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Heiss, Anita (1968–?)

Anita Heiss, Am I Black Enough for You?, Random House Australia, 2012, Sydney

SEX: Female

BIRTH DATE: 1968

BIRTH PLACE: Sydney

FIRST LANGUAGE: English

SIGNIFICANT LOCALITIES:

  • Matraville: Anita was raised in the quiet Sydney suburb of Matraville. (p.1)
  • While Anita has lived in Sydney for most of her life, she still considers the Wiradjuri country in Central New South Wales to be her home. (p.2) She contributed to the 2002 anthology, Life in Gadigal Country, as a visitor to the Sydney area rather than an owner.  (p.2)
  • Cowra: Anita’s maternal grandparents moved to the Erambie Mission Station in Cowra after they married in 1927. They lived there for almost twenty years, and had eight children. (p.17)
  • Anita visited her mother’s birthplace in 2009 at the request of the chair of the Erambie Advancement Aboriginal Corporation. (p.19) She returned in 2011 as the guest speaker that the Yarraga Debutante Ball. (p.43)
  • Anita considers the area around Cowra in Central New South Wales to be her spiritual homeland, because it belongs to her Wiradjuri ancestors. (p.2)
  • Griffith: Anita’s maternal grandparents and great aunt and uncle moved from the Erambie Mission to Griffith in 1946 to pick fruit. (p.20) According to Anita’s ancestors, there was healthy rivalry between Aboriginal pickers in Griffith, and many believed the women were better than the men. (p.20)
  • Tumut: a town in rural New South Wales where Anita’s grandmother Amy once lived. (p.34) In 2009 Anita returned to Tumut for a family reunion. (p.34)
  • Brungle: An Aboriginal station between Gundagai and Tumut where Anita’s grandfather was born. (p.35) She and Elsie travelled to Brungle in 2009 to visit the Wiradjuri cemetery. (p.35)
  • Gold Coast: Anita moved to the Gold Coast in 1997, to escape from the chaos of her life in Sydney caused by a dysfunctional relationship. (p.108)
  • While Anita was very fond of the Gold Cost, she never considered it home, and was happy to move back to Sydney in 1998. (p.109)
  • Maroubra: A beach near where Anita attended high school in southeast Sydney. She often went to Maroubra to find solitude, mourn and grieve. (p.43)
  • La Perouse: a suburb of Sydney with a large Aboriginal population. Anita grew up in a neighbouring suburb, and spent a lot of time playing at the beach in La Perouse as a child. (p.200) Later her mother Elsie helped established the Reconciliation Church in La Perouse, and Anita worked with Koori children at the local school. (p.200)
  • Mutitjulu: an Aboriginal community near Uluru in the Northern Territory. (p.244) Anita first travelled to Mutitjulu in 1998 when she spoke at the Kungka Career’s Conference.  (p.244) She returned in 2008 as part of the Athletes as Role Models (ARM) tour, and was confronted by the conditions in the community. (p.243)
  • Papunya: An Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory, which Anita visited on the ARM tour. She was excited to visit the town because she had read the award-winning Papunya School Book of Country and History. (p.248)

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL:

  • Austria: Anita travelled with her father to his home country when she was nine years old. (p.53) She returned in 1991 to spend Christmas with the Heiss family in the village of St Michaels. (p.53)
  • Scotland: Anita spent three weeks in Scotland in 1992, visiting a friend that she had met in Austria. (p.184)
  • Canada: In 1995 Anita won an overseas study award through the Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs, which gave her the opportunity to complete research and work experience at two Native newspapers in Canada. (p.105)
  • Anita returned to Vancouver to visit the En’owkin Centre for international Indigenous writers in 1998. (p. 112)
  • New Zealand: In 1997 Anita travelled across the North Island of New Zealand to interview Indigenous writers as part of her doctoral research. (p.113)
  • France: Anita travelled to Paris in 2003 to attend a conference about protecting women’s cultural heritage. (ppp.277-278) She disagreed with French people’s narrow definition of identity, based on language. (p.277) Anita returned to Paris in July 2010 to work on her novel, Paris Dreaming. (p.254)
  • Japan: Anita was invited to give a lecture about literature and the Stolen Generations in the Nagoya, Japan. (p.282) She had difficult navigating the country because of her lack of language skills and local knowledge. The experience made Anita realise that she was perceived as a Westerner by non-Western peoples. (p.283)
  • United States: Anita travelled to the United States a number of times for career development purposes. (P.285) She believes that America universities offer the best support for professional writers, and benefited particularly from participating in the annual Black Writers Reunion and Conference. (pp.286-296)
  • New York was Anita’s favourite city in America, and was the setting for her novel Manhattan Dreaming. (p.298)

