franklin-shortlisted author Tony Birch shines a spotlight on the 1960s and the devastating government policy of taking Indigenous children from their families.
Written by: Tara June Winch
Synopsis: Knowing that he will soon die, Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi takes pen to paper. His life has been spent on the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains. Albert is determined to pass on the language of his people and everything that was ever remembered. He finds the words on the wind.
August Gondiwindi has been living on the other side of the world for 10 years when she learns of her grandfather’s death. She returns home for his burial, wracked with grief and burdened with all she tried to leave behind. Her homecoming is bittersweet as she confronts the love of her kin and news that Prosperous is to be repossessed by a mining company. Determined to make amends she endeavours to save their land — a quest that leads her to the voice of her grandfather and into the past, the stories of her people, the secrets of the river.
Profoundly moving and exquisitely written, Tara June Winch’s The Yield is the story of a people and a culture dispossessed. But it is as much a celebration of what was and what endures, and a powerful reclaiming of Indigenous language, storytelling and identity.
Written by: Stan Grant
Synopis: ‘As uncomfortable as it is, we need to reckon with our history. On January 26, no Australian can really look away.’
Since publishing his critically acclaimed, Walkley Award-winning, bestselling memoir Talking to My Country in early 2016, Stan Grant has been crossing the country, talking to huge crowds everywhere about how racism is at the heart of our history and the Australian dream. But Stan knows this is not where the story ends.
In this book, Australia Day, his long-awaited follow up to Talking to My Country, Stan talks about our country, about who we are as a nation, about the Indigenous struggle for belonging and identity in Australia, and what it means to be Australian. A sad, wise, beautiful, reflective and troubled book, Australia Day asks the questions that have to be asked, that no one else seems to be asking. Who are we? What is our country? How do we move forward from here?
Written by: Bruce Pascoe
Synopsis: Dark Emu puts forward an argument for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer tag for precolonial Aboriginal Australians. The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing — behaviours inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag. Gerritsen and Gammage in their latest books support this premise but Pascoe takes this further and challenges the hunter-gatherer tag as a convenient lie. Almost all the evidence comes from the records and diaries of the Australian explorers, impeccable sources.
The Dreaming Path: Indigenous Thinking to Change Your Life
Written by: Paul Callaghan with Uncle Paul Gordon
Synopsis: Tired of going around in circles?
The Dreaming Path has always been there, but in the modern-day world, it can be hard to find. There are so many demands on us — family, health, bills, a mortgage, a career — that it can be hard to remember what’s most important: you.
It’s time to reconnect with your story.
Through conversations, exercises, Dreamtime stories and key messages, Paul Callaghan and Uncle Paul Gordon will sit you around the fire and share knowledge that reveals the power of Aboriginal spirituality as a profound source of contentment and wellbeing for anyone willing to listen.
This ancient wisdom is just as relevant today as it ever was.
Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia
Edited by: Anita Heiss
Contributors: Evelyn Araluen Bebe Backhouse, Alicia Bates, Don Bemrose, Tony Birch, Norleen Brinkworth, Katie Bryan, Deborah Cheetham, Natalie Cromb, Karen Davis, Ian Dudley, Alice Eather, Shannon Foster, Jason Goninan, Adam Goodes, Jodi Haines, John Karranjal Hartley, Terri Janke, Keira Jenkins, Patrick Johnson, Scott Kennedy, Sharon Kingaby, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Jack Latimore, Celeste Liddle, Mathew Lillyst, Taryn Little, Amy McQuire, Melanie Mununggurr-Williams, Doreen Nelson, Sharon Payne, Zachary Penrith-Puchalski, Carol Pettersen, Todd Phillips, Kerry Reed-Gilbert, William Russell, Marlee Silva, Liza-Mare Syron, Frank Szekely, Miranda Tapsell, Jared Thomas, Ceane G. Towers, Aileen Marwung Walsh, Shahni Wellington, Alexis West, Alison Whittaker, John Williams-Mozley, Tara June Winch, Tamika Worrell
Synopsis: What is it like to grow up Aboriginal in Australia?
This anthology, compiled by award-winning author Anita Heiss, showcases many diverse voices, experiences and stories in order to answer that question. Accounts from well-known authors and high-profile identities sit alongside those from newly discovered writers of all ages. All of the contributors speak from the heart sometimes calling for empathy, oftentimes challenging stereotypes, always demanding respect.
Written by: Sally Morgan
Synopsis: Looking at the views and experiences of three generations of Indigenous Australians, this autobiography unearths political and societal issues contained within Australia’s Indigenous culture. Sally Morgan traveled to her grandmother’s birthplace, starting a search for information about her family. She uncovers that she is not white but Aboriginal — information that was kept a secret because of the stigma of society. This moving account is a classic of Australian literature that finally frees the tongues of the author’s mother and grandmother, allowing them to tell their own stories.
Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World
Written by: Tyson Yunkaporta
Synopsis: This remarkable book is about everything from echidnas to evolution, cosmology to cooking, sex and science and spirits to Schrödinger’s cat.
Tyson Yunkaporta looks at global systems from an Indigenous perspective. He asks how contemporary life diverges from the pattern of creation. How does this affect us? How can we do things differently?
Sand Talk provides a template for living. It’s about how lines and symbols and shapes can help us make sense of the world, about how we learn and how we remember, about talking to everybody and listening carefully. It’s about finding different ways to look at things.
Most of all it’s about Indigenous thinking, and how it can save the world.