Etchings Indigenous: ‘treaty’

As I’ve mentioned previously, I used to work for Ilura Press, publisher of Etchings Indigenous, and I’ve got huge admiration for its founders, my friends Sabina Hopfer and Christopher Lappas. So this is not a review.

This is the second Etchings Indigenous. Following on from last year’s ‘Black and Sexy’, this one has a ‘treaty’ theme. In the classic mode of ‘little magazines’, it includes stories, poetry, interviews, reviews, photography and art. It also benefits from Ilura Press’s superior commitment to design and high quality reproductions of art and photography. Interestingly, here, the use of the word ‘story’ suggests a commingling of short stories, essays, commentary and memoir.

Last year, I was fortunate to meet and spend some time in Ubud and Jakarta with both Lionel Fogarty and Ali Cobby Eckermann. Their individual work stands out here. Timmah Ball interviews Fogarty, who is a fascinating man and a truly original poetic craftsman. In the interview, responding to Ball’s question about inspirations, Fogarty offers this tribute to Eckermann: ‘At the present day Ali Cobby Eckermann has kind of touched me personally to know my sadness cannot be taken away by stances.’ What a startling, rich and confronting observation Fogarty gives readers to think about: sadness cannot be taken away by stances.

Eckermann herself has several pieces in Etchings Indigenous. My favourite — if I say why, I’ll spoil it — is the poem ‘Intervention Allies’. I don’t know if Eckermann would call herself a protest poet/writer, but she certainly achieves a balance that allows her writing to carry, rather than become subsumed by, a political ‘message’. Creative political writing is a tough gig. So often the writer’s political point — however important, however urgent, however inquisitive — chips away at the potency of the storytelling, leaving behind something rather wooden, something that is, often, not much more than a slogan. It’s a mark of Eckermann’s ability and care that she’s not caught in that bind with a poem such as ‘Intervention Allies’.

Tony Birch’s story ‘The Light in Winter’ is, I think, the pick of the prose. It’s a simple story of sleeping and living rough, but it’s poignant and understated and humane. Bruce Pascoe’s ‘Embrasure’, a take on settlement, is also terrific (and rather better than the other story and the poem he contributes). I also liked Maryanne Sam’s story ‘Journey’, even though it ended just as it was getting really interesting.