“Sovereign Apocalypse Zine Two″, A review by Ellen van Neerven


The second issue of black-made and -owned Sovereign Apocalypse (SOVAPOC for short) is essential reading.

What is Sovereign Apocalypse? I hadn’t heard of it, perhaps from living in Queensland. (We miss out on other things too, like winter.)

Edited by young Koori tiddas Hannah Donnelly and Gabi Briggs, the zine comes out of Wurundjeri country, Melbourne, and this issue’s theme is galactic imaginings. Interviews, art, fashion photography, poetry, lyrics, even recipes (macadamia and lilly pilly cake), appear in these forty pages.

Work was chosen by the editors through a nation-wide call for submissions from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and storytellers. Donnelly and Briggs learnt through the process of making the first zine, achieving a “crash course” in InDesign to achieve their artistic vision for Sovereign Apocalypse, which Briggs describes as “subverting whiteness”.

There is a strong emphasis on promoting the products and art of Indigenous creators, particularly women, and a lot of the content is steeped in both street culture and music sub-culture. Upcoming Torres Strait Islander, Guungandji and Wuthati artist Mad Madam is interviewed, listing nineties stars Missy Elliot and Aaliyah as inspirations and speaking frankly about straddling responsibility and expression as an Aboriginal performer, while Sovereign Trax presents a recommended listening playlist of “nue & old trax” that collects new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander names in hip-hop.

The zine was launched last month in Melbourne with an all-star line-up of live performances by Seeka, Birdz, GekkZ, Tahu Dubs and Marze, as the SOVAPOC collective continues to update your essential listening list with the best of contemporary and experimental music by black artists. Blackfulla musicians, artists and writers en masse whether in performance, playlists or publications can evoke a great sense of solidarity and excited strength among blackfullas, but also offer something thrilling and new to a general public. This is what this eye-catching, tactile zine is doing in Melbourne, I think, and perhaps its applicability is because it feels as if it has come from Wiradjuri country, country pre-colonisation (only 230 years ago, I’ll keep saying it, it’s such a short time), and country now urbanised, slick and gritty and flashy – the mix of both these truths finding popularity in the hand-selling and online selling of this publication.

Thin in pages but not in depth, my favourite extracts are those that feel part of something bigger. Continuing from the first zine, ‘Tiengha’ is an imagined piece of writing by Donnelly drawn from the “colonial cannibal myth of Eliza Fraser”, capturing the fear and sense of survival evoked by colonial violence and also the future imagining of climate collapse where Indigenous mitigation becomes crucial. The title comes from a special name for Donnelly’s birth place of Tingha, Kamilaroi country, and features sisters making the best out of their means. The reclaiming of Traditional Knowledge around plants, propagation techniques and water management manifests itself in this story; the action and survival reminds me of Sarah Hall’s cli-fi novel The Carhullan Army. Although the first zine is sold out, the opening chapter appears on the SOVAPOC website for those who want to catch up. This intriguing story feels as if it needs a bigger stage to shine, and I look forward to following its trajectory.

The feature is an in-conversation with acclaimed Yugambeh digital artist Jenny Fraser, and it doesn’t disappoint as the weightiest piece in the publication. Fraser works within a screen-based practice creating works of decolonisation, and she curates other black artists as an act of sovereignty. In this long-form yarn Fraser answers questions about cosmology, aliens, international songlines and boomerangs in Egypt, and explains her methodology for upholding Indigenous knowledge in a stubborn Australian patois. “Indigenous Knowledges and cosmology are sometimes difficult to search out, and there is a considered silencing of this in the Australia vernacular,” Fraser says. “I am always interested in readdressing this by quoting and referencing other Aboriginal people.”

I applaud the creators of this zine for making content like this feel so accessible. In a country where there seems so much struggle to get representation in media, this zine ‘just is’, it offers no apologies, and gives no rationale to why we should be all reading it.

Ellen van Neerven is a Brisbane-based writer. She is the 2013 winner of the David Unaipon Award. Her first book, Heat and Light was released in 2014. Ellen’s writing has appeared widely in publications such as McSweeney’s, Review of Australian Fiction, The Lifted Brow, Voiceworks, Ora Nuiand Mascara Literary Review. Ellen works at the State Library of Queensland as part of the black&write! Indigenous writing and editing project which aims to support and promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers. She is the editor of the digital collection Writing Black: New Indigenous Writing from Australia.