EXPERIENCES OF EDUCATION:

  • Joe and Elsie Heiss worked hard to put their children through Catholic schools. (p.59)
  • Anita attended primary school at St Andrews in Malabar. One of her favourite memories from school was wining the 400 metres when she was twelve, and beating her rival. (p.82) Anita’s favourite past time in her later primary school years was writing letters to relatives and pen pals. (p.174)
  • Anita attended high school at St Clare’s in Waverley: a Catholic convent school in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. (p.90) She was the only “brown” girl in her class, and one of the few who didn’t live in the wealthy eastern suburbs. Anita did not suffer any racism, but still never felt she belonged at St Clare’s. (p.90)
  • Anita studied Modern History in school, and received top marks for her essays about Aboriginal Australia. (p.93) She believes the syllabus did not properly address Aboriginal history and society. (p.94)
  • Anita started a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of New South Wales in the early 1980s. (p.94) She enrolled through the mainstream process but stated in her application that she was Aboriginal. (p.94)
  • Most of her Aboriginal peers were studying law, and Anita thought her academic accomplishments inferior by comparison. (p.95)
  • Anita was a conscientious student, and particularly enjoyed studying Aboriginal history with sympathetic academics and students. (p.96)

EXPERIENCES OF EMPLOYMENT:

  • Anita worked part time at the Yarra Bay Sailing Club while studying at the University of New South Wales. (p.95) After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1989 she completed a cadetship at the International Development Assistance Bureau in Canberra. (p.59) Anita returned to university in 1991 to complete honours in history, writing a thesis about the 1967 referendum. (p.100)
  • After graduating with honours Anita spent some time backpacking in Europe. (p.175) When she returned to Sydney she had difficulty finding a job, and was forced to work at the local RSL to pay of her credit card bills and debts to her father. (p.175)
  • Anita was outraged by the racism of one of the RSL patrons, and was relieved when she was offered a job as the coordinator of Aboriginal projects at Streetwize Comics: an organisation that published free education media for young people. (p.102) In this role she worked with young Aboriginal people creating comics and posters and organising workshops. (p.103)
  • Anita resigned from Streetwize Comics after two years. She established a consultancy firm, Curringa Communication, and did social research and workshops in juvenile justice centre in South Sydney. (p.185)
  • Anita also began working as a freelance writer, and began composing a book confronting Aboriginal stereotypes. (p.186) Her first manuscript, Sacred Cows, was a comical account of Australian icons from an Aboriginal perspective. It was rejected by all major publishing companies, but eventually accepted by Magabala Books. (p.187)
  • In 1995 Anita won an overseas study award through the Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs, which gave her the opportunity to complete research and work experience at two Native newspapers in Canada. (p.105)
  • While working at The Eastern Door and the Windspeaker, Anita was inspired to returned to do a doctorate in Aboriginal literature and publishing. (p.106)
  • Anita enrolled in a PhD in Media and Communications at the University of Western Sydney in 1996. (p.107) She spent two years working on her doctoral thesis on the Gold Coast, before returning to Sydney and renting a writers studio at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre. (p.109)
  • While completing her doctorate Anita ran writing workshops in regional New South Wales. (p.110) She also travelled to Canada and New Zealand for research, and gave many guest lectures. (p.113)
  • Anita published a second novel in 1998, which was based on her encounters with white people. (p.190) Token Koori was followed by a historical novel about a member of the Stolen Generations, Who Am I? The Diary of Mary Talence, Sydney, 1937. (p.193)
  • After finishing her PhD in 2001, Anita taught an Introduction to Indigenous Australia course at the University of Western Sydney. (p.114) She enjoyed challenging her student’s preconceived ideas about Aboriginality. (pp.120-123)
  • Anita became increasingly disenchanted with academia, which she viewed as a system that privileged white knowledge above black experience. (pp.136-140) She decided to leave the university while at a conference on Indigenous epistemologies in Fiji. (p.143)
  • Anita resigned from her role at the University of New South Wales, but retained her unpaid role as an adjunct associate professor attached to the Badanami Centre of Indigenous Education at the University of Western Sydney. (p.143)
  • In 2004 Anita worked three days a week as a writer in residence at Macquarie University. (p.60) She spent a lot of time outside of these hours working from home.
  • During this time Anita did the research for her children’s book, Yirra and her Deadly Dog, Demon. (p.114) She worked also worked on her next novel, Not Meeting Mr Right.  Anita was pleased when her novel was accepted by the multinational, commercial publishing agency, Random House. (p.214) Anita later penned three more accessible novels aimed at women: Avoiding Mr Right, Manhattan Dreaming and Paris Dreaming. (p.215)
  • In 2010 Anita ran a literacy-based project with year twelve Aboriginal students in south-west Sydney, as part of the Twugia Project coordinated by the New South Wales Department of Employment, Education and Training. (p.126)
  • Anita was also the voluntary chair of Gadigal/Koori radio station until September 2008. (p.44)

