Ever wanted to know more about Aboriginal Australia but been too afraid to ask? Larissa Behrendt believes you are not alone. While travelling in Canada some years ago, the Australian indigenous author and academic spotted a copy of Native Americans for Dummies and thought it was a great idea.
When publisher Wiley approached her several years ago to ask her to write an Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander version, she jumped at the chance.
As a professor of law at the University of Technology in Sydney with a master of laws from Harvard, she was well aware that much of the available literature on complex indigenous issues was not easily digestible for the Australian general public. "I was interested in writing something that would be an easy, accessible place to start learning about indigenous Australians," she said.
"With the Dummies titles, people know they'll get information about a particular subject in a fairly lighthearted and fun way that's not intimidating. I do cover serious topics in the book … but I was really interested to test my writing and engage a different audience."
The former NAIDOC person of the year said she had written plenty of material for teachers over the years and was struck by how many were willing to teach students about indigenous issues, but not confident enough in their knowledge to do it. "With a lot of the work I do around reconciliation, you meet a lot of Australians who are genuinely interested and want to know more about Aboriginal history and culture, but don't really know where to start," she said. "It was a challenge to write a resource aimed at teachers and people involved in reconciliation as well as a general Australian audience."
With a foreword by former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, the book is a handy reference guide covering broad topics - from the effect of British colonisation on Aboriginal people to the impact of the modern-day Northern Territory intervention. There are sections about ancient and modern history, sport and contemporary arts and culture as well as health, housing and education.
The book also covers significant political moments in history such as the 1967 referendum, Paul Keating's Redfern speech and the Mabo verdict, along with the history of activism, land rights and reconciliation.
Behrendt said she felt proud writing about the contributions of Aboriginal people to the armed services and Australia's civil rights movement, as well as stories of successful socio-economic developments and achievers in many fields.
"It gives a bit of hope when we see those examples where people at grassroots levels have come up with really good solutions … it's not all bad news and there's plenty to celebrate," she said.
"It would be great to have an Australia where all Australians feel like Aboriginal history and culture is part of their history and culture.
"I certainly tried to include a lot of examples where people could engage and experience things, with suggestions about museums, walking tours, cultural sites and films and things like that."Indigenous Australia for Dummies is published by Wiley ($39.95).
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