Life On The Job


Indigenous Famous or Historic People

Sally Jane Morgan (nee Milroy, 28 January 1951 - ?) Writer & Artist

Sally Morgan

Introduction

Sally Morgan is an Indigenous Australian author and illustrator. She has published books for both adults and children, including her acclaimed autobiography, My Place.

As a child, Sally Morgan found school difficult. Questions were asked about her appearance and family background. She understood from her mother that her family were from India. When Sally was fifteen she learnt that she was in fact of Aboriginal descent, from the Palku and Nyamal peoples of the Pilbara. Her family was part of the Stolen Generation and she grew up in Perth, unaware of her Aboriginal heritage. This experience of hidden origins and her subsequent quest for identity were the inspiration for her 1987 autobiography, My Place.  It tells the story of Sally's self discovery through reconnection with her Aboriginal culture and community. My Place was an immediate success and has since sold over half a million copies in Australia.

While researching her family history for this book, Morgan's childhood interest in art was rekindled. In 1986, Sally Morgan held her first exhibition at the Birukmarri Gallery in Fremantle.

Sally is now an internationally-renowned artist. Her works are held in numerous private and public collections in Australia and the United States.

She is currently Director of the Centre for Indigenous History and Arts at The University of Western Australia.

Her books for children include picture books, junior fiction and middle fiction titles including The Amazing A to Z Thing, Feast for Wombat, Sister Heart and the Charlie Burr series. She has recently released two picture books Dream Little One, Dream (Penguin) and I Love Me (Fremantle Press), both illustrated by Ambelin Kwaymullina [her daughter].

Dream Little One Dream            I love me


Early Life

Sally Morgan was born on the 28th of January, 1951 in Perth, Western Australia. Sally Morgan's parents were William Joseph (a plumber) and Gladys Milroy. According to various sources, it is known that her father died after a long-term battle with post-traumatic stress disorder so she was raised by her mother and grandmother. She is eldest of her five siblings. She grew up in a household with little money, her family often struggled making ends meet. Sally lived with her mother Daisy and grandmother Gladys who had a significant impact on Sally’s life. "Most of my positive influences have come from my mum and my grandma...some of the things they taught me was to respect the environment and to respect wild creatures."

Having been told that they were of Indian background, she discovered in her teens that the family had "part"-Aboriginal ancestry from her mother's and grandmother's side. This discovery motivated her later research into her family's history and culminated in the writing of her autobiographical work, My Place, which integrates the life stories of her mother (Gladys Milroy), her grandmother (Daisy Corunna), and her grandmother's brother (Arthur Corunna).

She married Paul Morgan (a teacher) in 1972 and they had three children: Ambelin Kwaymullina, Blaze Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, with whom she has co-written a number of works.

 

Education

Since she was very young, she knew she wanted to become an author. Sally had a difficult schooling experience, she had a knack for getting herself into trouble. She was also often teased for her completion as it was darker than her peers. At this time Sally was unaware of her Indigenous heritage. Sally learnt the truth about her heritage at the age of fifteen. This was a difficult concept to grapple at this age. "I wanted to know the truth and I needed that information to understand myself and the way our family interacted with each other because other people had always said you're different or what country did you come from and we just didn't fit into the community and I wanted to know why we didn't fit."

Sally’s mother and grandmother had disguised Sally’s Aboriginality throughout her life, telling her she was Indian, due to fear. "Aboriginal people had had such a terrible time ...like my grandma and my mum were very frightened that when dad died that us five kids would be taken away and that was based in reality because my grandma had been taken away and then my mum had been taken away and they just couldn't handle the idea that a third generation of our family would be torn apart." This aspect of Sally’s life played a significant role in the choices she made later in life.

Her strengths in school were English and Arts studies. "The only thing I felt I was good at was English and Art - I used to fail maths consistently and I wasn't interested in anything else and then I think I was fourteen or fifteen and the art teacher ridiculed my art in class one day and then I thought I'm not even good at that." At the age of seventeen Sally finished her schooling and began to work, however she found she disliked this more than school. Sally went to university to study to improve her job prospects, she went on to study arts.
 

Sally used her strengths in English and the Arts to strengthen, not only her understanding of Indigenous culture, but the nations; this became a passion of Sally’s. "What I really believe in, especially for kids these days is, follow your dreams, even if other people think that your dream is silly or they think that you haven't got the ability to achieve it, just don't listen to the negative stuff, you know you've got to follow your dreams because if you have enough determination you will get there, you will get there eventually - just don't let other people put you off."

