Ali Cobby Eckermann is a celebrated yankunytjatjara/kokatha poet and writer. Her remarkable memoir, Too Afraid to Cry, gives witness to the human cost of policies that created the Stolen Generations of Indigenous people in Australia.
Removed by the Welfare from her aboriginal family, a practice widespread for many decades, Ali was placed with a German family who gave her a comfortable upbringing but a very different one from the one she would have experienced with her natural birth parents. The sense of loss of identity and the desire to rediscover her natural roots has remained a firm commitment throughout her adult and writing life. She continues to live between contemporary city life and indigenous bush country life, motivated by a search for self as well as the desire to help her fellow aboriginal people become vocal and empowered.
Ali's first collection of poems little bit long time was published by the Australian Poetry Centre, in their New Poets series in 2009. The book sold out in months and is printed on demand by Picaro Press.
Her second collection Kami was published by Vagabond Press, in their Rare Objects series in 2010. Her first verse novel His Fathers Eyes was published by Oxford University Press in 2011, as part of the Yarning Strong educational resource kit.
All's poems and short stories have been published in various anthologies, journals and magazines. She has been featured on the Poetry International website. Some of her poems have been translated and published in Croatia, Indonesia, Greece and New Zealand.
She won the 2006 ATSI Survival Poetry Competition and the 2008 Dymocks Red Earth Northern Territory poetry Award and was highly commended for the Marion Eldridge Award in 2009. 'Ruby Moonlight' won an inaugural black&write! Kurildhagun Indigenous Writing Fellowship through the State Library of Queensland in 2011.
Ali Cobby Eckermann conjures a lyrical and unique imagining of the past.a powerful wordsmith and surgical factotum of the struggle to maintain indigenous voice in Australian writing. Samuel Wagan Watson.
This extract, from an interview available on www.poetryinternationalweb.net, sums up Ali’s current thoughts about her work.
‘I hope that audiences who hear my words will have a better understanding of Aboriginal life and the emotional impact of past and present (bad) policy, especially the Stolen Generations. If this can be achieved through my poetry and prose then I can die happy. This drive has prompted me to open Australia’s first Aboriginal Writers Retreat in my home at Koolunga in mid north South Australia, in the aim for more grassroots and heartfelt Aboriginal literature to be written and published’.
Ali’s language group, Yankunytjatjara, is a traditional Aboriginal language group of northwest South Australia, who have maintained their traditional cultural practices, and are a major language group of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands.
The following two poems beautifully sum up the return of the poet to her birth people and the longing to learn about her indigenous language and culture and ancestry. There is also the recognition that, as Elders pass away, learning might become more difficult.
Nana yells over the campfires
wiya wanti, whitefella wiya
this my family, they bin taken away
this my family, they bin come back now
we gotta teach them proper way
she laughs holds my hand
is right now she smiles
First Time (I Met My Grandmother)
Sit down in the dirt and brush away the flies
Sit down in the dirt and avoid the many eyes
I never done no wrong to you, so why you look at me?
But if you gotta check me out, well go ahead – feel free!