Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Non-fiction

Published by: University of Queensland Press

In this collection of deeply insightful and powerful essays, Chelsea Watego examines the ongoing and daily racism faced by First Nations peoples in so-called Australia. Rather than offer yet another account of 'the Aboriginal problem', she theorises a strategy for living in a society that has only ever imagined Indigenous peoples as destined to die out.

Drawing on her own experiences and observations of the operations of the colony, she exposes the lies that settlers tell about Indigenous people. In refusing such stories, Chelsea narrates her own: fierce, personal, sometimes funny, sometimes anguished. She speaks not of fighting back but of standing her ground against colonialism in academia, in court and in the media. It's a stance that takes its toll on relationships, career prospects and even the body.

Yet when told to have hope, Watego's response rings clear: Fuck hope. Be sovereign.

About the author


Chelsea Watego

Chelsea Watego is a Munanjahli and South Sea Islander woman born and raised on Yuggera country. First trained as an Aboriginal health worker, she is an Indigenist health humanities scholar, prolific writer and public intellectual. When not referred to as 'Vern and Elaine's baby', she is also Kihi, Maya, Eliakim, Vernon and George's mum.

Judges’ comments

"Once we were massacred, now we are researched." These six essays, written to Blackfullas from the embodied knowledge of an urban Indigenous woman, address the everyday and disavow double consciousness. The author discards being "a problem" for being "sovereign" and "funny". She rejects the politics of politeness and writes in the tradition of Du Bois and Deloria. No one, White or Black gets a free pass except the Indigenous community of Inala, a Brisbane suburb. Police ask a white woman if her parents know she is with "him", her Indigenous husband; they arrest a female member of a police liaison committee, and arrest and assault a female professor. Without permission, schools dress urban Aboriginal children in lap laps to entice female teachers to remote Queensland. The health sciences "bury the bodies of a dying race". The humanities pillage graves. There is a speaking circuit of cannibalistic white writers, expert on Aborigines. "DNA Aborigines" perform indigeneity and are the new Native Police measuring themselves by proximity to whiteness. Professor Watego contests "consumable Aboriginal culture." Hope, she says, is for Whitefellas; Blackfullas must turn up, tell the truth, and live in an Indigenous sovereign present – with joy.