Five Questions with Karen Wylde

Karen Wyld was Indigenous X host from June 25 to July 6.

For most of my adult life, my self-definition had become “what” as opposed to “who”. I’ve been: sibling, daughter, girl, woman, mother, wife. A sole parent, divorcee, student, volunteer, artist, worker. That last one can too easily become the dominant tag of identity, the first point of introduction – the tired “what do you do?”

Instead, bear with me as I introduce myself in three themes: identity, place and belonging.

A core part of my identity is where I’m from; my heritage. I am of Aboriginal descent (Martu). I was born on Kaurna country, and have lived most of my life in the same region. I’ve not yet visited the Pilbara region of Western Australia, to walk the country on which my mother and grandmother were born, but I trust that this will eventually happen.

My mother was removed from Jigalong as a bub, under policies now referred to as the stolen generations. This meant that she, and her children, has missed out on learning Martu language, and culture, and growing up on country with family. This is a loss that, unfortunately, too many Aboriginal people experience. I’m proud of my Aboriginal heritage, but also acknowledge my non-Indigenous heritage, as my identity is formed by both.

Karen Wyld’s hand on a rock Photograph: Karen Wyld/Supplied

Being passionate about the environment, and being in-tune with nature, “place” is important to me. For many decades I’ve lived by the sea, on the Fleurieu Peninsula of South Australia. My home is nestled between sea, scrub, hills and vineyard. Growing up on a farm, I’ve never been able to adjust to city living, so this urban fringe location is perfect.

In past times, being involved in my geographical community was very important to me. I’ve started and/or supported: a housing co-op, community gardens, a food co-op, social enterprises, activist groups, youth activities and more. Mostly with young children in-tow. Nowadays, I’m more interested in being involved in Aboriginal communities, and online writer communities.

My belonging come not just from community, as family is important too. I’m the oldest daughter in a family of six siblings. Growing up in a multi-generational home was certainly hectic at times, but it was also enriching.

I have this old black table in my house. It was made at the beginning of last century, by my great-grandmother’s step-father, and given to her and my paternal great-grandfather as a wedding gift. It’s now covered in scratches and dents, but I’ve got no plans to change that table. There are too many memories buried deep in its battered grain. That table was given to my parents as newlyweds. It’s been a core part of family life for over 100 years. When I sit at that table, I’m reminded of who else has sat there; and of those who are gone. My offspring now sit around that table, adding to the collective family scratches and dents.

Through the lens of age, I have fond memories of my childhood. I believe that being able to run barefoot across paddocks, secretly exploring beyond the fenceline, was the perfect catalyst for a developing imagination. Also, there were many skilled storytellers around me, including my brothers, mother, paternal grandmother and great-grandfather. I spent many hours listening to their tales. I hope to pass on some of these family stories to my children.

I’m a bit of a storyteller myself. It runs in the family. A month before I turned 50, I finally published my first novel. Despite wanting to financially be able to write full time, it’s still an after-hours occupation.

I’m currently working on a couple of manuscripts. I experiment with a literary genre known as magic realism. It’s a perfect medium for talking about hard truths, in a way that is more easily absorbed. Magic realism blends the new ways with the old, to delve into post-colonisation history. Globally, it’s been used by many indigenous peoples, to re-tell factual stories of invasion, diaspora, colonisation or revolution. Magic realism is a good fit for the stories that I aim to share.

I’m also an infrequent blogger, sharing a mix of fiction, commentary, self-reflections and a travelogue. In addition to self-learning the ropes of indie publishing, I’ve become quite active on social media. I’m a co-admin for a Facebook magic realism writers and readers group, and co-admin for a Google+ community for writers who want to de-stress by getting a bit silly. I’m a member of the First Nations Australian Writers Network.

Karen Wyld’s footprint in the sand Photograph: Karen Wyld/Supplied

I currently work for an Aboriginal community-controlled health organisation. It’s essential for the sector to maintain its evidence-based outcomes, despite recent defunding and lack of respect from current governments. There are many success stories and innovation found within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander controlled organisations and services that I love to share.

Too many things! I’ve often been accused of being too passionate about things. I’m now more conscious of the need to balance passion with acceptance; to develop a 360 view of issues and situations, and to try to see the world through other peoples’ lenses. Some of that perception, and tolerance for others, came about from being a participant of the South Australia Governor’s leadership program during 2011.

I’ve stopped trying to force change, especially the world views of other people. Instead, I can support people to see a different aspect, by providing information and space for open discussion, rather than hitting them with a big stick. Except on Twitter – sometimes it’s too hard to resist temptation!

Among my friends and co-workers, I’m known as the political one. Sometimes I need to remind myself that not everyone likes to discuss politics. Same with my other favourite topics: environmental issues, social justice, Aboriginal issues, and bias of mainstream media. Literature is another topic that I don’t really have in common with friends. Thus my obsession with social media – it’s so easy to find communities of interest online.

Becoming an indie writer was largely due to the support I got on Google+. Indie publishing, and other forms of non-traditional publishing, is something else I’m very passionate about. The rapidly evolving digital world is providing people with diverse pathways to telling their stories to a broader audience, especially for writers from diverse backgrounds.

There are many people I admire, but I’ve never really had a role model. I searched for years for someone to take me under their wings, and teach me the ways of the world. Finally I realised that I am my own teacher. That said, despite not having role models, I’ve known many admirable, wise and creative people.
I look to a future where we, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, will no longer have to fight for equity and rights. I hope for a time where every Australian has a strong understanding of the true history of this land that we now share, and can respect the continuous connection between the first peoples and country. And I wish for a time where non-Indigenous people are able to acknowledge the ongoing impact of colonisation, as well as the ongoing harm caused by inequity, racism and ignorance. I look forward to a kinder future for all the people, environment and creatures I share this planet with.

Personally, I look forward to many more years, and opportunities, for new experiences and travel. Maybe having grannies will be something to look forward to, but not too soon. I’m still having too much fun enjoying my reclaimed freedom. I will definitely write more novels. I have many stories still waiting to be told.

Click here if you’d like to read some of my work, or find out about my novel When Rosa Came Home. You can also connect with me on Twitter, Google+, Facebook or Instragram.

 

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