Announcing 'Blak Brow' – a First Nations-run issue of The Lifted Brow MAGAZINE (and a new way forward FOR OUR ORGANISATION)

We have something incredibly exciting to share with you! But first, some context.

Over the years it has become increasingly apparent to us that our magazine The Lifted Brow (and same goes for all the other activities and projects we do in our organisation), including all of our staff, is uncomfortably non-representative of the place in which we work and live. We’ve increasingly noticed that we are falling short in embodying the history and past and present Indigenous cultures of this place we know as ‘Australia’. Plainly speaking, although we’ve been publishing the work of some First Nations writers and artists for some time, and although we’ve had First Nations editors commission and edit work for us, our magazine staff and our organisation only ever has input from Indigenous persons around the fringes of our activities, and as such are in small and large ways contributing to the ongoing project of colonisation. We at TLB are too white, in all senses of that term.

Our magazine and organisation sit within the colonial system which is known as the Australian publishing industry, which sits within the colonial systems which are known as the media and arts industries, which sits within the colonial system that is modern Australia. All of these systems have been dominated by white people, and it’s way past the time that this should’ve changed. Our job and responsibility now is to push back against these oppressive and harmful regimes-within-regimes, not because we can undo the past, but because we can make better the present and the future. Our magazine will be better, our organisation will be better, the publishing industry will be better, the media and arts industries will be better, and Australia will be better, if we can go further in decolonising our thinking and our actions.

We’ve been thinking about all of this for a long time, and have been considering how best we can overhaul our organisation. We consulted with a bunch of different people, and we tested out some ideas with them, and we discussed among ourselves all the things we could possibly do. Ultimately what we decided was this: that we would completely hand over all the means of production for an entire issue of The Lifted Brow magazine, including complete editorial/creative control, budget, and all resources at our disposal, to a group of First Nations people to make whatever they wanted. And that during this process this would shape and change our organisation permanently, which we would actively welcome and which we would set in place.

We will publish this First Nations edition as our December issue, and it will be delivered to our subscribers and our stockists as per usual. 100% of the content of the issue will be from First Nations contributors. In addition, all editorial and ancillary staff roles have been and are being filled by First Nations people, mostly emerging editors/curators, as well as First Nations designers, publicists, events coordinators, etc. These First Nations editors have taken over complete control of the cycle/issue, and re-conceptualising the idea of what our magazine is and does.

In the planning, one conundrum we kept bumping up against was: how is this group of First Nations people chosen? It felt keenly wrong if we at TLB would ultimately be doing the choosing of who would be centrally involved, as this kind of selective anointing is problematic for many reasons. The eventual solution was eventually this: one of the groups we’d been meeting regularly with, the wonderful people from Moondani Balluk, would take on the responsibility of finding and appointing the key personnel for this project, and would also go on to act as an editorial advisory group, working closely/alongside the chosen editors, designers, and other Blak Brow staff.

Moondani Balluk (which means “embrace people” in Woiwurrung) is an academic unit at Victoria University which undertakes Aboriginal research, enables access to Aboriginal teaching and learning, and provides Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander student support. The Moondani Balluk Editorial Collective for Blak Brow includes Paola Balla, Tony Birch, Kim Kruger, Karen Jackson, and Pauline Whyman.

 
 

Moondani Balluk is aiming for this issue to be large in scope – to improve the conversation, and literary publishing in Australia, and to examine the relationship between our magazine and the real world. So rather than a standard print edition and issue launch, there will be a knock on effect of symposiums and panels, building toward the wider scope of the project.

The issue will have a large theme on storytelling, with a particular emphasis on the matriarchal roles within community, tying in with this years NAIDOC theme, “Because of her, we can”. Climate justice, treaty and Aboriginal resistance will also be highlighted in this issue. Rather than a having a call-out for contributions, this edition is being commissioned and highly curated by the editorial team, using networks within community to highlight grassroots voices and elevate the stories that often don’t get the opportunity to be told.

Here is a statement from the editorial collective at Moondani Balluk:

The black women’s edition of The Lifted Brow is an exciting and deadly opportunity for us to yet again tell our stories, in our way, in collaboration with The Lifted Brow.

So many times throughout the past year we have met, and our work has been collective, shared, laughed about, and talked about. It’s a combination of sharing stories and living blak ways of working.

This edition of The Lifted Brow is about celebrating, sharing, platforming, respecting and listening to the diverse voices of black First Nations women through poetry, art, illustrations, fiction, non-fiction, art stories and community interviews in various forms.

It’s an opportunity to engage with a collection of some of the deadliest, most honest, funny and realest women’s writing and visual art in the one place.

Of course, this edition and our work is part of a long lineage of black women who have come before us and in whose footprints we follow, and it leaves tracks for all the next generation’s black women who are to come.

We acknowledge all the grandmothers, mothers, aunties, sisters and sistergirls, cuzzies and tiddas gone before us, those lost too young, those around us, and those to come.

This edition features young voices, Elders, and those in between these generations, all telling stories, resisting, protecting, caring and sharing, healing, nurturing, fighting, writing and making art.

After a period of time searching for the right person, the Moondani Balluk Editorial Collective picked Bridget Caldwell for the position of Blak Brow Managing Editor. Bridget is a Jingli Mudburra writer, editor, artist, student and activist who has spent her most recent years in Alice Springs and the Barkly Region while completing studies, and is now based in Naarm/Melbourne, working out at Victoria University.

 
 Bridget Caldwell

Bridget Caldwell

 

Bridget has picked a team of fellow editors, designers, and other staff to work alongside her to make this issue of the magazine – they are right now working on the issue, in advance of its December release.

During the whole abovementioned process, we were fortunate enough to apply for and be awarded some funding from Creative Victoria’s VicArts Grants program – money that has been added to our already-existing budget for a single issue of our magazine in order to make sure all First Nations staff are paid for their time and labour. Our deep thanks must also go to Creative Victoria for financially subsidising some of the costs of Blak Brow, and to the Centre for Indigenous Story for their early advice and for supporting our funding application. And thanks as usual to the Australia Council for their ongoing support by helping subsidise the costs of paying our magazine and website contributors.

We can’t wait for this issue to be in the world, and to discuss with the world all we’ve learned.