Life On The Job


Indigenous Famous or Historic People

Dr Anita Marianne Heiss (1968 - ?) Writer  - Novelist

Anita Heiss


Introduction

Dr Anita Heiss is a member of the Wiradjuri nation of central New South Wales and author of a number of books, from her historical novel, Who Am I? The Diary of Mary Talence, Sydney 1937, to a children’s book and poetry collections.

Dr Anita Heiss is the award-winning author of non-fiction, historical fiction, commercial women’s fiction, children’s novels and poetry. She is a board member of University of Queensland Press and Circa Contemporary Circus. Anita is a Professor of Communications at the University of Queensland and an Ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and the GO Foundation.

Anita has performed her works nationally (Sydney Writers' Festival, Perth International Arts Festival, Adelaide Writers' Week, Melbourne Writers' Festival, Byron Bay Writers' Festival, Message Sticks, Brisbane Writers Festival, Somerset Festival of Literature, Watermark and Wordstorm, among others) as well as internationally in Spain, Austria, the USA, Canada, Fiji, Japan, New Zealand, China, France, the UK, Tahiti and New Caledonia. She has also been published widely in journals, anthologies and on-line.


Early Life

She was born in Matraville, Sydney in 1968. Her mother Elsie Heiss née Williams was born at Erambie Mission, Cowra in Wiradjuri country. Her father Josef Heiss was born in St Michael in the Lungau, Salzburg, Austria. Elsie started dating Joe Heiss, an Austrian carpenter, in 1957. Two years later she moved into a flat in Redfern with her sister Nellie, and they both got jobs at White Wings cake factory.

In 1960 Elsie married Joe in the St Vincent’s Church in Redfern. Elsie travelled to Austria for six months in 1964 to meet her husband’s family. She was welcomed by her in-laws and quickly picked up the local dialect. The Heiss family moved to Matraville when they returned and had five children: Monika, Anita, Gisella, Josef and Mark. Elsie worked nights at the local Skyline Drive-In and worked at the school tuckshop and did housework during the day. She was well liked and respected by the Matraville community.

 

Parents wedding
Anita's parents on their wedding day 5 November 1960
(Source: Prof Anita Heiss)

Education

Anita attended primary school at St Andrews in Malabar. She was educated at St Clare's College, Waverley then the University of New South Wales where she completed her Bachelor of Arts in History (Honours),1991; she gained her PhD in Communication and Media at the University of Western Sydney, 2000. In 2001 she became the first Indigenous student to graduate with a PhD from the University of Western Sydney. Her PhD was published as Dhuuluu-Yala [To Talk Straight]: Publishing Indigenous LiteratureHS) (2003).

Career

Anita was the Coordinator of Aboriginal projects at Streetwize Comics: an organisation that published free education media for young people. In this role she worked with young Aboriginal people creating comics and posters and organising workshops. Anita resigned from Streetwize Comics after two years and established a consultancy communications firm, Curringa Communications.

Anita also began working as a freelance writer, and began composing a book confronting Aboriginal stereotypes. Her first manuscript, Sacred Cows, was a comical account of Australian icons from an Aboriginal perspective. It was rejected by all major publishing companies, but eventually accepted by Magabala Books.

Anita enrolled in a PhD in Media and Communications at the University of Western Sydney in 1996. She spent two years working on her doctoral thesis on the Gold Coast, before returning to Sydney and renting a writers studio at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre.While completing her doctorate Anita ran writing workshops in regional New South Wales. She also travelled to Canada and New Zealand for research, and gave many guest lectures.

Anita published a second novel in 1998, which was based on her encounters with white people. Token Koori was followed by a historical novel about a member of the Stolen Generations, Who Am I? The Diary of Mary Talence, Sydney, 1937.

After finishing her PhD in 2001, Anita taught an Introduction to Indigenous Australia course at the University of Western Sydney. She enjoyed challenging her student’s preconceived ideas about Aboriginality. Anita became increasingly disenchanted with academia, which she viewed as a system that privileged white knowledge above black experience. She decided to leave the university while at a conference on Indigenous epistemologies in Fiji. Anita resigned from her role at the University of New South Wales, but retained her unpaid role as an adjunct associate professor attached to the Badanami Centre of Indigenous Education at the University of Western Sydney.

The Conversation 4 January 2021

The Conversation
Look at book 3: Growing up Aboriginal in Australia edited by Anita Heiss

In 2004 Anita worked three days a week as a writer in residence at Macquarie University. She spent a lot of time outside of these hours working from home. During this time Anita did the research for her children’s book, Yirra and her Deadly Dog, Demon. She worked also worked on her next novel, Not Meeting Mr Right. Anita was pleased when her novel was accepted by the multinational, commercial publishing agency, Random House. Anita later penned three more accessible novels aimed at women: Avoiding Mr Right, Manhattan Dreaming and Paris Dreaming.

