Eileen Harrison's 'Black Swan' Book Reviews and details

A Koorie Woman's Life
Eileen Harrison and Carolyn Landon
Allen & Unwin - 2011
ISBN 978 1 74237 553 3

Dr Joseph Toscano's Book Review

From Anarchist Age Weekly Review No 948

Black Swan – A Koorie Woman's Life puts sixty years of one life in a cultural, personal, emotional and political perspective. Buffeted by other people's unrealistic expectations a victim of political experimentation jettisoning her predetermined destiny Kurnai women Eileen Harrison tells her story with the help of Carolyn Landon.

Divided into five sections, Innocence, Change Coming, Experience, Gathering the Pieces and Awakening, the reader gains an insight into a life that meanders up a number of blind cul de sacs before Eileen Harrison finds herself on the road to self fulfilment.

Born Aboriginal at Lake Tyers in regional Victoria in 1950, deaf proxy mother to her ten siblings, a mother in her own right, a survivor of a failed political push to assimilate Victorian aborigines into the wider community by forcing them off the mission at Lake Tyers.

Eileen experiences and lives through so many of the horrors that have been shared by so many other indigenous women. Throwing herself headlong into her art, Eileen rediscovers herself, her culture and fashions a life for herself she now controls. This is both a sad and happy book, sad because much of what happened to her and her family should never have happened. Happy because despite the setbacks this book is saturated with love and hope. It is a story that needed to be told. It is a story that puts into perspective the personal harm and dislocation that's caused when flesh and blood are forcibly moved on other people's ideological chessboards.

Eileen Harrison bares her soul, tells it as it was and is, in her quest to make something of her life. She has given the outsider an insight into a journey that runs parallel to the journey that has been taken by so many other indigenous women.

Try your local bookshop for a copy of this recently released publication. If all else fails, you can contact the publisher directly for a copy of the book.

Allen & Unwin, 83 Alexander St, Crows Nest NSW 2065 AUST. Tel: +61 2 8425 0100

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ABC - News Article

Jem Wilson ABC Gippsland 5 July, 2011

Eileen says her childhood as one of 11 children at Lake Tyers was "happy and carefree", but that all changed when her family was pressured to leave the Mission.

In 1963 Eileen's family were forced off the mission as part of the new assimilation policies and attempts to close Lake Tyers Mission.

"My parents were picked off out of the all the people there and we were the first to move off," she says.

"We weren't even sure about where we were going. My father thought we were going to Dimboola to where his people were, but we were sent to live in the Western District of Ararat."

In Ararat Eileen experienced racism and discrimination at the hands of both her teachers and fellow students.

"I couldn't hear but I lip-read so I knew what they were saying and no-one had ever said anything like that to us before," she says.

Unable to build a stable life in the face of isolation and discrimination, the family is torn apart.

"This is where everything changes for us," Eileen says.

The book charts the way the policy of assimilation impacted on Eileen's family and her emerging talent as a painter.

Co-author of the book and Oral Historian Carolyn Landon says it was through her paintings that Eileen began to process the trauma she experienced under the period of assimilation.

"She just emerged as an artist from the word go and her work has been in demand ever since," she says.

Eileen says the book is a testament to the survival of Aboriginal people from Lake Tyers and she is proud to tell her family's story.

"I believe that I am the first woman from the Mission to tell a story like this about my life. I do believe that I could be the first one from Lake Tyers."

AUDIO:   Audio file The Black Swan of Lake Tyers ABC Gippsland (mp3)

Publishers Summary

'It's bad luck to catch a black swan.' Eileen Harrison grew up at the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Mission Station in the 1950s as one of eleven children in a tight-knit and loving family. When the new assimilation policy comes in, they are wrenched from the Mission and sent off to Ararat in the hope that they will become part of that community.

Unable to build a stable life in the face of isolation and discrimination, the family is torn apart. Eileen must become the protector and the peacemaker.

As a child, Eileen set free a black swan caught in a hessian bag. Now the story of the magical black swan from her childhood provides an uncanny map for her life as she struggles to find her path. After many years she discovers her talent as a painter and builds a new life for herself. Powerfully told in Eileen's words, her experiences speak eloquently of what has happened to Aboriginal people over the last half-century.

'Both heart-wrenching and hopeful, Eileen Harrison's story demonstrates that while policies of assimilation may have taken families from country and community, they could never take the memories that kept them connected.'

- Dr Anita Heiss, award-winning author and activist.