After Heat and Light

Present: Gerald, Rigdrol, Ellen, Tim, Andy

Our meeting started with a discussion of the recently issued Uluru Statement from the Heart. This was something we were all enthusiastic about, in that indicated ‘a new direction in Indigenous politics’ and arguably, a moment of greater confrontation between the politics of the Liberal and Labour parties and those who represent Indigenous Australia.

Ellen van Neerven’s Heat and Light, was our first work of fiction, out of the three books we have read, so far. For some of us, it was a bit of a leap, outside our usual habits of reading a lot of non-fiction. For Gerald, it was partly enjoyable for many of the places drawn upon in the book were familiar to him, as he too had grown up in Brisbane. Ellen had read the book before and was pleased that we had chosen the book.

Tim chose it and was responsible for leading the discussion. He chose the book partly for her being a very good writer (something we all agreed on) and for her clarity in articulating issues within family life. Tim brought up the author’s identity as an Aboriginal woman who is also queer and wondered about the similarity of these identities. He spoke of whether or not both identities involve a process of ‘coming out’. Gerald responded by saying what he found interesting was how van Neerven’s stories were framed in such a manner that what was explored wasn’t so much the degree to which such minorities are stigmatised, but how the narrator was able to negotiate her multiple identities.

The book is divided up into three sections. The first, “Heat”, tells stories of bleak family life: families are a mixed source of love and security, but also violence and tension. Death is not far. “Water” is a science fiction short story in which a new nation, Australia2, has a privileged role for First Nations people. There are some hybrid humans, too, and some erotica full of planty entanglements. “Light” provides perhaps the most-straightforward reading of contemporary Australiana. The book shows van Neerven’s skill and her ability to master a range of styles. This book shows the impossibility of categorising what ‘Aboriginal Australian’ fiction might be. Van Neerven’s narrators have questions of their heritage, and use it as a springboard for a critical engagement with their context.

In short, we all loved the book. Good choice Tim. Perhaps sooner or later we will also read her other book, Comfort Food.

Here is a link to a podcast of van Neerven reading one of her own stories: this one about football (soccer):

Our next book is Bruce Elder’s, Blood on the Wattle: Massacres and Matlreatment of Aboriginal Australians since 1788 (Chatswood: New Holland Publishers, 1988). To be discussed on Monday 10th July, Thresherman’s Bakehouse, 12:30pm, 221 Faraday St, Carlton.

above photo from

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