Anita was also the voluntary chair of Gadigal/Koori radio station until September 2008.

In 2010 Anita ran a literacy-based project with year twelve Aboriginal students in south-west Sydney, as part of the Twugia Project coordinated by the New South Wales Department of Employment, Education and Training.

Anita is an advocate for Indigenous literature and literacy through her writing for adults and children and her membership of Boards and committees. She is a role model for the National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy and an Advocate for the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence and an Indigenous Literacy Day Ambassador.

Anita has made guest appearances on television shows including The Einstein Factor, Message Stick, Vulture, Critical Mass, A Difference of Opinion, The Catch Up, Living Black, The Gathering (NITV), 9am with David and Kim and The Circle.

I'm not racist but I’m Not Racist, But… (2007) by Anita Heiss

This poetry collection from activist, writer and member of the Wiradjuri Nation, Professor Anita Heiss, skewers Australia’s racist underbelly.

I’m Not Racist, But… explores identity, pride and political correctness; proposes alternative words to the national anthem; and reveals how it is to grow up as an Indigenous woman in Australia.

This is a landmark work along Australia’s slow road to racial reckoning.



quoted from The Conversation - 24 November 2020

10 'Lost' Australian literary treasures you should read - and can soon borrow from any library

The Conversation

Since 2000 she has undertaken writers-in- residence positions at Macquarie University, Sydney and throughout NSW. She was Deputy-Director at Warawara Department of Indigenous Studies, Macquarie University; Communications Advisor, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board, Australia Council for the Arts and consultant researcher / writer for the Aboriginal History website at the City of Sydney.

Anita was Communications Adviser for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board (2001-2003), was a member of the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) Committee of Management from 1998-2004 and Chaired the organisation 2008-2009. Anita was Deputy Director of Warawara Department of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University from 2005-2006.

In 2004, Heiss wrote and directed her first short film, 'Checkerboard Love' as part of the Lester Bostock mentorship program through Metro Screen, Sydney.

Anita is an Ambassador of the GO Foundation, Worowa Aboriginal College and the Sydney Swans. She was a finalist in the 2012 Human Rights Awards and the 2013 Australian of the Year Awards. Anita is a Board Member of the University of QLD Press, Circa and the National Justice Project.

In 2017 Anita joined the University of Canberra [UC] as a Postdoctoral Fellow.

Peter Radoll
Dean of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership and Strategy Professor Peter Radoll with Anita Heiss at UC
(Source: University of Canberra)

In 2019, she was appointed a Professor of Communications at the University of QLD. When she's not teaching she is writing, public speaking, MCing and being a 'creative disruptor'.

Did You Know?


Awards

In 2002 she was awarded the New South Wales Premier's History Prize (audio-visual category) for the creation of the website Barani : The Aboriginal History of the City of Sydney.

In 2003 in recognition of her literary achievements Anita was awarded the ASA Medal for Under 35s for her contribution to Australian community and public life.

2004 – NSW Indigenous Arts Fellowship

2004 – Nominee: Deadly Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Literature

2007 – Winner: Deadly Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Literature for Not Meeting Mr Right.

2008 – Winner: Deadly Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Literature, with Peter Minter, for the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature

2010 – Winner: Deadly Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Literature for Manhattan Dreaming

2011 – Winner: Deadly Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Literature for Paris Dreaming

2012 – Finalist: Human Rights Awards, Media, for Am I Black Enough for You?

2012 – Winner: Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Indigenous Writing for Am I Black Enough for You?


Some Examples of Anita's Books

River of Dreams

Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray

River of Dreams
Barbed Wire & Cherry Blossoms

Barbed Wire & Cherry Blossoms
Tiddas

Tiddas
Not Meeting Mr. Right

Not Meeting Mr Right

 

Quotes about Anita Heiss in The Conversation

5 August 2019 - The Cowra breakout: remembering and reflecting on Australia's biggest prison escape 75 years on

Cherry Blossoms "The most recent work which revisits the breakout is by Wiradjuri author Anita Heiss.

Her 2016 work Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms provides an Indigenous voice to the history of Cowra, a voice that has often been silenced in accounts of Australian history.

Issues of race, discrimination and loyalty take on a new sense of urgency in this wartime setting, yet also highlight that while much has changed in the last 75 years, so much has stayed the same.

