Ian Broinowski, PhD, MEd, BA(Soc Wk), BEc, Dip Teach, worked as an advanced skills teacher in children’s services at the Institute of TAFE Tasmania in Hobart, Australia for many years. Ian has a background in Economics, Social Work and Education. He has taught in a wide range of subjects in aged care, disability services, children’s services, community and youth work. He is currently teaching online from Hobart in Education with Open Universities Australia at Curtin University in WA and is a member of the Health and Medical Ethics Committee with the University of Tasmania.
Acknowledgement of Country and Content Warning
Before we begin, we would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which this content is being created and shared. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present, and emerging, and recognize their ongoing connection to the land, waters, and culture.
Content Warning: This blog post contains discussions of deceased persons.
We would like to respectfully warn Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers that this blog post includes discussions and mentions of deceased persons, which may be distressing for some. Please proceed with caution and take care of your wellbeing while engaging with this content.
Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and remember the feeling you had when you had just taken that last sip of your favourite hot drink. You felt both warmed and also a little disappointed that it was already finished, right?
That is the exact feeling I had when I had to stop my interview with Ian Broinowski, thanks to the imminent arrival of my class of 6 year olds.
It came as no surprise to find out Ian has an advanced degree where he ‘examined the relationship between enchantment, imagination and creativity, and the quality of the work of the early childhood educator’. Everything about Ian as he discussed his work during our virtual interview had me entranced and wanting so much more.
Ian’s first published book “The Pakana Voice” (2019), is about the power of the press to sway opinion.
Book Summary – from Wild Island Tas
The voice is W.C., a hapless war correspondent, posted to Tasmania to cover the conflict between the Pakana people of Lutruwita and the British, from 1814 to 1856.
In old age, comforted by malt and his scruffy dog Bent, W.C. shares his press clippings of graphic accounts of the events that unfolded in the early days of the colony. He reveals his impassioned love for Lowana, a Pakana woman who haunts his dreams forever.
W.C.’s perspective on these events is not without its biases. He tries to temper his feelings as he shares with us letters, articles and opinion pieces from his collection. He includes of his own postings, The Pakana Voice, in which he encourages his readers to see what is not being reported in the press.
Despite technology, little has changed in two centuries of media and its influence over the minds of people, W.C.’s words still ring true: ‘I fear the old adage, that we learn from history, is indeed a misnomer’.
Ian’s Writing Process
Ian demonstrates perfect ‘show don’t tell’ when describing The Pakana Voice’s main character, W.C: “he’s a tall, lanky, nice sort of bloke who could translate Greek into ancient Hebrew, but can’t do his shoelaces up.”
Throughout our interview, Ian read excerpts from his book, emanating warmth and a solid dash of mischief. The twinkle in his eye, and passion in his voice as he read W.C.’s words, and as we mulled over perception and perspective in historic truth-telling was such a pleasure to witness. Ian wanted to extrapolate on this concept of perspective, so he made W.C. rewrite real Letters to the Editor and feature articles from a war correspondence point-of-view – a war correspondent who also happened to have fallen in love with a Pakana woman.
When viewed using our 2023 perspective, these real life articles taken from the Australian national archive Trove, are absolutely horrifying. When asked why he wanted to tell the other side of the story in this unusual way, Ian was refreshingly frank.
“Because I’m of a generation where I just felt acutely embarrassed that I know so little about about Aboriginal culture. And when I started to do my family history that [knowing both sides] was very important. I want to tie it together.”
To write a book that talks about the Indigenous experience with cultural sensitivity and accuracy without being Indigenous himself, Ian required help from an Indigenous advisor.
This help came by way of a most heart-wrenching and powerful interaction. Ian had been working on his family history and had found out that his ancestors had arrived in the Fingal Valley in 1829 where there was an Indigenous population of between 500-600. Within five years, there were no First Nations people in the Fingal Valley. Ian realised his family had been partly responsible for this genocide.
“So how do you deal with that? How do you deal with it with your generation?” Ian asked himself.
The answer came when Ian was attending a writing festival and had just enjoyed a session by Aboriginal elder, author, playwright and poet, Jim Everett-puralia meenamatta, who talked about his family being dispossessed in the Fingal Valley.
“I went [to Jim] after and I said. ‘Now, Jim, you don’t know me, but that was my family that did that to your family.
