Yesterday I spent a glorious afternoon at the Rhonda Jankovic Literary Awards in Seaford. I should qualify my use of the term “glorious” here—the theme for the awards was social justice and much of the subject matter was confronting, and at times, traumatic. But it was glorious in that it was a gathering of writers at various stages of their careers, celebrating writing with a social conscience.
Highlights for me included Nola Firth’s poem, Painting the heart, written in memory of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukamaran; Kerry Harte’s poem, FGM, on female genital mutilation and Shari Kocker’s My baby’s been crying, a piece composed using passages from a 1997 government report on the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait children from their families. I also loved hearing a selection of Tom Shapcott’s and Judith Rodriguez’s powerful writing.
In almost all the stories and poems we heard yesterday, the writers gave voice to the voiceless. But if social justice really exists then perhaps one day we will hear directly from survivors. Persecuted people who have not only reclaimed their voices, but—like Rhonda Jankovic herself—had their voices nurtured. And maybe the stories will be less about despair, and more about survival and resilience. We can only hope.