Heiss echoed this view when she asserted there “are lessons still to be learned from the history of Cowra”, lamenting the regression in Australia’s treatment of detainees in centres such as Manus Island or Don Dale."
7 September 2016  
28 December 2018 -  Ten great Australian beach reads set at the beach
Not meeting Mr Right "Not Meeting Mr Right by Anita Heiss

Prominent Australian Indigenous author Anita Heiss straddles both fiction and non-fiction, with her work often grounded in ideas around Indigenous identity. Her series of “chick lit” novels includes Not Meeting Mr Right (first published in 2007).

In the novel, Alice lives beachside in Coogee and regularly walks the coastal path between it and Bondi. A proudly single, Indigenous woman, Alice has a change of heart about marriage and decides to get serious about settling down - which means embarking on the rocky road towards finding love. In contrast to the challenges - including racism - she encounters along the way, the beach is a comfortably ordinary presence in this novel. However, Heiss also parodied the white Australian beach experience in an earlier book Sacred Cows (1996)."

ListenThe Conversation
The Conversation - 5 September 2018
A podcast with Anita

 

The Conversation 7 September 2016

The Conversation

Transcript from The Conversation 7 September 2016

"Popular media forms, from Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s poetry to the dystopian sci-fi television series Cleverman, have often been used by Aboriginal Australians to inform and entertain. The latest example of this type of political and artistic endeavour is Wiradjuri author Anita Heiss’ new work Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms.

Set in Cowra during the second World War, her novel recounts a love story between a young Aboriginal woman, Mary, and an escaped Japanese POW, Hiroshi.

Hiroshi has been given food and shelter by Mary’s family, despite the considerable risk their kindness involves – they live on Erambie Mission under the Aborigines Protection Act 1909, with no rights, scraps for clothes and barely any food. Their very existence depends on the whim of the station manager, King Billie.

Heiss is well-known as the author of five “choc”-lit novels and her writing takes inspiration from the genre made famous by Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996). What sets Heiss apart are the avowedly political ends to which she puts her popular fiction. She wrote in Am I Black Enough For You? (2012): I want people to be challenged, to think about their role in the world and how their behaviour impacts on other people, particularly Aboriginal people. I want readers to learn…

The importance of Heiss’ fiction as an educational device should not be underestimated: the recent example of Bill Leak’s cartoon in The Australian is simply the latest of many shameful examples that highlight mainstream Australia’s ignorance of Aboriginal culture, politics and people. This cultural illiteracy is neither abstract nor theoretical: as Chelsea Bond (and the hashtag #IndigenousDads) argue, it hurts Aboriginal people, it hurts communities and it hurts Australia. It’s a pretty dismal picture. Heiss is a realist, but an optimist. On one hand, her popular fiction aims to instruct the reader in Aboriginal culture, history and politics. On the other, it captures the day-to-day life of Aboriginal women, whether they live on the mission or in the Big Apple, in a style that is entertaining and accessible.

Barbed Wire can, and should, be read as a romance. Heiss’ sensitive portrayal of Mary and Hiroshi’s growing attraction is one of the novel’s chief pleasures: their first kiss is full of everything the war lacks: love, compassion, respect. It lasts only seconds but will linger with them both for a long time after.

With deftness and a lightness of touch, Heiss accords her protagonists privacy in their intimate moment. The war is unshakably present, but it recedes into the background without overpowering the shy advances of her two protagonists. Heiss’ strengths as a writer are on full display: the blossoming romance between Hiroshi and Mary refuses an “us vs. them”, “goodies vs. baddies” mentality, instead presenting a complex view of cross-cultural relationships. Japanese, Italian, Aboriginal and white identities are brought into sometimes uncomfortable proximity. It would be selling Heiss short to say that love erases race, but she goes to great pains to show that respect and trust, patience and compassion far outweigh skin colour in matters of the heart. The genre of popular romance, long associated with female readers, also allows Heiss to make a broader point about similarities between women. Commentary on her 2014 novel Tiddas still rings true: As women what makes us the same is that we value our friendships, we treasure the relationships with our mothers and our sisters, and so forth. … It’s about being human beings. When we think about it, we’ve got more in common than we haven’t.

But Heiss refuses to sugarcoat the past for the reader. Questions of enmity and friendship are snarled and unpleasant: who is fighting whom? If white Australia has declared war on its First Peoples at the same time as enlisting Aboriginal men to die for the British Empire, where should Mary’s loyalties lie? With the nation? With her people? And, more disquieting still for the white reader, are the Japanese and Aboriginal Australians united by a common enemy?

These questions are designed to unsettle the non-Aboriginal reader, destabilising conventional historical narratives and challenging the reader to learn their country anew through the eyes of its First Peoples.