Some 200 years ago, we were killing each other, our families.”
On the path to reparation, Ian decided to incorporate his family history with Jim’s and tell a joint family story, including poetry, photos, and other historical artefacts.
The two men created a comfortable and respectful working relationship that led to Jim agreeing to be the cultural advisor for Ian’s book.
Throughout our interview, I was either taught or reminded about many colonial atrocities, such as the 1830 Black Line, a human chain that crossed the settled districts of Tasmania in an attempt to intimidate, capture, displace and relocate Aboriginal people. Ian and I discussed at length about those who write history are almost always the winners, but how important it is to understand the present by deeply learning about the past.
Another formative force behind “The Pakana Voice” was Ian’s desire to pay tribute to the men in his family who were journalists, and acknowledging the incredible work and often sacrifices made by journalists by writing as one. He wanted to honor those who practice “the noble art of journalism”. In this age of fiercely partisan media, of fake news and a stubborn refusal to educate and guide the public, independent, investigative journalism is needed more than ever.
One of my favorite moments of our interview was when Ian talked about the day W.C. stopped ‘talking to him’. Ian had reached the point where W.C. had died in the book and from that moment on, Ian couldn’t hear W.C’s voice. Apparently, this is quite common for writers, but I found the idea of communion between writer and character to be a beautiful thing.
Another of Ian’s books is sure to appeal to all the dog lover’s out there. “Dogs in Van Diemen’s Land” tells the true stories of the pivotal role dogs played in early Tasmanian settler and First Nations life.
Ian invested hours and hours of research for this book and puts his success down to the support and hard work of the librarians from Libraries Tasmania and the archivists at Trove.
His favourite story from “Dogs in Van Diemen’s Land” comes from Japan. The story was originally found in a Japanese journal dating from the mid 1800s by a bilingual Australian academic.
Apparently, a group of nine Tasmanian convicts being transported from one part of Tasmania to another by ship mutinied when they got to Recherche Bay. They put the crew ashore and sailed the ship to Tonga, and then onto Japan. They were locked out of Japan because at that time Japan was closed to foreigners. “The samurai wanted to know who these smelly horrible foreigners were.” So the samurai dressed up as fishermen, boarded the boat and documented that there was a friendly dog aboard “which appeared not to be food.” The drawing in Ian’s book of the pet dog was done by an actual samurai!
Ian’s next big project is based around the feisty entrepreneur and Tasmania’s first professional artist, Mary Allport, So influential was Mary in early colonial life that she now has a museum named after her! The Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts “is an extraordinary collection of rare books, colonial works of art, eighteenth and early nineteenth century furniture, silver, glass, fine china and objets d’art.“
Ian doesn’t yet know what format his book about Mary will take, but we can be sure that it will be told with wit and with both eyes firmly on truth.
About Guest Curator, Bec Taylor
I’m Bec Taylor, the EY3 – Grade 2 cybrarian* at the International School of Beijing, China. I’m a global nomad with Australian roots and a Chinese family home – all my immediate family have lived and worked in Beijing as international school teachers for many, many years.
Overly enthusiastic about everything especially children’s literature, Australian Rules Football (go Doggies!) and food, glorious food, I am easily bribed with coffee and dark chocolate. I am a passionate advocate of social justice, female financial literacy, and finding ways to tread more lightly on the planet. Alongside the demands of a busy family and professional life, I enjoy cultivating community through volunteer work that focuses on healthy families.
I am the current Chair of the Chinese international schools reading promotion, the Panda Book Awards. Titles chosen for the shortlists of the Panda Book Awards meet selection criteria that focus on social justice, diversity and inclusion by up and coming authors and illustrators from across the world. There is an added spotlight on titles that feature Asian settings, characters or creators.
Twitter is my favourite professional development space so please come find me there: @becinthelibrary
The educational hills I will die on are:
- a child’s right to choose what they love to read,
- there is serious magic in reading aloud,
- and the belief that schools are happier, more equitable places with better academic outcomes when the properly funded school library is well staffed with qualified, collaborative and passionate professionals.
*a fancy name that formalises and acknowledges the incredible work teacher librarians do each day to find authentic ways to integrate and explore educational technology in order to capture, expand, and enhance student learning.