Born into This (published by University of Queensland Press, February 2021) is a collection of sixteen short stories, the debut work of Adam Thompson, an Indigenous author living in the Australian state of Tasmania. Set in Thompson’s home state, the stories look at the place of Indigenous, or First Nations, people in contemporary Australia, and some of the issues they face.
Descendant for example looks at identity. Dorothy, a high school student, is dubious of another student claiming her ancestry is Aboriginal. Dorothy’s efforts to substantiate the declaration however are met with derision by school authorities. “Aboriginal is something that you are. It is something you are born as. It isn’t just something you can choose to be, such as a… teacher. Or an idiot.”
A similar theme is explored in the titular Born into This, where Kara, who works at the Aboriginal Heath Centre in Launceston, often has to contend with people claiming they have Aboriginal ancestry, for the sole purpose of accessing benefits they are probably not be entitled to. Honey sees a white bee-keeper hoping to exploit Indigenous culture as a way to boost sales of his products.
I might count these three stories as being particularly poignant. Other themes touched on include racism, climate change, land rights, and the struggles faced by elders to pass on the traditions and stories of their people. Collections of short stories can be problematic. They often come at the cost of character development, focus, and depth of plot.
But Born into This surmounts these concerns, and the result is a collection of smaller stories that somehow feel as if they belong to a single narrative. Thompson writes with passion and clarity, and his storytelling is adept and compelling. This is a collection of short stories you do not want to look passed.