A young Bega Valley-based indigenous writer and performance poet has been recognised as an instrument of healing and reconciliation with a prestigious mentorship.
Director of the Aboriginal Writers Retreat, award-winning Yankunytjatjara poet Ali Cobby Eckermann offers a yearly mentorship to an unpublished Aboriginal poet she believes writes poetry that ‘has the capacity to heal’.
For 2019, Ms Cobby Eckermann has chosen Meaghan Holt.
Meaghan, who performs her poetry as ‘Sassi Nuyum’ was born on Gunaikurnai land, which covers the coastal and inland areas of Gippsland through to the southern slopes of the Victorian Alps.
Her writing and stage presence packs a punch and is backed by what Meaghan says is the spirit of her mother and a long, and very large bloodline of ancestors, hence here performance name ‘Sassi Nuyum’ – Nuyum meaning spirit.
2018’s Giiyong Festival at Jigamy between Pambula and Eden was the first time this thirty-something artist had performed publically. Speaking to Region Media at the time, Meaghan described the experience as amazing and almost transcendent.
“My ancestors were here and they helped my voice rise,” she said.
Meaghan’s own story on that day dealt with the death of her mother when she was young, as well as the racism, judgment, and hardship her Aboriginal father faced in raising her, and more broadly the impact of European settlement on her people.
Meaghan says her ambition is to empower grief and healing, for herself, those in the crowd listening, and beyond.
“I want the audience to leave acknowledging grief, I think particularly in western society grief is something that seems to move on quickly,” she says.
“I think it’s really important to know that the grief process can be never-ending and that’s okay.”
Ali Cobby Eckermann was in the audience that day at Giiyong and one of the many people touched by Meaghan’s strength and vulnerability, and one of those who rose from their seat to give Meaghan her very first standing ovation.
And with the learnings of the mentorship to come, it won’t be her last.
The opportunity offered by Ms Cobby Eckermann aims to give guidance, skills, and insights into literature and healing practices, developing routines, techniques, and manuscripts, as well as providing encouragement and introductions to publishers, and prizes.
In practical terms, it covers travel costs, accommodation, meals and stipends, and includes a short retreat, which Meaghan will undertake with Ms Cobby Eckermann in South Australia.
Meaghan says the mentorship is “A little bit surreal actually, I’m very thrilled, and I feel my ancestors brought Ali and me together. There are many resonances with our backgrounds.”
“I hope to explore my work in some hard areas and soften this through poetry. Writing is a tool for me, for self-expression, but also a healing tool.
“I have chosen some broken paths, writing has been a saviour. Through my writing, I will be able to gift back to the lands and its people that have embraced me.”
Ali Cobby Eckermann is a Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha kunga woman born on Kaurna land.
Her first book of poetry ‘Little Bit Long Time‘ was published by the Australian Poetry Centre as part of the New Poets series in 2009. It sold out within months and has been reprinted by Picaro Press.
In 2017, she won the international Windham-Campbell Literary Prize for Poetry and is firmly established as a strong and vital emotive voice within Australian Aboriginal literature.
Ms Cobby Eckermann believes that Aboriginal Australians can overcome much sadness through the healing power of literature.
Meaghan says the mentorship is a big step but one she is ready for.
“I think if we can be united in the simplicity of some of these stories then we come together as a human race – that’s what it is all about,” Meaghan says.