Professor at the University of Queensland and proud woman Wiradjuri Anita Heiss has received the 2022 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Indigenous Writers Award.
Her critically acclaimed novel Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray (River of Dreams) is a story of heroism and homecomings, and opens with the great flood of Gundagai in 1852.
Professor Heiss said she was overwhelmed with gratitude for the accolades the book had received.
“Our work as writers and publishers of First Nations literature is not limited to books,” Professor Heiss said.
“Our stories tell our truths in history, they empower First Nations readers and offer the general public a glimpse of our communities through our lenses.
“It’s important to note that our words are carefully chosen to ensure that we are portrayed in the world as we see ourselves, rather than through the stereotypical observations that still torment us in the media.”
Professor Heiss said it was the first time the title of an Australian commercial novel had appeared in an Aboriginal language only.
“A friend calls it the Cathy Freeman moment of Australian publishing,” she said.
The $30,000 prize jury said Heiss’s love for his people and country Wiradyuri shone through the novel.
“Caring for each other and being one with Country forms the ethical foundation of this novel,” the panel commented.
During the presentation ceremony, Professor Heiss paid tribute to her Elders and her family, and thanked the judges, readers and booksellers who had supported her work.
A professor of communications, Professor Heiss has written works ranging from non-fiction, historical and women’s fiction to poetry and social commentary.
She is a Lifetime Ambassador for the Native Literacy Foundation and travels internationally to carry out her work and lecture on Native literature.
Professor Heiss is due to travel to Paris in December for a three-month writer’s residency at the Cité internationale des arts, which brings together artists and allows them to implement a creative or research project.
Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray was released in 2021 by Simon and Schuster Australia.