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

By and | 3 February 2024

AW: Beyond writing, you’ve done a lot of important work in areas of policy and advocacy work, including around public health and keeping culture strong. Can you tell us a little bit about that side of your life, including perhaps some of the things you’ve achieved and the way this relates to your writing?

SF: I work in the public service, and I’ve worked there since maybe about 1993, so that’s probably about, 30 years, give or take. Not all the time. I’ve worked in non-government and community roles, so it hasn’t just been 30 years in the Australian Public Service. I guess that’s my day job, Monday to Friday. That’s what I focus on and I give myself to that work and quarantine that time. It’s rewarding and challenging, and I get to meet a diverse range of people which is great. I can be an introvert and I can be an extrovert. Like, being an introvert is sitting at my desk doing my work with no one disturbing me. But I also get to be an extrovert and lead national consultations. I’ve got to be up there talking and engaging with people and on the phone with people. I’ve got to pick the days when I’m an introvert and the days when I’m an extrovert.

Health is really challenging, especially for our mob, but it can be very rewarding when your work contributes to more funding and when you see research funded in areas that matter to close the gap. I think their wins are your wins as well too, in a way, in that you were a part of that story. Without naming anything in specific, it’s great to be a part of the big picture and yet only a small part along the way because other people are involved as well. My work put together a grant that funded a national network for Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander health researchers over five years and that’s currently made up of over 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers. For me, I think that’s really nice to be a part of that and to see how many careers you can have an impact on in the sector. It allows you to go home at the end of the day feeling positive about it and how you’ve made a difference.

I don’t write much about work. I like to keep it separate and ‘work is work’ and my writing is more about promoting Torres Strait culture going back to my childhood and telling other people’s stories like my grandfather’s with the book, Life B’long Ali Drummond. Pamle: Torres Strait Islanders in Canberra is also about sharing other people’s stories and assisting them to find their voice and to make that public. I’m sure there’ll come a time when I sit down and think about my life, but I’m not ready for that just yet.

AW: It sounds like those passions come from the same place, that same passion for culture.

SF: Yes.

AW: In addition to poetry, you’ve written two non-fiction works. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the similarities, differences, and perhaps intersections between non-fiction writing and your poetry, or if indeed there are similarities. If there are, what are they and what are the differences beyond obvious things like poetry, using line breaks? I’m thinking about things like the motivation process as much as the work itself, and I’m wondering if and how these different ways of writing might feed into or complement each other.

SF: I think certainly, Life B’long Ali Drummond, was about telling my grandfather’s story or sharing that with him and Pamle is more about Torres Strait Islanders in Canberra and how they maintain culture in Canberra. A lot of Torres Strait mob are here to study and to work. We do have a Torres Strait Corporation here in Canberra, so we do celebrate Mabo Day and NAIDOC week and going more from the individual to the community – just sharing those reflections and finding out about all these amazing things that individuals have done, and they just go about their business and it’s like: ‘Oh my gosh, you’ve done what?’ We’ve got some amazing and interesting people here in Canberra. I think some of the differences are included in some of the stories in Pamle. Pamle came out years ago, so there’s always the question of: ‘What are they doing now and where are they?’ But Canberra also has such a very mobile population, so we might have a whole lot of new Torres Strait Islanders here in Canberra. I’ve been here 30 years, sure, but other people have come here and done a year and then left or stayed longer than me. There have been like, maybe two generations that have stayed here as well, too.

The commonalities between poetry and non-fiction is that with poetry, some say it’s easy, and others say it’s challenging. And I think sometimes it can be a bit of both. Sometimes, you know, when you get a line or an image and you write it down, it’s like, okay, that was easy, that was good – I’ll leave that alone. But other times it can be quite challenging and how do you convey what you see or hear or feel on a page or in a paragraph? I think you have to be quite masterful or clever to synthesise it down as well too. Whereas with non-fiction, you’ve got the space and the length to play with. Sometimes with poetry, you must be quite concise and brief and perhaps that’s probably something that the Australian Public Service has taught me, is that you must be brief and concise. I do like that about poetry.

I often think of one of the writing exercises that Aunty Kerry gave us was to write a poem and then expand that into a short story. It’s like: ‘Oh my gosh, you’re challenging me to write a poem into a short story? How am I going to do that?’ So I think doing writing exercises teaches you a lot about how you can use your words in a clever, clear, and concise way to expand or make it succinct. For me, that’s what’s exciting about words and language and different languages – they can convey so many different meanings.

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

Related work:

Comments are closed.