EXPERIENCES OF RELIGION:

  • Anita’s parents were both Catholics. While her father didn’t go to church regularly, Elsie took Anita and her siblings every week. Anita’s mother became heavily involved in the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry in the 1990s, and helped set up the Reconciliation Church in La Perouse.  (pp.37-38)
  • As a teenager Anita continued attending the church and participated in Catholic rituals, such as communion, confirmation and confession. (p.39)
  • When Anita started university, she began to question her faith as she learned more about Aboriginal spiritual practices and the history of colonisation. (p.39)
  • After giving up Catholicism Anita still attended church in La Perouse at her mother’s request, and carried a set of rosary in her laptop bag that had been blessed by the pope. (pp.41, 45)
  • Anita found little solace in prayer at the time of her father’s death. (p.42)
  • Anita felt a strong spiritual attachment to her ancestral land in Central New South Wales. (p.42)

IMPORTANT INSTITUTIONS:

  • Aboriginal Catholic Ministry (ACM): an organisation established to promote Aboriginal faith and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. (p.38) Elsie Heiss became very involved with the ACM in Redfern the early 1990s, and became an Aboriginal representative at national and international religious forums. (p.38)
  • The ACM declined in the late 1990s, when many Church-going Aboriginal people were relocated to the suburbs. (p.38)
  • Reconciliation Church: a church based in La Perouse, previously know as Our Lady of Good Counsel. (p.38) Reconciliation Church was renamed and handed over to the Aboriginal community under the leadership of Elsie Heiss in the late 1990s. (p.38)
  • Aboriginal Students’ Centre: an institution in Randwick, Sydney, that provided learning support for Indigenous students. (p.96) Anita spent time at the Aboriginal Students’ Centre while completing her undergraduate degree, and made close friends with the other Koori students. (p.96)
  • Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF): a not-for-profit organisation that aimed to promote literacy in Aboriginal communities. (p.205) Anita has been an Indigenous Literacy Day ambassador for IFL since 2007, and visited many schools to represent the organisation. (p.207)

SALIENT LAWS AND POLICIES:

  • When Anita’s mother was born on the Erambie Mission Station in Cowra, her family was still under the control of the Aboriginal Protection Act (1909-1969). This gave the Welfare Board the authority to remove children from homes deemed ‘unfit’ by their representatives. (p.17)

PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH:

  • Through out her life Anita suffered from the symptoms of high anxiety levels, including tiredness, muscle tension and insomnia. (p.260) These symptoms were particularly bad while she was working at Macquarie University from 2004 to 2006. (P.260)
  • After her father died, Anita suffered from undiagnosed depression for many years. (p.307)

RELATIONSHIP WITH PARENTS:

  • Elsie: Anita’s mother was born on the Erambie Aboriginal Station in Cowra in 1937. (p.17) Elsie was the youngest of Amy and James William’s six children, following the early death of her sisters Florence and Beatrice. (p.17) She received little education at the local school, and was baptised as a Catholic at St Raphael’s Church in Cowra. (p.19)
  • In 1946 Elsie’s parents decided to relocate to Griffith. The Heiss family worked as fruit pickers, and their children attended Hanwood Primary. (p.20) Elsie and her siblings were sent to the back of the class and taunted by their peers and teachers. (p.20)
  • Elsie’s fondest memories from Griffith are of camping with her extended family at Darling Point. (p.21)
  • At the age of fifteen, Elsie started work as a ward maid in the Griffith Public Hospital. (p.21) A year later she transferred to Yanco Agricultural College, where she worked as a scullery maid. (p.21) At seventeen Elsie contracted pneumonia and moved to work in a laundry in North Sydney, when she lived with her Aunty Mary and Uncle Harry. (p.21) She then worked at a chocolate factory called Sweet Acres in Rosemary. (p.22)
  • Elsie and her workmates often went to pubs and dances after work. (p.22) She was rarely refused alcohol because she had non-Aboriginal friends. (p.22)
  • Elsie started dating Joe Heiss, an Austrian carpenter, in 1957. (p.22) Two years later she moved into a flat in Redfern with her sister Nellie, and they both got jobs at White Wings cake factory. (p.24) In 1960 Elsie married Joe in the St Vincent’s Church in Redfern. (p.24)
  • Elsie travelled to Austria for six months in 1964 to meet her husband’s family. (p.26) She was welcomed by her in-laws and quickly picked up the local dialect. (p.26)
  • The Heiss family moved to Matraville when they returned and had five children: Monika, Anita, Gisella, Josef and Mark. (p.26) Elsie worked nights at the local Skyline Drive-In and worked at the school tuckshop and did housework during the day. (p.26) She was well liked and respected by the Matraville community. (p.27)
  • Anita remained close with her mother when she grew up. (p.28) She never withheld anything from Elsie, and they both enjoyed shopping, and took an annual trip to Westfield Miranda for the boxing-day sales. (p.28)
  • In 1989 Elsie returned to study at Randwick TAFE for two days a week. She graduated with the college medal, and worked as an Aboriginal health worker for the next fourteen years. (p.36)
  • From the early 1990s Elsie Heiss was involved with the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, and acted as their representative at national and international religious forums. (p.38) In 1998 she redirected her energies towards the Reconciliation Church in La Perouse, which was handed over the Aboriginal community and rejuvenated under her leadership. (p.38) For her work Elsie was jointly awarded the NAIDOC Female Elder of the Year in 2009, and an honorary Doctorate of Arts from the University of Notre Dame in 2010. (p.40)
  • Joe Heiss: Anita’s father was born in 1936 in the Austrian town of St Michael, and immigrated to Australia at the age of twenty. (p.50) He spoke little English when he met Elsie at a birthday party in Pagewood in 1957. (p.23) Joe fell in love with her immediately, but wasn’t readily accepted by her Aboriginal friends and relatives because he was a ‘New Australian’. (p.23)
  • Despite his social anxiety, Joe persisted and Anita’s parents married in Redfern in 1960. (p.25)
  • The Williams family eventually accepted him, and Joe became particularly close with Uncle Kevin. (p.25) He worked in an insulation firm at Arncliffe and later became a self-employed carpenter. Joe had a strong work ethic and kept strict timetable. (p.25)
  • Joe came to identify as an Australian, although not a particularly patriotic one; and accepted that his children identified as Aboriginal. (p.57)
  • Anita’s father also supported her political activism, although he discouraged her from doing anything illegal. (p.58)
  • Anita’s father was of Catholic faith, but unlike Elsie he wasn’t a devout or practicing Christian. (p.41) Regardless, he did lot of handy man work around the Church at Elsie’s request, (p.41)
  • Anita grieved deeply when her father was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, and passed away the following year. (p.43)

