Lisa Fuller is one of the recipients of the 2014 Anne Edgeworth Fellowship for Young Writers. A fellowship provided annually to an emerging young writer in the Canberra Region to be used to advance their education, skills and experience in the craft of writing. It is provided by the Anne Edgeworth Trust and is administered by the ACT Writers Centre, opening again for applications this October. Here, Lisa speaks about her writing experiences and the people who shaped them.
That’s the question everyone keeps asking me—what is your project about? Is it a community history, an oral history, or fiction? Truthfully, all of the above.
In mid-2014 I was gearing up for the final project of my Masters of Creative Writing. I asked Pop about writing his life story and was so grateful when he said yes. We arranged to spend three weeks together back home in Eidsvold, just him and me, lots of pots of tea and yarning. I started exploring libraries and archives. It was really depressing at first; the awful silence around anything to do with black fellas. It was like we didn’t even exist! I knew just how wrong that was. As one family member put it: ‘See bub, them stations were all built on the backs of us blacks’. But, with the help of a few wonderful people, nuggets of gold began to emerge. I’d call Mum and Pop with anything I found. Sometimes it would spark a memory for him, and off he’d go, amazing all of us and giving me yet more clues. It was the greatest treasure hunt of my life. I couldn’t wait to get home!
Then Pop got sick. I can still see his old Akubra sitting on my dash.
People offered to tell me stories about him, but the light was gone. My supervisor, Tony, kindly gave me an extension and, after some time off, I put together three new ideas. Tony, of course, went straight for the hardest one: a work of fiction based in my hometown in rural Queensland, heavily influenced by my culture and spiritual beliefs. I’d never written about these things before; it means so much, and without Pop to guide me I was terrified of getting it wrong. I had to push a lot of fears aside to even start. Tony helped me work out a plot and off I went, running straight into my biggest problem. I haven’t lived in Eidsvold since finishing high school, and being so far from home, surrounded by a culture that isn’t my own, I couldn’t get it right. The voice, the characters, the setting; nothing was working. I had to go home.
Because of everything that had already happened, my budget was way in the red. The dream was to do some oral history research with my elders, if only I could afford the trip. I wanted to understand more about the history of my hometown; I wanted our version of it. But I despaired of making it home. I saw the Anne Edgeworth Fellowship advertised, and immediately dismissed it. For weeks I looked for a solution, while a voice nagged at me. I eventually caved, thinking I didn’t have a hope.
I’ll skip past the excitement and anxiety of getting an interview, then being told I was a joint winner (think hyperactive kelpie impersonating a bouncy ball), at this point my 15,000 words for university became a firm commitment to write a novel, and making that trek home in January felt like a pilgrimage. That first morning back home I was all set to go, but one of the cousin’s came past for a yarn. Then another. I threw out my plan that day. I needed authentic and real, to hear the rhythm of my mob talking, laughing, teasing, fighting. Imposing my deadlines or my needs would be a recipe for disaster. True to my mob, nothing went to ‘plan’, but everything went the way it needed to.
A few of the old aunties sat down with me, and some of their kids and grandkids joined us, adding their own bits and pieces. I tried not to think about the person who was missing, but he was always with me. I knew I had to make sure that I gave back whatever they’d leant to me, and I’ve given the aunties CDs of the recordings and any photos I took. All the generations wanted to talk, and they all had important things to say. I don’t want to brush over one of the best times of my life because it feels disrespectful and there’s too much to tell. Suffice it to say, I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity, and the support and trust of everyone who helped make it what it was.
At some point, I realised just how naïve I’d been. This wasn’t just a piece of fiction for my Masters, or a novel for the Fellowship. Over and over I heard from the older generation: we need our story told, especially for our kids. I know it can’t end with a novel, although that has to be my main focus for now. It feels so big I’m not sure what it’s going to be; all I know is I’ve got to try.
So when you ask me ‘what is it?’ and get an essay in response, please bear with me. It’s not simple, and it’s constantly evolving, but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that starting is important, because you might miss out on ‘later’.
The Anne Edgeworth Fellowship for Young Writers opens 1 October and closes 31 October 2015 for applications. See our website for more details.
Lisa Fuller is a Wuilli Wuilli woman, also descended from Wakka Wakka and Gurang Gurang mobs, from Eidsvold, Queensland. With over five years’ experience in publishing, she attended the Residential Editorial Program in 2014, and was a joint winner of the 2014 Anne Edgeworth Fellowship. An emerging writer, she has had some poetry and a short story published in Etchings Indigenous: Treaty (2011), and By Close of Business (2013), an anthology created by the Canberra-based Indigenous Australian writers group, Us Mob Writing (UMW).