In 1974, she completed her BA at the University of Western Australia, majoring in psychology, and continued with postgraduate diplomas in Counselling Psychology, Computing and Library Studies at the Western Australian Institute of Technology.

Career

Sally Morgan's first ever book My Place was published in 1987 in Europe, Asia, the United States and Australia where she managed to sell over half a million copies. My Place details her story of struggling with identity and reconnecting with her Indigenous culture. Sally published her second book Wanamurraganya in 1989 which tells the story of her grandfather Jack.

Morgan wrote a play Sistergirl that was first performed at the Festival of Perth 1993. Sistergirl is the story of two elderly Aboriginal sisters, one of whom had a child taken from her and who is now dying in hospital, an institution which frightens the life out of Aboriginal people in general and old ones in particular. "I am very interested in older Aboriginal women. A lot of them have had very different life experiences," she says. "It sounds depressing, but it is actually very funny and also deals with old women's attitudes to men. There's a lot of rude jokes."

Morgan has also gained a considerable international reputation as an artist, and has written and illustrated children's books. The Art of Sally Morgan was published in 1996.

In 1997, she was appointed Director of the University of Western Australia Centre for Indigenous Art and History. She has also held the positions of Chair of Aboriginal Literature Committee and membership of the Literature Board of Australia Council. Morgan worked at the School of Indigenous Studies (University of Western Australia) in the area of oral history. In a 2004 interview, she said that she sees writing as a vehicle to give people a voice, for people to be heard, a vehicle that can tell our family stories and give a deeper balance and insight into the past as well as the present. "I have been helping people to tell their stories. The last eight years I have been working with other Indigenous people and have been doing editorial work for oral history projects, which have been published as community resources." (Source: Interview with Blanch Lake, Aboriginal Information and Liaison Officer, Arts Law)

She continues to write and illustrate children's books, for which she has won or been shortlisted for a wide range of awards.

 

Did You Know?

Kids' Book Review
10 Quirky Questions with Sally Morgan
[3 May 2016]

KBR


1. What's your hidden talent?
I think my hidden talent is my ability to communicate with and appreciate the natural world.

I enjoy watching birds or any other creatures going about their day. I’m woken early every morning by the singing of magpies, who love roosting in a nearby tree. Sometimes the young ones warble too early. I think they are still getting their morning song timing right.

2. Who is your favourite literary villain and why?
My favourite literary villain is Aaron Blabey’s Pig the Pug. Pig is a gross character, selfish and conniving, but so very human. Also, I once owned a pug who was so much like Pig they could be brothers.

3. You're hosting a literary dinner party, which five authors would you invite? (alive or dead)
I’d invite my daughter Ambelin, Bruce Pascoe, Bronwyn Bancroft, Andy Griffiths and Alison Lester.

They are all wonderful storytellers with a sense of humour, so it would be a fun evening.

4. Which literary invention do you wish was real?
My first thought was – What’s a literary invention? – so I looked it up.

If I could make anything about literature real it would be to shed more light and understanding through the books that challenge us to deepen our humanity, to redefine our definition of sentient, to raise our consciousness and to love, love, love the world we live in.

5. What are five words that describe your writing process?
My writing process is random, frustrating, sometimes obsessive, dreamy and open ended.

Open ended means I start a lot of writing projects and never finish them. I’m good at beginnings, but not so good with everything else.

6. Which are the five words you would like to be remembered by as a writer?
The five words I’d like to be remembered by as a writer are accessible, heartfelt, natural, funny and sad.

7. Picture your favourite writing space. What are five objects you would find there?
My favourite writing space would always include our two elderly dogs aged 16 and 17 years of age, a comfortable chair, a mug of peppermint tea, some art to gaze at, a big window looking onto the garden and my battered laptop.

8. Grab the nearest book, open it to page 22 and look for the second word in the first sentence. Now, write a line that starts with that word. (Please include the name of the book!)

The Witches, Roald Dahl, page 22 , second word – AS

AS I’m writing this my two small dogs are giving me pleading woofs of demand for breakfast. Previous to this, there were bashes of demand at the back door. A quick pee, then loud howls of protest at the neighbour’s cat, who hissed regally from her perch on the side fence. After breakfast there will be whines of demand for a walk, during which they will attempt to savage any giant dog trying to befriend them. On returning home there will be a sleep full of snores, dreaming yips and foul farts, but they will awaken in time to give my feet a few playful nips of demand for a hearty lunch.

