When Archie Roach sang his most famous song Took the Children Away at the Bicentennial in 1988, two elderly Aborigines from the Northern Territory came up to him afterwards.‘‘What you write that song about?’’ the old man asked. ‘‘Me,’’ said Roach, who was taken as a child from his parents. ‘‘No, you wrote it for me,’’ said the man. He introduced his companion. ‘‘This is my sister. I met her last week.’’
That was a big moment when he realised just how widespread the removal of children from Indigenous mothers had been, Roach said last weekend at Geelong at the sixth Word for Word festival, the only one in Australia to focus on non-fiction writing.
The 2019 festival had a strong Indigenous theme. We were welcomed with didgeridoo music, girls performing traditional dances and a speech from Wadawurrung woman Corrina Eccles. Tyson Yunkaporta, author of Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World, managed to be droll, sombre and mindboggling in his session, and illustrated his ideas with drawings in a drum of sand.
Law professor Ron McCallum, who has been blind since birth, impressed and touched us with his stories of how his world changed with the arrival of computers when he was 38. Until then, he’d made his way as a student and academic by persuading family, friends, colleagues and students to read his texts and papers to him (or later, to record them on cassette tape). He had to work 14 hours a day to keep up with all the reading.