2023 - Winner
We Come With This Place is an outstanding narrative of outback Aboriginal life, family and traditional philosophy. In turn heart-stopping and mesmerising, this is a stunning exploration of a community deliberately silenced for generations. The author is a First Nations scholar and grandmother; an inheritor of a culture which has taken countless lifetimes to cultivate. Born of a generation who literally fled for their lives from frontier violence in the Gulf, Dank gently takes the reader into her Gudanji universe. She writes of growing up cherished by her extended family, and drinking from hidden sweetwater wells, known only to the initiated through ceremonial journeying. She writes of breaking in horses as a child after her correspondence school lessons were done, of hunting crocodile and of living in a caravan which it was then illegal for her hard-working Aboriginal parents to own. There is humour, tragedy, and ceremony too, all told with meticulous care for historical truth and for the reader’s experience.
The events in We Come With This Place span the length of human civilisation on our continent. Dank effortlessly takes us from the creation times when travelling Water-Women made her Country, to images of her young grandchildren visiting sacred cycad trees where Gudanji have gathered for millennia. The in-between times — the coming of the first cattle, and the terror when the ‘new sound of metal on rock’ was first heard by her family, are told too, in a quintessentially Aboriginal fashion. Even the most confronting and terrible new stories are expertly woven here into the bigger, more powerful story of her Gudanji Country. This sensational memoir is an unheralded reflection on what it is to be First Nations in Australia, and on the very deepest meanings of family and belonging.
The panel chose We Come With This Place as our category winner because Dank’s memoir — if indeed memoir is a good enough word for this astonishing narrative — exemplifies all that First Nations writing can and should be. The writing is culturally rigorous and deeply thoughtful. Dank seeks to expand the horizons of the reader in a way which centres, not the author as an individual, but rather her Country and the wider community she has grown within. Most of all, her memoir shows a powerful path forward from colonial trauma towards a space of mutual respect and self-determining futures. Essential reading.