Read a Blak Book lately? Carrie Tiffany on Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book
The first Victorian Indigenous Literary Festival, Blak & Bright, runs this weekend from 18–21 February. To celebrate the festival, we asked writers to share a story about a Blak book that means something special to them. Today, 2013 Stella Prize-winning author of Mateship with Birds, Carrie Tiffany, discusses Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book.
I saw my first black swan in Perth at age six. Before then, in England, we’d visit the local pond and feed the white swan with broken biscuits. I wanted to scream when I saw that black swan on the Swan River; I wanted to howl and curse. It was the black of the burnt gum trees that leaked a bloody sap in the bush behind our new house; it was the black that hazed the cornea when you stared at the Australian sun.
I came to love those Australian swans in their inky velvet, and see beauty in the retarded trees. And now, in Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book I have a beloved novel of great mystical cheek to trump all those pallid white-swan stories of my early childhood.
The Swan Book is set one hundred years in the future. The world is experiencing the full calamity of climate change. Refugees roam the seas looking for somewhere to settle and Australian Aborigines still live under the intervention. A dusty swamp in the Gulf of Carpentaria offers a haven for Oblivia, an abused young woman destined to marry Australia’s first Aboriginal President. Oblivia is on a quest for sovereignty – not just of her physical being, but also of her mind. The book is rich with characters: there’s Aunty Bella Donna of the Champions, Big Red, a talking monkey, the Mechanic, the Harbour Master and President Finch. And of course there are swans – real swans, prophet swans, swans from books and songs and stories.
The Swan Book is a feast of language, myth, satire, politics, humour and layers and layers of stories. It should be required reading for all Australians. Through story there is a chance our country can be saved.
– Carrie Tiffany
The Stella Prize is proud to support the Sistas Are Doing It… panel at Blak & Bright, held on Saturday 20 February 12.15–1.15pm. Featuring Tammy Anderson, Anita Heiss and Kate Howarth and moderated by Ellen van Neerven. Tickets are free, but please book here.