NONA & ME
Nona & Me was my first novel. It was published by Black Inc and released in October 2014. Here is the blurb:
Rosie and Nona are sisters. Yapas. They are also best friends. It doesn’t matter that Rosie is white and Nona is Aboriginal: their family connections tie them together for life. Born just five days apart in a remote corner of the Northern Territory, the girls are inseparable, until Nona moves away at the age of nine. By the time she returns, they’re in Year 10 and things have changed. Rosie has lost interest in the community, preferring to hang out in the nearby mining town, where she goes to school with the glamorous Selena, and Selena’s gorgeous older brother, Nick. When a political announcement highlights divisions between the Aboriginal community and the mining town, Rosie is put in a difficult position: will she be forced to choose between her first love and her oldest friend?
I wrote Nona & Me while living in the remote Aboriginal community of Yirrkala, in north-east Arnhem Land, which is also where the novel is set. The inspiration came from three main sources: watching my children play with the kids in our adopted Yolngu family; thinking about the Close the Gap campaign and wondering when the ‘gap’ begins; and seeing two girls – one white, one black – happily swimming together at the pool. If you’ve read the book you might recognise this last experience in one of the chapters.
The novel draws heavily on interviews with people from the communities of Yirrkala and Nhulunbuy. It would have been impossible to write the novel without their generously shared stories. I also worked closely with Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs, an amazing Yolngu woman and teacher, who acted as a cultural advisor throughout the entire process. She was among the first to hear the idea for the novel, and then helped me fill in many blanks along the way, reading both drafts, and providing feedback and information. I can’t thank her enough.
Praise for Nona & Me
‘Rosie’s story brims with the joy and pain and complexity of friendship and love at sixteen. I adored this smart, heartfelt book about family, kinship, country, and finding out what really matters.’ – Fiona Wood
‘A fascinating book, beautifully told, with rich insight into a deeply Australian but little known community.’ – Jackie French
‘Nona & Me is one of those wonderful books that takes you deeply into a rarely seen world and brings it vibrantly to life…Clare Atkins writes about a place and a time with love and care, and explores a complicated and fraught situation with honesty and respect.’ – Books + Publishing Magazine
‘Nona & Me is the kind of book you think about for many hours, days, even weeks!, after you put it down.’ – The Little Bookshop
“Clare Atkins’ debut novel is a triumph: a coming-of-age tale that celebrates friendship and loyalty, family and community. Here is a striking new voice in Australian youth literature, and her story is one that will surely leave its mark.” – Danielle Binks, Kill Your Darlings
‘Clare Atkins delivers a polished, unflinching book that deserves to be read’ – the Age/SMH, Spectrum
‘[Clare Atkins] wrestles with some of this country’s most hotly debated political issues with a rare lightness of touch. [Nona & Me is] a convincing portrait of a naive but feverish first love, friendships waxing and waning, and the clash between fitting in and sticking to your values. Above all, there’s a warmth and optimism that’s hard to resist.’ – Daniel Herborn, the Sunday Age
‘This [is a] powerful, beautifully contoured story of cross-cultural friendship.’—Joy Lawn, the Australian
Resources & Links
The Black Inc website has a great range of teaching resources about Nona & Me to download including:
- teachers’ notes
- Australian Curriculum questions and answers
- short articles about writing about Aboriginal characters and the origins of Nona & Me
- a video clip of me talking with Alice Pung about the novel
- a mini-film of two Yirrkala girls showing you around the places featured in the novel.
If you are interested in finding out more about Yolngu culture I highly recommend the book Welcome to My Country by Laklak Burarrwanga and family. You can read a bit about the book and an interview with the author here. Or if you are lucky enough to be able to travel, you can organise to visit Bawaka yourself – they even do school excursions!
Nona & Me is set against the political backdrop of the Northern Territory Intervention. Whilst all the events in the novel happened, they are based on people’s recollections and may not be completely accurate in terms of time frame. If you want to learn more about the Intervention try these sites:
- Tracking the Intervention with Four Corners (interviews and TV news video clips)
- The Intervention One Year On (radio)
- Prominent Yolngu Artist Speaks Out Against Stronger Futures (article and video)
- The NT Intervention Six Years On (online article)
- ‘Our Generation‘ (film about the intervention made in 2011)
- The Social Justice Report 2007 (report)
- Stop the Intervention (organisation website)
For a comprehensive timeline of Aboriginal history, from ancient history to the modern day have a look at this great timeline.
This is a great short video about life in Yirrkala by some of the Yirrkala school students.
And this is an awesome hip-hop piece called ‘Knowledge is Power’ made by many young people from Yirrkala at the Garma Festival 2015.
Key political speeches:
Organisations working to make things better:
- Oxfam’s Close the Gap campaign
- Indigenous Literacy Foundation
- Australians for Native Title and Recognition
- Reconciliation Australia
Other interesting related links:
- Yirrkala Art Centre
- Rripangu Yidaki (my Yolngu family happens to include one of the best yidaki players in Australia!)
- Lirrwi Tourism (Yolngu-run tourism in Arnhem Land)
- The Yirrkala Bark Petition
- Cathy Freeman wins gold in the 2000 Olympics
- Blue Mud Bay sea rights case & Dhimurru Rangers site
- The Freedom Ride, 1965
- Yothu Yindi (band site)
- East Journey (band site)