RELATIONSHIP WITH PARTNERS:

  • While attending high school at St Clare’s, Anita and her friends often met boys at the bus stop or on Bronte Beach. (p.91) She recalls one incident when a friend arrived at her house in Matraville to confess that she had kissed Anita’s boyfriend. (p.92)
  • Anita’s first serious boyfriend came from a comfortable Anglo-Australian family in the eastern suburbs. (p.262) They met at the Randwick Rugby Club when she was sixteen and he was nineteen. (p.262)
  • Anita and Alex dated for the next six years, during which time they broke up and reunited many times.  (p.263) This was despite the fact that Alex had made an offensive comment about an all-Aboriginal football team, the Redfern All Blacks, very early in their relationship. (p.263)
  • The relationship eventually ended, and it made Anita more wary of the potential problems of interracial relationships. (p.265) At the time of writing her memoir, Anita was still looking for a partner.

RELATIONSHIP WITH CHILDREN:

  • Anita had close relationships with her nieces and nephews. (pp.268-289) She did not have her own children, however, because she had not met a suitable partner and had no desire to become a single parent. (p.267)
  • Anita was angered when a colleague questioned her about the choice not to have children. (p.266) She believes that within the Aboriginal community there is an even greater expectation for women to have children. (p.267)

IMPORTANT/INFLUENTIAL FIGURES:

