Cathy Craigie talks

Cathy Craigie, 2016 NSW Aboriginal Artist Fellowship recipient.

Cathy Craigie, 2016 NSW Aboriginal Artist Fellowship recipient.

Author and arts leader Cathy Craigie was awarded the prestigious 2016 NSW Aboriginal Arts Fellowship. Her goal is to research the fascinating story of the Seven Sisters as told by the local Gamilaroi community near Moree where Cathy was raised.

To develop her manuscript Cathy will also travel to New Zealand and New Mexico to work with other First Nation writers on their similar versions of the story.

We spoke with Cathy about some of her career highlights and her experiences along the way.

You have extensive experience working in Aboriginal affairs – but how did you get interested in writing?

I was introduced to my love of books by my primary school librarian in Moree. I became an avid reader of Australian writers such as Ruth Park and Alan Marshall.  It was difficult to find Aboriginal authors so I often read books that included Aboriginal stories and characters. One of the first to make an impression on me was Xavier Herberts’ Capricornia. Books gave me an opportunity to escape my everyday life but also allowed me to learn about the world.

My family says I would read anything. I read newspapers, magazines, anything that was within my grasp! My mum always bought me books. I loved learning about other cultures and would often read encyclopaedias and the atlas!

Some of the first Indigenous writers I read were Maureen Watson, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Jack Davis and Jim Everett. Maureen was living in Sydney when I was teenager and I would often catch up with her for chats about writing and the world in general.

What have been the most influential moments of your career?

I’ve had many career highlights such as establishing Gadigal Information service (Koori Radio), a housing cooperative in Sydney and the First Nations Australia Writers’ Network. All of these came out of gaps I saw in the Aboriginal community and along with friends and relatives we set out to make changes!

In terms of literature, one highlight was having my first play, Koori Love, produced at Belvoir St Theatre and then again in Queensland (with the title Murri Love) with Wesley Enoch directing. I also enjoyed working for the NSW Writers Centre over the last 20 years as a mentor, facilitator and coordinating several writers festivals celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers.

Why did you decide to apply for the Fellowship and how will it help in the development of your career?

I’ve carried a story around for about twenty years but realised I had to do some solid cultural research on the ground to complete it. As my theme is global, the Fellowship will give me the opportunity to travel to some international destinations to further the research and develop my craft. I knew that if I wanted to write I had to do it now and not be distracted by other things!  I’m always finding other projects to get involved in!  The Fellowship gives me the financial security to write.

Do you have any advice for early career writers?

Writing is a lonely activity and the life of a writer is often spent within their own thoughts.  Writers are observers but sometimes you can get bogged down with shaping and writing the story. This can be an obstacle, especially with overthinking and writers’ block. I’d suggest having breaks (even long ones) and let the story come to you.

Stories can take years to evolve before they’re written. Don’t be in a rush to produce publications and try your hand at different forms of writing. I often earn income from writing commissioned pieces, mentoring or conducting workshops. I’d also recommend trying different genres. I never thought I could write a children’s story but did in 2014 and found I liked writing in that genre.

Apart from being busy with the Arts NSW Fellowship, what does 2017 have in stall for you?

I will continue to work in community arts, especially in my home region. I work with Beyond Empathy, an arts organisation from Northern NSW that focuses on social issues. I’ll be working on a project called HomeTruths. It focuses on domestic violence and aims to empower communities through art. I’m collaborating with three other artists (a visual, music and video artist) and am very excited about the project. It also gives me a chance to talk to local women about the Seven Sisters Story.

I am also Chair of two Aboriginal organisations in Sydney – so I will be keeping busy being involved in their services.

Aboriginal Arts Fellowship is currently open for applications. For more information about the NSW Aboriginal Arts Fellowship, please click here

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Published: 14 December 2016