Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Friday 19 November 2021

“Nothing about us, without us” Decolonising Your Library

A snapshot of some important considerations in assessing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature in the library collection.

I recently attended a webinar hosted by the Australian School Library Association and delivered by Sharon Davis and Bianca Brim from  Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) on decolonising the library. This webinar covered many aspects of decolonising libraries, but my focus is on literature  that is respectful and authentic of indigenous culture.

The key factors of identifying appropriate literature are: 

By Us: A title that is developed by Aboriginal people.
Bruce Pascoe, Sally Morgan, Nakkiah Lui, Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) are creators whose works cover a diversity of genres: poetry, plays, history, non fiction and picture books. One particular favourite of mine is Going for Kalta by Yvonne Edwards, Brenda Day and Tjitji Tjuta (all the kids)

With Us: A title that is developed in respectful partnership with Aboriginal people.
Examples include The Story of Our Mob by Sally Dingo (spouse of actor Ernie Dingo) and the collaboration between Boori Monty Prior and Meme McDonald which produced my favourites: Maybe Tomorrow and My Girragundji.

For Us: A title that is developed on behalf of Aboriginal people(s).
I have been unable to locate titles that fit this category of appropriate literature…which I find to be positive. 

Books that are About Us and/or Against Us, where there has been no Aboriginal input and/or which present deficit views of Aboriginal peoples.

Indigenous publications should: be authentic; be a balanced perspective; have Aboriginal participation; be accurate and supportive of Aboriginal culture and exclude content of secret or sacred nature.

Some takeaway ideas: 

  • That any text that use inappropriate words such as ‘aborigines’, ‘those’, ‘their’, ‘them’ or describe the concept of ‘terra nullis’ are red flags to acceptability. 
  • That texts should not over-represent the role of the male in cultural practices.
  • AIATSIS are publishing a catalogue of appropriate indigenous resources. They are also happy to receive donations of inappropriate resources for their archive.
  • The NCACL (National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature) Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander Resource catalogue should be used with caution as it includes resources that don’t fit the above criteria for appropriate literature.

Sites to visit for further information and support:

Felicity Sly is a Teacher Librarian at Don College in Devonport, and Treasurer for CBCA Tasmania.

Editor's comment:  The NCACL have provided a statement in regard to the rigorous processes taken to evaluate and select resources for inclusion in the Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander Resource catalogue. 


The National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature Inc (the ‘Centre’) received a grant in 2020 from the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment to create a database of Australian children’s books by and about Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander Peoples. The Agreement signed with the Government required the Centre to incorporate the views of Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Their views were incorporated through their:

  • membership on the Reference Group leading the project
  • appointment as ‘Critical Friends’ who advised on books to include/exclude, Australian curriculum, cultural sensitivity, appropriate terminology and historical perspective
  • appointment as Contributors who selected, read, annotated, choose subjects and teaching resources for the books.


Dr Belle Alderman AM

Emeritus Professor of Children’s Literature

Director, National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature Inc

1 comment:

  1. I discovered on Friday that Tas Writers present an award: The Emerging Tasmanian Aboriginal Writers Award https://taswriters.org/events-and-opportunities/emerging-tasmanian-aboriginal-writers-award/
    Their page is well worth a visit.