  • Oodgeroo Noonuccal: Anita describes the Aboriginal poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal as one of her role models. (p.5) She points out that, since Oodgeroo began publishing in the 1960s, under the name Kath Walker, Aboriginal writers have been using literature to defend themselves against attacks on their identity. (p.5)
  • Andrew Bolt: a writer and blogger for the Herald and Weekly Times. On April 15 2009 Andrew Bolt wrote an opinion piece entitled ‘White is the new black’, which accused Anita and other Aboriginal people of ‘choosing’ their identity for personal gain. (p.7)
  • Anita participated in a successful group action against Bolt, who was found to have violated the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA). (p.168)
  • Amy Williams (nee Talence): Anita’s maternal grandmother. (p.12) Anita has few memories of Amy, as she rarely visited Sydney before she died in 1976, but she was apparently very fond of her grandmother because she combed and plaited her hair very gently. (p.12)
  • Anita learnt from the documents held by the New South Wales Department of Aboriginal Affairs that Amy and her four-year-old sister Florence were removed from their family in Nyngan. (p.13) She was sent to the Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls in 1910 and then onwards to the Home of the Good Shepherd in Ashfield, Sydney. (p.13) The Aboriginal Protection Board then sent Amy to work for a wealthy woman in Sydney’s east, and later for the owners of a sheep station in Cobar. (p.13)
  • In 1923 Amy met a labourer from Brungle named James Andrew Williams, and they married after a four-year long distance relationship. (p.14) The Williams moved to the Erambie Mission in Cowra and had eight children together – Roy Lawrence (Sandy), William (Billy), John Charles (Bluely), Kevin (Red), Nellie and Elsie (Dunkie), as well as Florence and Beatrice, who both died at a young age. (p.17)
  • While living at Erambie Amy and James lived on high-starch rations, and had their homes inspected every week by the matron. (pp.17-18) In 1946 they decided to move to Griffith, where they could work as fruit pickers. (p.20)
  • James Andrew Williams: Anita’s maternal grandfather was born at Brungle, a station near Gundagai, in 1900. (p.14) James died before she was born, but Anita learnt from her mother that he was a great storyteller with excellent bush skills (p.14)
  • In 1946 James and Amy decided to move from the Erambie mission to Griffith to work in the orchards. (p.20)
  • When Elsie married Anita’s father in 1959, James did not walk his daughter down the aisle because he disapproved of her marrying a ‘New Australian’. (p.24)
  • Mark Heiss: Anita’s brother Mark has a degree in Education from the University of Sydney and works as a teacher at Marist Brothers in Pagewood. (p.110) Before Joe Heiss died, he charged Mark with the tasks of paying the bills, checking the fly screens, doing all the gardening and putting petrol in the car. (p.63)
  • Sabine: Anita’s cousin, who she first met when she visited Austria at the age of nine. (p.53) They became friends by communicating through sign language, and remained in contact for years after. (p.53)
  • Laurel Russ: the caretaker of the Aboriginal Students’ Centre in Randwick while Anita was an undergraduate student in the early 1980s. (p.97) Laurel was the first Aboriginal airhostess in the 1960s, and completed a law degree in 1992. (p.97) She later worked with the Legal Aid Commission and headed the Aboriginal Unit of the New South Wales Ombudsman’s office. (p.97)
  • Anita wrote a comic story about Laurel’s life while working at Streetwize comics. (p.97)
  • Peter Kirkpatrick: Anita’s doctoral supervisor at the University of Western Sydney. (p.108)
  • Giselle Heiss: Anita’s sister Giselle graduated with a degree in Early Childhood Education from Macquarie University, and became the coordinator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island programs at KU Children’s Services. (p.110)
  • Josef Heiss: Anita’s brother graduated from the Catholic University, and became a parking patrol officer at the Waverly Council. (p.110)
  • Sonia Nitchell: Anita met Sonia at the World Indigenous People’s Conference in 1993. (p.115) They both applied for the job of lecturer in Aboriginal Education Program at the University of New South Wales. Sonia got the job, but she and Anita remained close friends. (p.115)
  • Michael McDaniel: Anita taught the Introduction to Indigenous Australia course with Michael at the University of Western Sydney.  He is a Wiradjuri man and director of Macquarie University’s Warawara Department of Indigenous Studies. (p.114)
  • Michelle Wong: Anita met Michelle at the Australia Council in 2001, where she was working as an administration assistant, and they became close friends. (p.153) Anita and Michelle speak often and frequent restaurants and movies theatres together. (p.153)
  • Kerry Reed-Gilbert: a member of the external Aboriginal Support Committee during Anita’s time at Streetwize Comics. Anita and Kerry became close friends, and played pool together at the Britannia Hotel in Chippendale. (p.238)
  • Kerry later followed in the footsteps of her father, Kevin Gilbert, by writing poetry. (p.238) She and Anita travelled to the Woodford folk festival together, to speak about their works. (p.238)
  • Robynne Quiggin: A law student who Anita met at the Aboriginal Studies Centre as a student. Robynne and Anita remained friends for the next twenty years, and travelled together to Paris, Cairns and Sydney. (p.250)
  • Geraldine Star: One of Anita’s friends, who she later employed as her life coach. (p.256) Anita has fortnightly coaching sessions with Geraldine. (p.256)
  • Oprah Winfrey: Anita describes the black American television host as one of her great role models. (pp.304, 309-314)
  • She was thrilled to win tickets to Oprah’s Australian show in 2010. (pp.313-316)
  • Rosie Scott: a New Zealand writer, who Anita when they sat on the management committee of the Australian Society of Authors in 1998. (p.304) Rosie became an important friend and motivating force in Anita’s life. (p.304)
  • Pamela Freeman: a fellow author and friend who was also a source of inspiration for Anita. (p.305)
  • Frane Lessac: a Western Australian based illustrator, who provides support for Anita over Skype. (p.305) Frane works closely with Aboriginal children in remote communities. (p.305)

THEMES/PREOCCUPATIONS:

