In May 2016, Indigenous author, playwright, poet, and academic Jared Thomas joined the Indigenous Literacy Foundation's annual trip to the Tiwi Islands. Here he discusses his experience.
I was incredibly honoured to have spent 2 to 6 May in the Tiwi Islands as part of my first Indigenous Literacy Foundation Ambassador’s trip. I joined virtuoso musician William Barton, novelist Richard Flanagan, children's book writer and illustrator Alison Lester, and the wonderful ILF team and board including Patricia Genat, Anna Low, Cindy Manfong, Tina Raye, Karen Williams, and Susan Stone of Penguin Random House.
While I’ve been engaged with Indigenous Literacy Foundation's work over the years, the Ambassadors' trip provided opportunity to really discover the way that the Indigenous Literacy Foundation works on the ground and the types of outcomes the organisation facilitates.
An introduction to Tiwi culture
Our visit began in the community of Milikapiti and we were met by Chris and Suzanne Brogan and Nina Black, Bianca Daniels and Bronwyn Moreen who shared information about the Tiwi Islands, people and culture. This introduction included a fishing trip that enabled us to get a better look at country and the coast, including learning about the lurking crocodiles.
William Barton and Tina Raye were happy with their catch of trevally, which was a good effort considering that sharks were constantly grabbing the fish and jumping onto Tina and Cindy’s hook. The morning was spent fishing, experiencing varying weather extremes, gaining an awareness of the natural dangers that Tiwi people are confronted with, alerted me to the importance of storytelling to Tiwi people, the importance of cautionary tales and stories that deter children from getting attacked by crocodiles or eaten by sharks.
Workshops at Milikapiti School and Tiwi College
William, Alison and I had the opportunity to facilitate workshops with primary students of Milikapiti School and secondary students of Tiwi College. It was apparent at both schools that the students were highly versed in their community’s stories and have a passion for their telling.
Evidence of this is the publication of No Way Yirrikipayi with Alison Lester and the children of Milikapiti School, which was read with much enthusiasm by the children and community members of Milikapiti and Pickataramoor, and the launch of Tiwi Girl on May 5, written by the senior girls of Tiwi College.
Building and maintaining relationships
I've known for many years that the Indigenous Literacy Foundation is incredible in providing remote Indigenous communities with high quality reading materials and through the trip it become very clear that the strength of the ILF is its dedication to building and maintaining relationships with communities, utilising the local leadership and getting it right.
One of the most impressive aspects of the Tiwi communities and the Indigenous Literacy Foundation is their focus and partnership to ensure that Tiwi culture stays strong while the literacy levels of children and members of their communities excel.
Local stories are important to all readers, especially young readers. I am confident that the work being conducted by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation will result in an exciting range of publications produced by Tiwi authors in future as engagement with books and writing for publication increasingly becomes a natural part of Tiwi life.