OPINION: Should publishers be aware of Indigenous protocols? I think ‘yes’.

Posted on June 4, 2014


Confession time (again). I used to consider Australia Aboriginal spirituality and lore as something like Ancient Greek mythology – something to be read, enjoyed, studied and appreciated as a cultural artefact from the past. It was finding myself with a very dear friend who is an Aboriginal that I learned very differently. For many Indigenous Australians, the culture of the Dreaming and more is still a real, living thing. Not every Aboriginal has grown up within this culture but my friend grew up in a regional area where they still lived with this aspect of their culture. And her mob are hardly on their own in that respect. It must be hard to live both in and between both worlds. It is also a challenge for innocents like me to fully appreciate these matters.

Now Australia overall has a pretty terrible record regarding the original indigenes of this continent. Apart from massacres and all sorts of atrocities and not even considering an Aboriginal to be an Australian until after the 1967 Referendum (with one exception –the painter Albert Namatjira was made an honorary ‘Australian’ in order to get his passport and visa to travel overseas with exhibitions of his beautiful landscapes and that ultimately did not have an happy end), Aboriginals were also largely written out of or ignored in Australia history. But there have been some positive developments in more recent years.

I believe a major positive development was that creation and adoption of protocols for producing Indigenous Australian writing, adopted and disseminated by the Australia Council for the Arts andintended to help Australians better understand the use of Indigenous cultural material.

In view of the above, it was quite disappointing to have the Australian end of a major publisher send me a book for review which frankly breaks a number of those protocols. Even the cover seems to be something of a corruption of indigenous art. Even more annoying, at least to me, was the fact that I quite enjoyed that author’s previous work. The fact that they were possibly ignorant of these protocols is perhaps excusable given they are from another nation. However I would have expected more from the Australian end of this major publisher to know better in this respect. Surely a publisher in this country should be aware of this significant aspect of cultural recognition and reconciliation? It seems the distribution decision was made by the UK headquarters of Hachette and I am told that my feedback has been passed on to them.

Ross sig

Posted in: Opinion