Swallow the Air follows the life of 15-year-old May Gibson, an Aboriginal girl from New South Wales whose mother commits suicide. May and her brother go to live with their aunt, but eventually May travels further afield, first to Redfern's Block in Sydney, then to the Northern Territory, and finally into central New South Wales. She travels to escape, but also in pursuit of a sense of her own history, family, and identity.
Unit Suitable For
AC: Year 11 (English Unit 2). Note: activities can be adapted for Year 10 or Year 12.
Aboriginality, belonging, change, discovery, family, identity, journey
Critical and creative thinking, Ethical understanding, Information and communication technology, Intercultural understanding, Literacy, Personal and social
For the words that were whispered
For the Moondance
Somewhere distant, silent, gone.
Dedication (University of Queensland Press, 2021 ed.) :
In loving memory of my brother Billy Joe
'In times of crisis I take comfort in the words of black women in whatever form, whether it’s poetry, fiction, memoir, academia, journalism or a Twitter feed. When a white police officer killed an African-American man on camera in May, and ignited the fury of the world, I found strength in the activism of Aboriginal women who continued to break through the stifling silences to shout black lives matter on our own shores too. The writing of black women is powerful because, as Distinguished Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson writes, although we come from a diversity of backgrounds and circumstances, we also share common experiences:
All Indigenous women share the common experience of living in a society that deprecates us. We share the experience of having different cultural knowledges.
We share in the experience of the continual denial of our sovereignties. We share experiences of the politics of dispossession. We share our respective countries’ histories of colonisation. We share the experience of multiple oppressions. We share in the experiences of living in a hegemonic white patriarchal society.
In this essay Heiss discusses and explains the important role of anthologies in the creation of communities of writers and in acknowledging, consolidating and launching writing careers.
An introduction to Swallow the Air, this work was written for the Reading Australia project. Novelist Melissa Lucashenko writes: ‘when May Gibson's mother dies unexpectedly beneath the jacaranda tree in the backyard, and her small family disintegrates around her, May's search is not for her Aboriginality. It is, rather, for somewhere to belong as she used to belong in her mother's presence. For somewhere she can feel safe and whole, and simply be loved: probably the most universal of human quests.’
This review discusses Swallow the Air's narrative structure, characterisation and dialogue, and the prose style.