  • The Andrew Bolt case: In April 2009, Andrew Bolt, a popular writer and blogger for the Herald and Weekly Times, wrote an opinion piece entitled ‘White is the new black’. In this article Bolt accused Anita and other Aboriginal people of ‘choosing’ their Indigenous identity for personal gain. (p.7) He pointed out that Anita’s father was Austrian, and claimed her mother was only “part-Aboriginal.”
  • Anita and her family were deeply insulted by Bolt’s allegations. She joined the group led by Tarwirri, the Indigenous Law Students and Law Students Association of Victoria, to take legal action against the Herald and Weekly Times. (p.78) By appealing to ‘Racial Hatred’ clause of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA), rather than defamation laws, the applicants accused Andrew Bolt of attacking Aboriginal people’s right to identify, rather than just the applicant’s personal reputations. (p.169)
  • Anita was relieved but not surprised when their case was successful. (p.169) She saw this as an important move to defend Aboriginal people against indirect racism. (p.167)
  • As well as describing the case, Anita offers a defence of her position as an urban Aboriginal person. She strongly regrets the idea that her identity was a matter of choice. (p.9)
  • She also dismisses the assumption that Aboriginality can be reduced to biology.  Instead, Anita recalls the life experiences that led her to identify strongly as an Aboriginal person. (p.80)
  • As a small child, Anita didn’t recognise the difference between her Austrian father and Aboriginal mother, or know what it meant to be Indigenous. (pp.87-89) She first experienced racism when she was five years old, and was called on by her older sister to count to one hundred. (p.85) One of her sister’s friends remarked that Anita was intelligent “for an ‘abo’”. She reported the slight to her mother, who followed up with the school. (p.85)
  • During her teen years Anita continued to suffer discrimination because of her brown skin, and was advised to hide her Aboriginal identity and pass instead as a member of another ethnic group. (p.9) She recalls being racially abused by a good-looking boy in her class and a gang of young boys from Soldier Settlement Primary School on her way home from school. (p.87)
  • This discrimination made Anita feel different from white Australians, and led her to identify more strongly with her Aboriginal relatives. (p.90)
  • It was this rejection, and not any action of her parents, that led Anita to see herself as an Aboriginal person. (p.89)
  • Since then, Anita has identified as a Wiradjuri Aboriginal woman. (p.191)
  • When Anita began teaching the ‘Introduction to Indigenous Australia’ course at the University of New South Wales, she made an effort to challenge her student’s preconceived ideas about Aboriginal identity. (pp.121-123)
  • Anita drew on her own experiences to highlight the diversity of the Aboriginal population. She challenged the idea that Aboriginal people like sleeping outdoors, by reiterating her distaste of camping. (pp.231-241) Anita also dismissed the view that Black women are always angry, by emphasising the importance of positivity in her life. (pp.260-262) Finally, she criticises those within the Aboriginal community who think Kooris should not celebrate their success. (p.270)
  • Anita acknowledges that she is wealthier than the average Aboriginal person, and has worked to bridge this divide. (p.145)
  • However, she also challenges those within the Aboriginal community who exclude middle class people because they equate material success with being white. (p.165) While working for Streetwize comics, Anita was told by an Aboriginal participant at a workshop that she wasn’t Aboriginal because she wore lipstick and her mother drove a Pajero. (p.183)
  • She also defends those who have only recently identified as Aboriginal, because they were unaware of their family ancestry or their ethnicity was hidden out of shame. (p.166) Anita believes that it is unfair to criticise these self-identified Aboriginal people, because it was white Australian attitudes that led to their confusion and concealment.(p.166)

MODE OF LITERARY PRODUCTION: Am I Black Enough for You? was written by Anita Heiss.

Original Publication

  • Am I Black Enough for You?, 2012

Additional Resources

Source Project

This biographical entry was contributed by Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive

Citation details

'Heiss, Anita (1968–?)', Indigenous Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/heiss-anita-17794/text29373, accessed 24 September 2017.

© Copyright Indigenous Australia, 2012