Nardi Simpson is a Yuwaalaraay writer, musician, composer and educator from North West NSW freshwater plains. A founding member of Indigenous folk duo Stiff Gins, Nardi has been performing nationally and internationally for 20 years. Her debut novel, Song of the Crocodile was a 2018 winner of a black&write! writing fellowship.
What does feminism mean to you?
I translate the word ‘feminism’ to a perspective that is more familiar to my own socialisation and world view. Yuwaalaraay society is matriarchal. So, a way for me to translate the ideals of feminism is to say that women hold the lore. In our society women are the instigators, teachers and delineators of our community’s social, economic and political wellbeing. We are guided by the example of our senior women. We move in respect of their knowledge. We listen and act on the words of our yinnarra: senior women elders. They teach us that the platform for a happy and healthy Yuwaalaraay life lies in our kindness to others, generosity to all and our strength to face any flood that rises. So, the western word ‘feminism’ helps me connect back into the generations of women I have come from, a line of women dating since the first sunrise who have never left my side.
Tell us about the shift from song writing to novel writing? Is it all just different forms of storytelling?
I had been undergoing a process of expanding my storytelling for a few years before I began the novel, so the transition seemed very natural to me. I particularly loved spreading the melodic elements of storytelling into text — experimenting with the rhythmic and sonic nature of words, organising how they worked together on the page, weaving their music into the relationships between characters and also into the landscape they live in. This was a really wonderful experience for me and felt very natural — as a First Nations person I don’t see music, movement, story, performance and image as separate disciplines; they are all dimensions of the larger whole. I feel really excited about being able to navigate these modes together on the page.
Song of the Crocodile talks about power — do you think power is shifting in Australia?
As with the word ‘feminism,’ ‘power,’ is not really a concept in Yuwaalaraay world view. Our approaches are based in communal and relational interaction. Of course, colonisation was absolutely about power, hierarchy and patriarchy but rather than focus on colonial impositions, I prefer to steer conversations around Song of the Crocodile towards a Yuwaalaraay framework. I would like to think mainstream Australia is beginning to return to ideals of connectedness, stewardship, generosity, respect and care — particularly in these post-covid/black lives matter world. As we have been forced apart, the importance of these inter-relational ways of being have re-emerged. We yearn for the moment we can spend time with those we love, spend time in the landscape and connect in meaningful, tangible ways with others. This is why I know First Nations communities are able to weather (not without cost) devastating upheaval. Our success lies in each other. This is the template of our thriving past and our successful future.
Could you share some feminist recommendations; which authors, books, podcasts, social media, are you reading, listening to, following right now?
Right now, I am reading the beautiful Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimber, Guwayu-For All Times, a collection of First Nations poems edited by Janine Leane and re-reading the 20th anniversary edition of Aileen Moreton-Robinson’s Talkin’ Up to the White Woman. I am always stalking my sister Lucy Simpson’s website Gaawaa Miyay because she does beautiful things that inspire me and on Instagram really love @blackfulla_bookclub and @rhiannongillceramics. I am a HUGE fan of Gammin Threads too! Amazing, talented, inspiring women, all.
Nardi was a speaker at our FWF2018 session, Writing and Speaking Indigenous Lives, you can listen to the podcast here.