BlackWords: celebrating writers and storytellers

By Dr Anita Heiss

Writer and activist, Dr. Anita Heiss looks at BlackWords and AustLit, which are freely available for schools, and how they can assist in embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures into the curriculum.

Screenshot of Blackwords web banner

Looking for some assistance in embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures in your curriculum? Then spend some time exploring BlackWords: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Writers and Storytellers, created by the research community of AustLit: The Australian Literature Resource.

For those who haven't yet experienced it, AustLit is an information-rich website, a searchable database, and a forum for communication. It contains almost one million records related to Australian authors and literary organisations, spanning from the 1780s to the present day. It is fast becoming the one-stop shop for authoritative information about the vibrant and growing Indigenous literary and storytelling cultures around this country.

BlackWords is a specialist research project within AustLit and has over five thousand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers, publishers and related organisations indexed in its database.

What you'll find on BlackWords

BlackWords is a collection of information sources and resources, including:

  • Biographical records for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and storytellers including, where known, their heritage. Information is only published on BlackWords if it already exists in the public domain-or has been provided by the author or publisher.
  • Information about organisations such as publishers, theatre groups, and other cultural groups;for example, you can search for information about Aboriginal Studies Press, Magabala Books, IAD Press, Black Ink Press, and their works and links.
  • Information on works on particular subjects relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures or literatures–you can search on a wide variety of subjects and find out what has been written about it in creative genres and critical material.
  • Critical articles on a range of relevant subjects and excerpts from scholarly works on a wide array of topics related to literature and literary production.

The Calendar of Events is one of the most useful resources on BlackWords. Many of the significant dates post-1788 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the subjects of some of the writing or author records listed in the BlackWords dataset. By tracing key historical moments since 1788 until the present day, teachers can use Indigenous voices and experiences. For example, you can go to the Calendar and click on something as simple as 'Cathy Freeman winning gold at the Sydney Olympics' and you will find a pathway to works on the subject and to Cathy's agent record.

The search facility on BlackWords allows teachers to look for resources by:

  • author
  • genre, including dreaming stories, picture books, short stories, and novels
  • cultural heritage; for example, Wiradjuri, Bundjalung, Wadi Wadi.

If you want to follow a theme in your library such as land rights, the Stolen Generations, Aboriginal literature, or sporting heroes, you can search BlackWords for relevant titles.

Boori Monty Pryor with Dr Anita Heiss presenting on stage together at BlackWords Symposium 2012.

Teaching with BlackWords

BlackWords is an important resource for teaching and for teachers' professional development. As a resource providing up-to-date information on many aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, BlackWords gives teachers and students access to a rich diversity of stories in many forms. Scholarly research relating to these works is also listed, and the full text of some material is available. BlackWords can help teachers prepare for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander texts and can help students find relevant secondary material for the study of specific texts.

As a teaching resource BlackWords is constantly evolving to address the Australian Curriculum cross–curriculum priority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures. There are over 1500 published works by Aboriginal authors indexed on BlackWords in the genre of children's writing alone. These works include picture books, children's fiction, poetry, autobiography, short stories, drama, and more. Many of these works can easily be used within the classroom to cover the following subjects and themes: identity, family, place, and sport.

In the BlackWords information trails, the searching across genres has already been done for teachers. The trails gather together detailed information on themes relevant to the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures in teaching. Current trails look at Identity, Children's Literature, Sports, and the Noongar People.

Author Dr Anita Heiss has been in conversation with prominent Indigenous writers including Kim Scott, Samuel Wagan Watson, Melissa Lucashenko, Bruce Pascoe, and Ali Cobby Eckermann. These interviews, published on the AustLit blog, link to author pages, publications, and other information that forms part of each writer's writing and publishing experience.

AustLit and BlackWords are freely available to all schools in Australia. You can access these rich resources by contacting your education authority's liaison person:


Image credits

  • BlackWords banner: courtesy of BlackWords.
  • Boori Monty Pryor with Dr Anita Heiss at BlackWords Symposium 2012: courtesy of BlackWords.
  • Image of Dr Anita Heiss courtesy of Curringa Communications.
Dr Anita Heiss

Dr Anita Heiss

BlackWords Author