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blackfulla bookclub is a platform for first nations stories
images by Natalie McComas and Carine Thevenau

blackfulla bookclub is a platform for first nations stories

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Merinda Dutton and Teela Reid are the literature-loving pair behind this online community.

At their best, book clubs are about connecting with people and sharing new ways of looking at the world. Discovering words that sing and cry and hit you in the heart. They’re also, obviously, about wine and cheese. Which is how Blackfulla Bookclub started, too.

Back in the beginning of COVID times, Merinda Dutton – a Gumbaynggirr and Barkandji woman – was looking for a way to stay connected to her gang of black lady lawyer mates, so she started a Zoom book club (BYO wine) where everyone could share what they were reading outside of work. Teela Reid, a fellow lawyer and Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman, decided to set up an Instagram handle: @blackfulla_bookclub. Within a week, they had 1000 followers. These days, it’s pushing 30,000.

“What we’ve learnt at Blackfulla Bookclub is that so many people have a lust for storytelling – to understand their world in this time and space,” Teela says. “We’re basically creating an opportunity for others to reconnect with parts of themselves, or learn new things, or unlearn old things. I think the way you can do that is through blackfulla storytelling. It’s such a powerful way to understand the world.”

The literature-loving pair met 10 years ago, and have considered themselves sisters ever since. They both work for Legal Aid. They both love travel. They both spend all day reading for work, and admit that Blackfulla Bookclub has become a useful prompt to read for fun outside the 9 to 5, and reconnect to culture. “I think that’s why it’s so relatable to people,” Merinda says. “Because we’re just lawyers who love books and stories.”

While Merinda wonders if they might be “interlopers” in the heavily styled world of “bookstagram”, their feed does have the requisite number of pretty book photos. It also has online author chats, tips on how to support Aboriginal publishing, and prompts for people to tell their own stories. “It’s guided by our principles, our protocols and our values,” Teela explains.

Merinda and Teela are especially keen to move beyond the idea that stories only matter when they’re published in a book, or told in the Queen’s English. “Blackfulla Bookclub is this really organic and ethical way of decolonising this space that white people might call writing or publishing,” Teela says. “It’s just simple to us: it’s storytelling. And storytelling isn’t always through a book, and that’s what we’re trying to share.”

So the duo also posts stuff you might not find in an average book club: kids’ content, podcasts, TV shows, oral storytelling traditions. Blackfulla Bookclub is a community page that lets anyone connect with First Nations thinking. It’s accessible and generous and pretty joyful, too. “We encourage people to come to the page with an open heart and an open mind,” Merinda says. “And to be really conscious about the way they engage with our stories and with themselves.”

Though the response online has at times been overwhelming (and Teela admits they haven’t always been able to answer their DMs), the pair still loves hearing how the Blackfulla Bookclub community is getting into reading. “One of my favourite stories came from an Aboriginal brother that I knew from Grafton,” Merinda says. “He messaged us and was like, ‘I just started following your page and I’m wondering if you have any book recommendations. I’ve never bought a book in my life!’ And he's like, ‘I don’t really read very much.’ Then literally that morning he went out and bought a book. He messaged me a few hours later saying, ‘I’m four chapters in! I can’t stop reading this book!’”

Teela and Merinda’s Blackfulla Bookclub recommendations:

Talkin' Up to the White Woman by Aileen Moreton-Robinson

M: I think anybody who views themselves as a feminist needs to read this, and understand the way that feminism interacts with Indigenous women.

Because A White Man’ll Never Do It by Kevin Gilbert

T: It’s about the Land Rights Movement. Kevin Gilbert was a prisoner, and he wrote much of this from prison. It’s such an interesting book – simple and complex.

Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven

M: I just love this book. It’s a short story collection. It totally breaks any rules about what you think a book should be. It doesn’t follow any rules at all; it’s just so beautiful.

Little Yarns podcast with Rudi Bremer

T: In terms of collected children's stories, this podcast just puts it all there in one accessible space. And it’s presented on the ABC by an Aboriginal woman.

Benang: From the Heart by Kim Scott

T: He’s an amazing storyteller, right out Noongar man. His fiction is really profound. It cuts deep and opens up Australia’s wounds like never before.

Homeland Calling: Words from a New Generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voices

M: A book of hip hop lyrics! It's just so beautiful that young Aboriginal people are connecting to themselves and to their communities through this poetry.

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