Author shares Aboriginality
“HOLD up your hand if you identify as Australian.
“Now keep your hand up if you have some other heritage – English, Irish, Japanese or something else.”
About 90 per cent of the 40 Rotarians and their partners listening to Dr Anita Heiss talk at the Hervey Bay RSL last week kept their hands raised.
“So a good bulk of you are saying that you have one identity, that of being Australian, but you have many heritages,” Dr Heiss continued.
“Well so do we! One identity of being Aboriginal, but with many heritages, but we’re told we’re part-Aboriginal, or half-caste. I never hear Australians say they are part-Australian or half-caste Australian because they have other heritage.”
Dr Heiss was on the Fraser Coast last week at the personal invitation of Rotary Club of Hervey Bay Sunrise president Kevin Alexander and wife Sandra.
“I was reading at story about Dr Heiss in Women’s Health magazine (bought by Sandra, he swore) and she sounded very interesting,” Mr Alexander said.
“So I invited her to be a guest speaker at Rotary, but the only thing I could offer in return was a free weekend at our house on Fraser Island. I was totally surprised when she accepted.”
The Sydney-based renowned Aboriginal author said she came to Hervey Bay with no expectations and fell in love with the area.
“I’ve had an extraordinary time and fell in love with the environment,” she said. “It’s very beautiful and peaceful.
“I visited Glendyne (education centre for disengaged youth), which reminded me of the joy of working with young people. They have a whole lot of potential and some wonderful people around them who will help them be who they want to be. I hope to get back there for a workshop.”
Dr Heiss also visited the Hervey Bay library, where she met “interested and engaged retired people” eager to soak up information, before preparing for her Rotary talk.
“I’d never spoken to a Rotary group before – everyone was much younger than I thought they were going to be.
“It’s always a risk when talking to people about issues that could be confronting, who haven’t considered them before, but everyone who came did so with an open mind and were keen for discussion.”
Dr Heiss is more familiar with lecturing international university students and does so with satirical humour that’s become her trademark.
“They often come with pre-conceived notions about Aboriginality and the type of person they expect to see,” she said.
“American students have all seen the movie Crocodile Dundee and have ‘very clear’ visions of what they think Aboriginal Australians are going to be.
“I was in Austria in the early 1990s (her father’s homeland) and views were based on what people had seen in documentaries of remote communities.
“Their understanding of an Aborigine was a black fella in the desert sitting on a rock, speaking creole and holding a spear.”
Dr Heiss said she was a woman with thoughts and feelings the same as any other woman in any country, regardless of colour or creed. She also liked to shop, wear jewellery and eat out.
“But I do hunt kangaroo three times a week – in the supermarket where everyone else shops. It’s low in fat and high in protein, it’s the only red meat I like,” she said.
Dr Heiss said there was no prescription for what it meant to be black in Australia today.