Re-learning the nation, though necessary, comes at a cost. It is worn on the bodies of Aboriginal women, who frequently (and not always willingly) find themselves cast in the role of educator. Over seven pages, Mary explains to Hiroshi the degradations and deprivations of living under the Protection Act. When she stops, finally, “she takes a deep breath, exhausted by what feels like schooling”.

The psychic toll extracted by this “schooling” is immense, wrought firstly by living through the Protection Act and secondly by explaining it to others. Heiss’ fiction comes with a warning to the non-Aboriginal reader: don’t expect Aboriginal people to do the hard work for you. But it is also offers hope for the future: education can create change.

Although Barbed Wire is set in 1944, it presents an unerringly apt commentary on contemporary Australian society, because it precisely identifies the racism that sits at the heart of the Australian psyche. Heiss recently wrote, referring to Manus Island, Nauru and revelations of abuse in Don Dale:

I wanted Australians generally to realise that while we treated the POWs here in the 1940s as we were meant to under the Geneva Conventions, we have gone backwards as a nation today …

Work in the same vein as Leak’s will continue to be produced, printed and defended, and Indigenous youth will continue to be disproportionately incarcerated, until something fundamental shifts in Australia.

For that shift to happen, it’s incumbent upon non-Aboriginal Australians to educate themselves about the past and present of Australia’s First Peoples. A vital first step is listening to Aboriginal voices."

 

YouTube: ONExSAMENESS: Dr Anita Heiss at TEDxBrisbane
https://youtu.be/1f8ew23tLl0

 

YouTube: Anita Heiss — Aboriginal writing: literature as a political tool
https://youtu.be/0x_34uJww_E

 

YouTube: Anita Heiss – National Reconciliation Oration 2019 | City of Melbourne
https://youtu.be/bqH9zgAQ2WE

 

YouTube: Booktopia Podcast: Anita Heiss on Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray [only audio] Listen
https://youtu.be/YKj2YgwsEro

 

 

Links

Anita Heiss

website





ABC - Sunday Extra - Anita Heiss Listen

ABC


Australian Dictionary of Biography - Indigenous Australia

IA
 

 

Activities

Writing a letter to encourage a Writer's Workshop for the School


PrimaryPrimary MiddleMiddle  High SchoolSecondary
CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy
Personal and social capability
Australian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability

IndigenousAustralian Curriculum Cross Curriculum Priorities: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures

1. Anita has worked with La Perouse Primary School as a Writer in Residence and produced books with the students at this school.

For example:

Yirra and her deadly dog Demon       Demon guards the school yard

This time, your school would also like a local writer to be involved with the students to create great literacy works just like the students at La Perouse PS.

2. To do this [create books with an author], you need to contact an author who would be willing to help your class or school. There are various Writing Groups across Australia. An example is Writing NSW

Writing groups NSW

Contact your local State or Territory Writing Group to see if they could help you or send your developed letter to your local newspaper for help.

3. The Letter.

In groups of 3 - 5 students, decide what type of writing you would like to produce - fiction, adventure, fantasy - in a book.

Ask the writers of the Writing Groups if they could provide you with an author who will help you with your book - co-write with you.

The writers would need to

  • Brainstorm ideas with you

  • Provide you with a plot and you provide the characters [or the other way around]

  • Fill in the gaps: you write a "sizzling start" & an "exciting ending" and they write the body of the story.

  • Edit your work

  • Find a publisher and illustrator [if you have drawn the story yourselves] and get the book printed.

4. Selling the book

You will need to let your community know about your combined effort with an author and the resultant book.

 

 

What makes me the SAME as another person?

MiddleMiddle  High SchoolSecondary

CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking

Personal and social capabilityAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

Ethical Understanding Australian Curriculum General Capability: Ethical Understanding

Intercultural UnderstandingAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Intercultural Understanding

IndigenousAustralian Curriculum Cross Curriculum Priorities: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures

PhilosophyPhilosophy

 

1. In groups of 3 - 4 students, you are to view the following video Video

YouTube: ONExSAMENESS: Dr Anita Heiss at TEDxBrisbane
https://youtu.be/1f8ew23tLl0

 

2. Jot down all the arguments Anita puts forward.

3. Discussion

Discuss these points amongst your group. What would be counter-arguments?

4. Join with another group and answer the question:

What makes me the SAME as another person?

TeacherTeacher
Link to Year 9 & 10 Curriculum
Tackling Racism in Australia - Resource

Use the following pages within this resource to further discussion.

Exploring Cultural Diversity p.12
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly p.16

 

 

Materials sourced from
Australian Dictionary of Biography - Indigenous Australia
Brisbane Writers Festival
Worawa Aboriginal College
Wikipedia

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