Friday 11 September 2015

Sister Heart

I hadn't heard of Sister Heart when I picked it up recently at my local book shop. I'd heard of Sally Morgan of course. Indeed I've been meaning to read her seminal book My Place for probably decades now. I know that I've boorrowed it from the library on occasion, and still not managed to read it. So of course I was sorely tempted by a new pretty hardback- even better, a verse novel for children. I still can't quite believe that I like verse novels now, and even actively seek them out. Thanks to Steven Herrick for that. You never know one day I might get mature enough to read poetry...

Sister Heart may have sat unread in my humungous TBR were it not for Lisa at ANZLitlovers running her Indigenous Literature Week  last week. The timing was too good to pass up. 

Sister Heart is the tale of a young girl forcibly removed from her family, from her country.

I hate the bully policeman
for snatching me
from the station
when Mum was working
at the out-camp

This young girl is taken by boat to her new home far away, although it is not a home based on family, it is the cruel, rather inhospitable home of institutional care with corporal punishment and stinky soup, where she is left alone and bewildered, until she is befriended by another girl Janey.

I breathe deeperpretend I am biggertaller olderI walk like I'm not afraidlike I am brave

There are many things we don't know about this young girl. We don't know where she is from really, although she is referred to as a norwester, implying that she is from remote North Western West Australia. We don't know her real name. She is give the name Annie by the Reverend who travels with her, but she already has two other names. 

I already have an english name
Lots of people on the station
have english names
Boss won't say language names
but I have one

My language name
is the name Mum whispers
when I'm sick
The name she croons
when she strokes my hair

Annie struggles with many things at her new home. She misses her home, her family, her country. She also struggles with English. 

There is too much english in this placeenglish hurts my headenglish is hard on my tongueenglish is missing good wordsenglish is lonely

Annie is lonely too and for a while she loses her voice too.

SometimesI feel my voicerattling inside melike a trapped thingtrying to get out

I'm certainly glad to have heard Annie's voice. Stories of the Stolen Generations are powerful and important to remember, these forced removals of children still affect families now. After all they were official Australian government policy into the 1960s and 70s. 

You can listen to Sally Morgan talk about Sister Heart on Radio National. It's a fascinating background to the book. In Western Australia the Aborigines Act of 1905 made the Chief Protector of Aborigines the legal guardian of all Aboriginal children under 16 years of age, and so he had the power to move any of them at any time. Sally Morgan dreamt the first page of Sister Heart, and feels her great grandmother gave the story. 

See the Teaching Notes from Fremantle Press. 

P.S. I can't fix the formatting of some of the poetry. I have tried multiple times, it can't be corrected. Sorry.


Anonymous said...

Hello Louise, and thank you for participating in ILW 2015. This sounds wonderful, a powerful read for both adults and young people.
And I love the cover art, was it designed by Sally Morgan? I have seen some of her artworks and her use of colour is really striking.
I will add the link to this review to the reading list at ANZ LitLovers - thanks!

Brona said...

We should set up a verse novel appreciation society.

I hadn't realised this one was a verse curiosity about this book has now increased tenfold!

I also spotted the Anita Desai book on your currently reading panel which reminded me of the happy time about 15 yrs ago when I read all the Desai's I could get my hands on. I loved how sensory her story world was.

Susan said...

I've read a couple verse novels and they still haven't grabbed me. Maybe I haven't read the right ones yet. The idea still intrigues me.

Sonia said...

Sally Morgan's verse novel, Sister Heart, was poignant and endearing to read. She captures the stolen generation experience for children in a compelling way without the story seeming didactic in terms of the historical period captured and the serious issues being addressed. Readers alike are able to identify with the protagonist's experiences of ancestral loss, geographical displacement, cultural assimilation, and survival. I highly recommend Sister Heart for both children and adults to read.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

The novel-in-verse that wowed me was Out of the Dust. One of these days....