The Goori people have sovereign ownership of their land.

This is the premise on which Mykaela Saunders bases her speculative fiction book Always Will Be. Written as a collection of short stories and described by the author as an album, the book builds a fictional world around “what ifs”, with Goori people, sovereignty and community at the centre. Each chapter introduces a new character, a new time, a new family, or an old but not forgotten way of living.

The book is all-consuming. It is not hard to visualise the worlds Saunders creates in each story; every word seems to be carefully selected to transport you to that time and place.

In Jingi wallah, where Saunders aptly describes how colonisation hurts and injures Goori land, the reader immediately gets caught in descriptive prose. The author captures the feeling of looking over your land and your people and no longer seeing anything you recognise. Anger and rage spill onto the page, as does the urge for change. This is a common theme of the book – anger which tries to enact change, whether it be in land rights, climate change, survival of knowledge or within community.

There are parts of Always Will Be that can also test the reader, but this is not a bad thing. While sections of the book make us question whether what is happening is okay or not, Saunders uses this response to prompt the realisation that colonisation and the people responsible for it never asked that question in the first place.

Taking Our Time is an excellent example of this discussion of colonisation, as Saunders explores how the concept of time is unnecessary and also now a driving force in our lives. Time is something that people believe was always absolute and it can be uncomfortable to think of a world without it. As Saunders points out, physical and metaphorical clocks are everywhere. But, without the constant tick tock of time in our ears, Saunders shows us a world where we can listen to the country again and how that can lead us through key moments in life.

She also does not shy away from the complexity of sovereignty and decolonisation, and the nuances between them. In Blood and Soil, one of the more challenging reads in the album, there is a reminder that the word decolonisation still has the word colonisation in it and that decolonisation won’t create a new world, but will instead result in the same world with different people in power. It is both a cautionary tale and a call to action. In between those two things are messages about what happens when Elders aren’t truly listened to and when the ways of the community get lost in the fight.

In Cultural Immersion Program and The Girl’s Home, the intersection of Aboriginal experiences and technology is explored. In the former, Saunders asks if – as we embrace virtual reality and artificial intelligence, as the world gets smaller and bigger at the same time – technology will be the only way for Aboriginal people to hold onto sacred information. What does that mean for the future? Will it be theirs or will it be everyone’s?

The Girl’s Home explores the Stolen Generations and generational trauma. In times of absolute horror, Aboriginal people showed absolute strength that they never should have had to show, and it cannot be forgotten. Yet is this trauma a sign of strength in our people, or is it the endurance of the trauma that shows the strength? Is it a way of showing who we truly are? Saunders expertly plays with this idea, evoking thoughts about the history that has passed and what the future could hold.

Within each story is a question, something that you sit with for a while as you consider the world around you. The book demonstrates the power and skills that Aboriginal people have always had, as well as the various possibilities for our future.

Saunders has created an incredible book that shows exactly why Blak literature should be skyrocketing in this country. As a Ngarrindjeri woman, I wish I had this book when I was younger, because – for the first time – I saw experiences that I had reflected on the page alongside moments I want desperately to see. This is a book that will absolutely resonate with all generations to come.

Always Will Be, by Mykaela Saunders, is published by University of Queensland Press and is available now.

Courtney Jaye is a Ngarrindjeri woman and writer who grew up all around Australia and is currently living on Kaurna country. She is a recipient of the Arts South Australia and InReview First Nations Arts Writing mentorship. Courtney is working with Martu author and freelance writer Karen Wyld to write a series of articles for publication in InReview. 

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