Indigenous Australian literature

Indigenous Australian literature is the fiction, plays, poems, essays and other works authored by Indigenous Australians. Notable authors include David Unaipon, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Sally Morgan, Marcia Langton, Noel Pearson, Jack Davis, Kevin Gilbert, Kim Scott, Alexis Wright, Kate Howarth, Tara June Winch, Yvette Holt and Anita Heiss.


At the point of the first colonization, Indigenous Australians had not developed a system of writing, so the first literary accounts of Aborigines come from the journals of early European explorers, which contain descriptions of first contact.[1]

While his father, James Unaipon (c.1835-1907), contributed to accounts of Aboriginal mythology written by the missionary George Taplin,[2] David Unaipon (1872–1967) provided the first accounts of Aboriginal mythology written by an Aboriginal: Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines. For this he is known as the first Aboriginal author. Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920–1993) was a famous Aboriginal poet, writer and rights activist credited with publishing the first Aboriginal book of verse: We Are Going (1964).[3] Sally Morgan's memoir My Place brought Indigenous stories to wider notice.

Aboriginal leaders like Bennelong and Sir Douglas Nicholls wrote letters which are part of Indigenous Australian literature. The Yirrkala bark petitions of 1963 are the first traditional Aboriginal document recognised by the Australian Parliament.[4] AustLit's BlackWords project provides a comprehensive listing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Writers and Storytellers.

Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Literature

Wiradjuri writer and academic Anita Heiss has edited a collection of Aboriginal literature that spans from 1796 until 2008 (Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature), as well as a guide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers (Dhuuluu-Yala: To Talk Straight). Leading Aboriginal activists Marcia Langton (First Australians, 2008) and Noel Pearson (Up from the Mission, 2009) are contemporary contributors to Australian non-fiction. Other voices of Indigenous Australians include the playwright Jack Davis and Kevin Gilbert. Writers coming to prominence in the 21st century include Kim Scott, Alexis Wright, Kate Howarth, Tara June Winch, Yvette Holt and Anita Heiss. Indigenous authors who have won Australia's Miles Franklin Award include Kim Scott, who was joint winner (with Thea Astley) in 2000 for Benang and again in 2011 for That Deadman Dance. Alexis Wright won the award in 2007 for her novel Carpentaria. Melissa Lucashenko won the Miles Franklin Award in 2019 for her novel Too Much Lip.[5]

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women writers have also been well represented in the Stella Prize for writing by Australian women: the 2018 prize was awarded to Alexis Wright for her collective memoir, Tracker; and the shortlist has included Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip in 2019; Claire G. Coleman’s Terra Nullius in 2018; Ellen van Neerven’s Heat and Light in 2015; and Alexis Wright's The Swan Book in 2014.[6]

See also


  1. Genoni, Paul (2004). Subverting the Empire: Explorers and Exploration in Australian Fiction. Altona, VIC: Common Ground.
  2. Jenkin, Graham (1979). Conquest of the Ngarrindjeri. Adelaide: Rigby.
  3. (in English) "Modern Australian poetry". Ministère de la culture.
  4. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. "2019 Miles Franklin Literary Award shortlist unveiled | Perpetual". Retrieved 2019-08-13.
  6. "Announcing the Winner of the 2019 Stella Prize". The Stella Prize. Retrieved 2019-08-13.
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