Book Review First Nations

This Korean Woman Reads: ‘We Come With This Place’

Written By Contributor “This Korean Woman Reads” – Anna Yeon

“This Korean Woman Reads” is a book review series by Anna Yeon, who will be writing for the site reviewing books written by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) writers in Australia and from other parts of the world.

Headlines: Debra Dank, a traditional owner, daughter, lover, wife, mother and academic writes the ‘story of our souls’; starting from one of the true beginnings of these lands we call Australia. Featured in the Grattan Institute’s Summer Reading list of 2022, this story will live on beyond time and across borders .

Mood: Storytime under the stars and around the campfire by the most revered Aunty in your clan; feels like fire sparks and fairy dust about the history that binds us together in the oldest civilisations on earth. Read this and feel educated in the best way.

Pair with: Another Day in the Colony by Chelsea Watego. Reading the genre of non-fiction on Australia lived and written by powerhouse female First Nations’ writers is a transformative experience in literature. Also pair these books with allyship and sisterhood if you’re not a First Nations person like me.

Image via Amazon

I first heard about this book at a climate conference. Debra Dank, the author, stood up in a packed room of ‘important people’ and  started making the most sense of anyone, resetting the direction of the discussion to where it ought to have been: towards truth, solidarity and constructive collective action.

Obscured by the thick grey concrete columns in the conference hall, I heard her before I saw her. I turned to my friend – an experienced and brilliant activist – we looked at each other and knew we felt the same: that lady is a warrior! And we instantly feel stronger with her there.

During the lunch break we sought her out, seated with her daughter (who famously “fronted” Leonard Dicaprio at a UN climate meeting) and heard more stories. Her perspective carried the humility of a scholar and her generous hugs radiated steely strength matched by serene warmth and hospitality. I eagerly waited for her book to be published.

The prologue sets the tone of this book, aptly titled ‘We come with this place’. Dank’s pros are polished by her PhD on  Narrative Theory and Semiotics, but it is distinctive in its ability to transform oral storytelling into text. 

The first chapter starts by taking the reader into a time capsule; finishing it feels like a metaphorical coming out of the birth canal. It’s about the origin story of Gudanji Country, of the three travelling Water-women – the one ‘half’ of the author’s heritage. The chapter titled ‘Lawless’ speaks to the story of the Wakaja and how she came to be the two in one.

There are chapters that are seared with violence, loss, grief, fear and trauma. But are readers (by now) shocked by this, I wonder, because if we have done any homework on the recent history of colonial Australia, of course there is: this country has committed genocide and stolen children from their families for centuries.  

There are also triumphs, overcoming and breaking through these darknesses, as I also wonder (by now) are readers surprised by when reading First Nations’ penned literature? The pedigree of one of the oldest civilisations on earth helps flow the ink onto these pages, so of course there is. And in this book, there is a particular moment in a butcher shop where I as a reader felt a shift between fear to hope,  captured  so wonderfully in the chapter ‘Sheltering’.

As a romantic, the chapter about Dank’s love story with her husband (titled ‘Meeting’) was particularly enjoyable. Yes, it was better than a predictable “vanilla” rom-com story. A coupling that growsand dreams together simply makes for better romance, I think, than any Hollywood production. I was envious of the author’s younger self, to have the self awareness and gut feel to know who she was in love with and was loved by. Her tribute to her parents’ romantic love also felt like such a treasure – could there be a better inheritance in any family than the sweet sounds of an orchestra of intergenerational love marriages?

And it is this seed of love Deb Dank carries that seeps through these pages, until the end chapter.

Buy this book as a gift for those who: a) want to experience the oral tradition of storytelling by reading it from the page; b) wish to know the true beginnings of so called ‘Australia’; and c) believe that love, in fact, can conquer all.

Coming to the end of this book 

Here’s to happy reading,

This Korean woman reads

You can follow Anna Yeon on Instagram by clicking on Annayeonwrites

Header image via National Indigenous Times and Amazon

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