First People storyteller, cultural activist and Uniting Church member Rhanee Jane Tsetsakos reflects on the importance of collaboration in this International Women’s Day reflection.
Warning: This reflection contains the use of a First Peoples name who is deceased.
My book Walking to the Corroboree came out of a relationship with one of my mentors from the Uniting Church.
I was invited to attend a National Youth Conference by Tom Kerr, and he showed me the wider church. He encouraged me to take on leadership roles, but he would do it in a way that it was little steps so that I was not overwhelmed. His wife, Anne Kerr, is the Co–author of the book. Anne’s publisher wanted her to write an Indigenous book but because Anne was not Indigenous, she felt it was culturally inappropriate for her to do that, particularly without permission. She spoke to her husband who suggested, “This might be an opportunity to connect with Rhanee”. So, we made a date for our first initial meeting, and from that it was like a deep memory.
I remembered that I always wanted to write a children’s book. This was an opportunity for me to explore that creative pathway and to build on a relationship towards reconciliation. Two people from different worlds, polar opposite cultural backgrounds, coming together around one common passion and love—children.
Anne came from an educational background, so she knew how to reach our audience within that structure. I brought the knowledge of Australia’s true history. I always like to say that she brought the bone of the story and I put on the meat. We decided to tell a story of an Indigenous family, coming together for a celebrational ceremony with many other families in their nations of many clans. I was excited, because I realised that I could use my language. I also worked out a way to show the pronunciation of words, so people don’t have to feel shame when they are reading it.
With respect to International Women’s Day, I draw a lot of comparison to the collaboration process in writing this book and the theme in 2020, #EachforEqual. We sat at the table together, collaborating with our story, lots of laughter, tears and peace. Anne refused to publish the book unless my name was on it to as Co-author. I soon realised that we need friends like that, to walk with us. Friends who aren’t afraid to speak up for equality between your sisterhood. Otherwise we will never be able to walk together as equals.
Aboriginal Women need to invest in genuine relationships. These relationships also need to come from unconditional love for each other. That we should ask and know one another story. It is only when we know and understand each other’s stories that we can say we are truly equal.
Sister Rhanee Jane Tsetsakos js an Adnyamathanha Women. Adnya meaning Rock, Mathanha meaning group of people. Born in Adelaide as one of five children, Rhanee is the daughter to birth nother Noeleen Ryan-Lester, older sisters/ Ngarlami: Aunty Pauline McKenzie, Aunty Denise Champion, Aunty Cynthia Webster and Aunty Colleen Ryan (deceased). “I come from a line of strong Aboriginal woman. All of my mothers, my mother and all of her sisters have all inspired me through Singer’s Song Writer”. Rhanee also reflects that. “My mother’s very creative and that’s where I get my creative strength from”.
Rhanee Jane Tsetsakos
Rhanee Jane Tsetakos is an Indigenous storyteller and cultural educator/liaison. Her book with Anne Kerr, Walking to the Coroboree is now available from Boolarong Press. Find out more about International Women’s Day.