‘Share what you’ve learned’: Amelia Walker in Conversation with Samantha Faulkner

By and | 3 February 2024

AW: That leads nicely into my next question, which is how these cultural traditions inform your practices as a poet today.

SF: Yes, just having that awareness and strong connection to the environment and Country and the respect for Country and one another. Like, ‘bringing people with you’ as well as just ‘take what you need in terms of resources from the ocean’ or ‘take enough for what you need or your family needs’. You don’t need to take a lot – but say if you catch a dugong or a turtle, you share that with your family or your neighbours or the community. You go fishing for dugongs or turtles for birthdays, weddings, and other important events like funerals because it’s not everyday food. These practices allow you to ‘bring others with you’ as a family or a community. If you don’t have immediate siblings your cousins are also your sisters and brothers as well as other Aunties and Uncles in the community – that’s how you’re raised. We had three generations under one roof with my parents, grandparents, and my sisters, a Great Aunt and an Uncle as well. Everyone’s got different roles and responsibilities. There was always an adult watching us as children – you weren’t allowed to wander off. I think it’s just that safety and community that you grow up in and that’s probably like Aboriginal cultures as well.

AW: As I mentioned in passing before, you and I came in contact through Invisible Walls, a literary exchange project that I’ve been co-facilitating with Dan Disney at Sogang University in South Korea, which has for two years been putting Korean and Australian poets in partnership to inter-transcultural dialogue and create new works based on learning. You participated in 2023 and your Korean partner poet was Ra Heeduk. Could you share a little about your experiences of conversing with Heeduk? For instance, did you find points of commonality? Did you find points of commonality personally, culturally, or creatively? And if so, what were they? Has the exchange left any lasting impact on you?

SF: Thanks for those questions. This was a great opportunity and I think at first, I thought: ‘Wow, five Zoom sessions, that’s a lot, what are we going to talk about?’ But I was really surprised at how we both got on so well. I suppose I felt like this for the first three Zoom sessions, but I think by the final two Zooms, we were almost talking over one another, so the translator had to stop and think before translating. I think by the end of it, we were just getting started. We initially exchanged three poems and it was just beautiful. I certainly got to know Heeduk in a very respectful way, and she was very respectful of me too. Heeduk had some great questions about Australia in general and the Aboriginal culture. I sent her some links along the way to explore, and then that developed into more questions. Heeduk’s poem ‘The Mushroom at the End of the World’ really stood out for me. It begins with the line: “Have you ever heard spores pop?” This resonated with me because the image that came to mind was the coral spawning. I wanted to explore with Heeduk how she got her ideas about mushrooms and then contrast them with the corals born here in Queensland in the Great Barrier Reef and go back to my grandfather’s experience of diving when that happened.

I think there were similarities where we could exchange and then also grow from because we had to write another three poems at the end of the project. Heeduk is very interested in Country connection and the reef, and vice versa. Our warm relationship developed over time with similar interests like poetry and how to write about the world through poetry individually – but also identify that poetry connects us with other people no matter the different countries we come from. I’ve since developed an interest in Korean poetry and literature.

I was the inaugural Torres Strait Islander curator at the Brisbane Writers Festival (BWF), in May 2023 and South Korea was the country of focus too. So, I got to sit in and listen to Bora Chung, who wrote Cursed Bunny and I bought the book and she signed it. It’s just amazing – the very clever and witty short stories that Chung produced. I think I’d like to read more of Chung’s work and explore some of the other writers who appeared at BWF as well. I’ve got some other books at home and hopefully, I get to read them and think about them and see what resonates with me. It’s encouraged me to look broader afield than Australian literature.

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