I recently picked up Born Into This, a debut collection of short stories from Adam Thompson, an Aboriginal (pakana) author from Tasmania. What a treat. This often dark, often funny, always intelligent read addresses universal themes – identity, racism, heritage destruction – from a wholly original perspective.
The stories in Born Into This throw light on a world of unique cultural practice and perspective, from Indigenous rangers trying to instil some pride in wayward urban teens on the harsh islands off the coast of Tasmania to those scraping by on the margins of white society railroaded into complex and compromised decisions.
To this mix, Adam Thompson manages to bring humour, pathos and occasionally a sly twist as his characters confront racism, untimely funerals, classroom politics and, overhanging all like a discomforting, burgeoning awareness for both white and black Australia, the inexorable damage and disappearance of the remnant natural world.
One of my favourite stories is ‘Your Own Aborigine’, which is about a couple of tradies in a pub discussing the government’s changes to Aboriginal welfare by introducing a new Sponsorship Bill. They’re watching the news on a screen at the pub, showing footage of union organised demonstrations opposing the bill. The controversial new law means that every Aboriginal welfare recipient must be sponsored by an Australian taxpayer – think World Vision Sponsor a Child program. One character shows the others the thank you letter he’s received from ‘his Aborigine’, along with the obligatory photo. Darkly funny and extremely uncomfortable, I later gave it to both my sons to read.
Then there’s ‘Descendant’, and the character Dorothy, who moved me deeply, with an unshakable passion for her Aboriginal heritage. She is upstaged in class by one of the Instagram-type students who announces that she too has Aboriginal heritage (her dad told her), and has the support of other students and their teacher, because school policy states that “Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander status is determined by self-identification…”
I could go on – there are so many compelling characters and tales in this, but I won’t ruin the pleasure of you discovering each new story for yourself.
Imbued with wit, wisdom, anger and heartache, these engaging, thought-provoking stories vary in length, with all of them packing a punch. Thompson has delivered a polished and very impressive debut with Born Into This, taking his place as an author to watch out for.
Acknowledgment of Cultural Fund support
Better Reading acknowledges the support provided by Copyright Agency for us to support Born Into This.