from the editor's desk

Review of ‘Plant Power Sisterhood: an anthology of eco-revolution’ edited by Jenny Fraser

Fraser, Jenny, editor. Plant Power Sisterhood: an anthology of eco-revolution. Baltimore: akinoga press, 2020. RRP: $25.00, 52pp.

Timmah Ball

Plant Power Sisterhood is a unique assemblage of art, poetry and text edited by Migunberri artist, curator and academic Jenny Fraser. It features a range of First Nations women and non-binary people from Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. Its timely publication provides respite and resolve amidst a global climate catastrophe and our own government’s passivity. In 2021 fires and floods have ravaged the global north as we look on knowingly, still reeling from the devastation this continent endured through 2019/2020’s Black Summer. Weak political leadership and the nation’s capitalist drive obstruct solutions in a socio-political culture, which rejects UN assessments that the Great Barrier Reef is in severe danger.  As Noongar writer Kim Scott expresses in The Guardian article ‘Racism burns Australia like pox and plague. We’re not all in this together’:

An Aboriginal site in the Pilbara was blasted into nothingness. A single plait of hair from 4,000 years ago, woven of strands of hair from several different ancestors, was as good as unravelled and cast to the wind. (par. 27)

Protests grow in retaliation against these atrocities and a powerful surge of First Nations people are demonstrating that our sovereign care for Country is essential to reverse the damage done.  Plant Power Sisterhood: an anthology of eco-revolution is an important thread in this cultural uprising. The book’s opening reads like a manifesto, an urgent call to arms as editor Jenny Fraser proclaims:

Plant Revolution means reviving the ancient growing practices and learning alongside young people. Plant Revolution respects sacredness.

Plant Revolution means protecting the original cellular DNA of people, the plants, the animals, the air and the water. Plant Power means saving planet earth. (8)

Her message reprioritises our current hierarchies and social structure. It simply asks that we treat our environment as if it were a part of us, because we are connected—even if current western colonial practices assume that land is a resource to mine. Her polemic echoes other First Nations texts which have forced non-Indigenous Australians to reconsider their lifestyles, history and relationship to Country, demanding greater respect for the knowledge and cultural systems of traditional custodians. From Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu to Victor Steffensen’s Fire Country: how Indigenous fire management could help save Australia, Aboriginal people are leading a critical shift away from imposed western colonial frameworks. When I interviewed Fraser about the collection, she explained: ‘It’s been amazing to see the resurgence of ancient practices like Cultural Burning, which can really help heal Country.’  

While Plant Power Sisterhood is a departure from the technical, scholarly or non-fiction work occurring in this space, through beguiling drawings, photos, poetry and personal accounts we are offered another view centered on our matriarchal lineages. This is significant. In the same interview, Fraser articulated that:

There needs to be an equal amount of women involved in cultural revitalisation, especially where land based practices are concerned.  We need to keep bushfood and medicines on the agenda as women’s business for food security in Indigenous communities.  Our survival depends on it.

The collection is a glimpse into a sovereign world where plants flourish. ‘I really wanted the focus to be on Native Plants because advocating on behalf of the plant kingdom is vital at this time, in climate crisis’, Fraser remarked. The book achieves this with optimism. It encourages the reader to respect how First Nations people have always engaged with their environs in a relationship of care.

In Joycelin Kauc Leahy’s piece, ‘Making Bilas with Natural Dyes in PNG’, she speaks to her Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Pacific Island culture through photos and text. She shares the experience of returning to her village Wagang and learning from her grandmother to make grass skirts:

‘Everything we ever needed came from nature’, Tinang said. She would speak to me as she collected or pointed out each tree, shrub, vine, weed, leaf and tell me what their uses were as we walked through the thick wetlands, crossed open grassland, and waded through swampland. (14)

Many poems in the collection reverberate with the dynamic body of First Nations poetry. In ‘Dust to Dusk’ Charmaine Papertalk Green demonstrates that culture is present even as place changes. She writes:

Afternoon sea breeze sometimes
Carry’s mother’s gentle whisper
Reminding don’t forget our ways
In lattes and Facebook distracts
Before dusk bush broom awaits yard
Ancestors voice echoes through time (19)

Her words remind us that knowledge is strong and, even if we exist in a vastly different world to our ancestors, nature will thrive. Similarly, Gabi Briggs’ poem ‘Moanda’ invites us to imagine new relationships with our planet:

She makes herself known on the banks of our waterways, dancing on the water’s edge with her feet firmly in the mud.

She catches your soft gaze and invites you to dance. You approach in awe.

At first, you miss your steps, tripping over your feet and becoming impatient with your inability to reciprocate her grace and beauty.

She is patient with you, gently leading you step by step, until you both become one. (35)

Her words read like an anecdote to colonialism’s destructiveness, asking us to re-engage our relationships with plants and nature. Other contributions from acclaimed poet Ellen van Neerven and Associate Professor Dr Frances C. Koya Vaka’uta reassure the reader that, despite an era of environmental trauma, plants flourish and the ongoing sovereignty of First Peoples will guide us through difficult times. 

Works Cited

Kim Scott, ‘Racism burns Australia like pox and plague. We’re not all in this together’, The Guardian, 19 August 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/aug/19/racism-burns-australia-like-pox-and-plague-were-not-all-in-this-together

Timmah Ball is a nonfiction writer, researcher and creative practitioner of Ballardong Noongar heritage. In 2018, she co-created Wild Tongue Zine for Next Wave Festival with Azja Kulpinska, which interrogated labour inequality in the arts industry. Her writing has appeared in a range of anthologies and literary journals, including MeanjinRight Now and Etchings Indigenous. Timmah was awarded Westerly’s Patricia Hackett Prize in 2016 for her powerful essay ‘In Australia’, published in Westerly 61.2.

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