4 June 2007

Australia's Indigenous writers and storytellers will be yarning to the world when a new literature website is officially launched this week.

Black Words is the newest subset of AustLit - an online database of Australian literature information housed at UQ's St Lucia campus.

Updated daily and fully searchable, AustLit contains more than half a million records relating to Australian authors and their writing and includes biographical entries, extensive information on library and manuscript holdings and some full text articles.

Indigenous author and academic Dr Anita Heiss has led a team of researchers for the past year on the Black Words project, with more than 1000 storytellers included in their survey thus far.

"Our main aim is to build up the content of the Black Words website and index Indigenous titles, plays, poetry, children's literature, non-fiction, relevant oral histories, memoirs and anthologies," Dr Heiss said.

"The major goal for the Black Words subset is to showcase and promote Indigenous writing in Australia and the broader community."

UQ Vice-Chancellor and AustLit General Editor Professor John Hay, AC, said Black Words had quickly grown to become the most authoritative source of information on Indigenous Australian writing available.

"Through its scope and quality of scholarship, AustLit supports the research of Australia's diverse literary cultures like no other resource," Professor Hay said.

"By employing Indigenous Australian researchers and authors to coordinate and work on the project, Black Words provides an unprecedented opportunity for people around the world to learn about and enjoy Indigenous Australian literature."

Dr Heiss said by harnessing new technologies the subset would capture the changing nature of Aboriginal storytelling in the 21st century.

"It began as tens of thousands of years of oral storytelling, but we are now publishing increasingly literary novels through authors such as Tara June Winch, Alexis Wright, Larissa Behrendt and Kim Scott," she said.

"Black Words really demonstrates well the ways in which Indigenous literature has evolved in the last 10 or 20 years."

AustLit Executive Manager Kerry Kilner said the site tapped into a growing public consciousness about Indigenous literature, which in turn would support greater scholarship in the area.

"There's an enormous amount of interest in Indigenous writing around the world, and this is going to be part of that network of information resources relating to first nations people globally," Ms Kilner said.

"One of the huge benefits of this evolving database will be that people will be able to come to the one place and find out all they need to know about Indigenous Australian writers and storytellers."

AustLit was established in 2000 as a collaboration between eight universities (now 11) and the National Library of Australia, with the development of Black Words supported by an Australian Research Council Linkage Infrastructure grant.

The research team includes Indigenous academics from UQ, the University of Western Australia and Flinders University, with other partners including the University of Sydney and the University of Wollongong.

Members of the community are encouraged to explore the subset at http://www.austlit.edu.au/BlackWords (temporary user name: bw, password: guest), where they can explore the site and find information about how their local library, community organisation or school can subscribe to the service.

Deputy Director of UQ's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit Sam Watson will officially launch Black Words at 10.30am, Wednesday, June 6 at the State Library as part of the 5th International Indigenous Librarians' Forum.

Media: Ms Kilner (k.kilner@uq.edu.au, 07 3365 3313) or Cameron Pegg at UQ Communications (07 3365 2049, c.pegg@uq.edu.au)