Oops – not one sentence – got carried away!

9. If you could ask one author one question, what would the question be and who would you ask?
For author I have to substitute storyteller. In which case the storyteller would be my great grandmother and I’d ask her what her world was like when she was young.

10. Which would you rather do: 'Never write another story or never read another book'?
I’d prefer to never read another book ( there’s always television) than never write another story.

Awards

Sally has received multiple awards for her amazing work. Her first book, My Place got Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission humanitarian award in 1987. She was the winner of the Order of Australia Book Prize and Fremantle Print Award along with Bevan Honey.

Morgan has won numerous awards and prizes, among them the Human Rights Award for her 1989 biography of an Aboriginal relative, Jack McPhee, Wanamurraganya.


YouTube: Sally Morgan and Gladys Milroy on The Couch
https://youtu.be/SZi5X8YEF10

 

YouTube: Storytime with Sally Morgan & Blaze Kwaymullina [with pre-schoolers]
https://youtu.be/EHYrms4qjCk

 

 

Links

ABC - Awaye Listen
3 May 2008
47m 23s

ABC Awaye





ABC RN - Books and Arts - Podcast - Sister Heart [24 August 2015]
https://abcmedia.akamaized.net/rn/podcast/2015/08/bay_20150824_1022.mp3 [15min]

Sister Heart

Some books written by Sally :

My Place
(Published 1987)

My Place


Wanamurraganya: The Story of Jack McPhee 
(Published 1989)

Wanamurraganya: The Story of Jack McPhee (1989)
An A to Z Story of Australian Animals
(Published 1 January 2020)

A to Z

Sister Heart

Sister Heart


Welcome Child!
(Published 1 March 2021)

Welcome child
We All Sleep
Ezekiel Kwaymullina [her son] & Sally Morgan
(Published 3 April 2017)
We all sleep
Little Bird's Day - story Sally Morgan, Illustration Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr
(Published 1 April 2019)

LBD
My Country
Ezekiel Kwaymullina, Sally Morgan (Illustrator)
(Published 3 September 2019)

My Country

 

Activities

Your Family's Culture (submitted by Ella Barry, Teacher, ACT)


PrimaryPrimary MiddleMiddle  High SchoolSecondary
CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking
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. Contemplate your own families culture, think about your history, traditions and any rituals you may have. Sally was able to capture her families culture through her artwork [101] and stories which you can view here: Australian & New Zealand Art Sales Digest

Just like Sally, work to your strengths to create a something which highlights your families culture.

Perhaps you could create

  • a website,
  • build a diorama,
  • create an artwork
  • a story,
  • write a song or
  • choreograph a dance


2. Share with your class and explain your creative piece and your reasoning.

 

 

 

My Place and the Stolen Generations (adapted from ideas of Ella Barry, Teacher, ACT)

 High SchoolSecondary

CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking
Personal and social capability
Australian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability

 

1. Sally’s family life was essentially shaped by being a part of the Stolen Generation. If you are unaware of what the stolen generation is, familiarise yourself by watching these videos:

YouTube: 07: The Stolen Generations interview [23m]
https://youtu.be/RUoMy5aCuiI

 

 

2 Write notes about what Prof. Peter Read said. and list words that you are not familiar with.

a. What is cultural "cleansing"?

b. "Just imagine that your children [in the 1950s] are taken by police at lunchtime" and the parents didn't know.
How would you feel if you were taken from your family to never see them again?

c. Dr Susan Carland is the interviewer in this video. What other questions would you like to have asked Prof Peter Read?

 

YouTube:07: The Stolen Generations
https://youtu.be/aDuxRddyZQY

 

 

Reconciliation Australia creates posters each year for National Reconciliation Week. As a group of 3 - 4 students, you are to create a poster [or art work including mosaics] in the vain of Sally Morgan's art work for Reconciliation Week [27 May - 3 June].  These dates commemorate two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey— the successful 1967 referendum, and the High Court Mabo decision respectively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Materials sourced fromMaterials sourced from
National Library of Australia

Wikibioage
Kids' Book Review
Australian National University: Indigenous Australia
Trove

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