I think there are a lot of Australians who would like to know more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture but they just don’t know where to begin looking for the information. I liked the idea of writing a book that would offer people an easy place to start their journey.
On a trip to Canada, I was browsing through a bookstore and saw Native Americans For Dummies. Having previously lived in the United States and Canada for four years, I thought: ‘What a great idea! I wish I had seen that earlier.’ As I have written material for teachers and engaged with the work of local reconciliation groups, flicking through the pages made me realise that a similar book on Indigenous Australia would be a great idea.
As fate would have it, about 18 months after my trip, I received a call from the publishers of the For Dummies books — Wiley. They thought a book on Indigenous Australia would be great for the series. I agreed! And I also agreed to write the book.
It took me almost two years to research the book. There were topics I thought I knew well (Aboriginal art, performing arts, law, education), others where I thought I knew a bit but would have to learn more (totemic systems and cultural values), and subjects where I knew I would be learning a lot (sport!). But I found that even in the areas where I was sure I had the knowledge, there were always things that I could learn more about. I also found other areas that I became really interested in. For example, the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to war efforts and the armed services. One of the things I love most about this book is that it was a way for me to learn more about my own history and culture.
The book gives readers access to plenty of facts with a light, upbeat and easy-to-follow tone — characteristics that the For Dummies brand represents. Furthermore, even though the book deals with some difficult issues, these are communicated in a way that is informative yet neutral. People often become overwhelmed with how big the challenge is to ‘close the gap’ and I felt it was important to provide readers with plenty of examples of programs and strategies that have worked. It was important to highlight that some really positive initiatives do exist and that they are providing good results in areas such as literacy, health and crime prevention.
Originally, I had people approach me wanting to know more about Indigenous issues. I was excited to write something that allows people to feel that Indigenous history and culture is a central part of the Australian story. That’s been great. But another fantastic thing that has flowed from the book is that I have had Aboriginal people tell me how much they like the book and that they have given a copy to their children so that they can learn more about their culture and history.
Indigenous Australia For Dummies doesn’t pretend to be an exhaustive account of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture. It only skims the surface. (You should see how much material I had to leave out of the book due to space constraints!) But I hope that readers find it to be a great place to start.
Larissa Behrendt, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on the Booktopia Blog
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.