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

By and | 3 February 2024

AW: In addition to your own very impressive writing as an individual poet, something I admire about you is that you’re absolutely a team player – by which I mean, you give of yourself to support other poets and poetic communities. You’re currently on the board of the First Nations Australia Writers Network, a.k.a. FNAWN, and Us Mob Writers Group, and you’ve represented women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander interests on local, state, and national boards. I’d love to know more about these organisations and activities. Let’s start with FNAWN. Could you give us an overview of what it is and the role it plays?

SF: FNAWN is the First Nations Australia Writers Network, it’s the lead key advocacy group for Aboriginal Torres Strait writers, poets and storytellers in Australia and it’s been going for quite some time. Aunty Kerry Reed-Gilbert was the inaugural chairperson of FNAWN. The current chairperson is Yvette Henry Holt and I’m the treasurer of FNAWN. I think that was sort of something I put my hand up for when Aunty Kerry passed, and Yvette took over as chair. I stepped in as treasurer to support Yvette in that role and we’ve had a couple of our national summits to organise and bring writers together and run ‘in conversations’ with members. FNAWN has four-year funding from Creative Australia, which has been great to keep doing the work and create a space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers, poets, and storytellers. I like to encourage emerging writers to advocate for themselves with industry and with publishers. In the past, FNAWN has run national Indigenous round tables next to our national summits. This is where writers can connect with publishers and vice versa. Publishers get to see early-career writers and established writers as well. FNAWN has many aims, it’s a national body that has been needed for some time.

AW: Maybe you could share a little of your own specific experiences with how you first connected with the group and, and how you’ve come to play the role that you do.

SF: Aunty Kerry asked me years ago to join and be a member and then to step into a director role as well. I guess it was just a natural progression after being a member of Us Mob Writers to join FNAWN and be a part of that national membership to support each other and to see how we connect and appear at festivals or learn or run a class on writing or poetry. Our skills develop over time and there’s always an emphasis on sharing these ideas as well. I think, mainly Aunty Kerry encouraged me, and a lot of other people, to become FNAWN members and to engage and take part in the national body that it is today.

AW: Staying in that same vein, you’ve just mentioned Us Mob. Let’s chat about Us Mob. You’ve just brought out a fantastic new anthology, Kuracca (New South Books, 2023). Can you tell us a little bit about US Mob, how it formed, and what it offers to members?

SF: Us Mob, was known as the ACT Indigenous Writers Group, many years ago. It was initially formed by Jenni Kemarre Martiniello in Canberra but it’s changed over time and Aunty Kerry took it over, maybe ten years ago now. Us Mob Writing Group became incorporated in 2018 under the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC), so it has changed over time. We’re a Canberra-based group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers – mostly women. We have had men in the past, but we’re currently maybe about a dozen active women and that’s good because we get together monthly to write, read, and support one another. The main thing is that we provide constructive criticism to one another and identify opportunities to enter competitions, appear at festivals, write grants and undertake retreats where we can also discuss and concentrate on our writing practices.

We’ve just had our third, recent publication, Kuracca, in honour of Aunty Kerry. It was through Aunty Kerry’s persistence and motivation that encouraged members to write poetry. We had a writing exercise where every two weeks we had to produce a poem based on a theme and that got us to our first publication By Close of Business, and then Too Deadly: Our Voice, Our Way, Our Business and now Kuracca. So, we’re hoping to get back into the routine of writing and work on the fourth publication. I think for many other members it’s been a wonderful, enjoyable experience to share work and support one another in our writing practices. It’s very complementary, not competitive. We can see everyone has their niche in the group, and we promote and support one another as well. I really like the friendship that we all have and that’s just developed and grown over time as well as the mutual respect for one another.

AW: That was evident at the launch of the anthology last night. There was such a beautiful sense of community amongst everyone present, but also such a wonderful range of different writing topics and styles. It’s a great anthology. Now I think I can anticipate one of the answers to my next question, are there particular writers First Nations and/or non-Indigenous writers who have inspired or encouraged you? These might be people you’ve met personally, or who mentored you, but also writers you might not have met directly, whose works have spoken to you.

SF: So, of course, Aunty Kerry Reed-Gilbert, I think as a writer and a mentor, as she showed me the importance of just to keep asking people: ‘How’s your writing going? Have you written anything lately?’ I think just that persistent attention. It makes you realise: ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to write something, but I haven’t, and you know, Aunty Kerry would say: ‘That’s okay, well, you know, maybe today or maybe tomorrow’. So, I think it’s just that consistency with writing and putting something down on paper every day. You’ve got to keep going—that’s your writing practice. If that’s the one thing you do, then just write, put it down on paper and you can come back to it later and edit it and work on it.

But first things first is to get your words down on paper. So, I think just being encouraged to write has instilled in me that importance of writing itself and making time for it. It doesn’t have to be a whole hour, who can find a free hour somewhere in the day? But if you break it down like writing first thing in the morning for 10 minutes, or if you have a little break or something pops into your mind – write it down straight away so it’s there and you can work on it later. I think Aunty Kerry as a mentor and definitely Dr Jackie Huggins (FNAWN Patron), as someone who also encouraged that motivation in working on my manuscript that turned into my first publication, Life B’long Ali Drummond: A Life in the Torres Strait. Jackie asked: ‘What are you doing with it? I know you’ve got the manuscript. Why don’t you go through Aboriginal Studies Press?’ And I had never thought of anything like that. Just having someone there to say: ‘Have you thought of this and this? What’s, your next step?’ So I did it, and it got through and it’s published. I think it’s important that you have people in your life who ask you some of these questions because sometimes you don’t see what the next steps are as well, whereas they’ve gone and done these things. But again, the responsibility is on you and then to keep an eye on other people and their works and go: ‘Hey, how’s your poetry going? What are you going to do with it? Have you got a collection? Have you thought about taking it to these places?’ It works both ways. You’ve got to encourage other people to keep at it as well too and share what you’ve learned. There’s something to learn from everyone and there’s also a responsibility to write and share your stories.

This entry was posted in INTERVIEWS and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Related work:

Comments are closed.