Title: True Tracks
Author: Terri Janke
Publisher: UNSW Press
Published: July 2021
Terri Janke’s True Tracks is like no book I have read before. It is a non-fiction text that outlines all the ways best to protect the work and knowledge of Indigenous Australians. It is rich with not only well-researched knowledge, but a plethora of anecdotal stories and happenings in the history of Indigenous Australian peoples and their fight for ownership of their art, music, and dance.
Terri Janke is an Indigenous lawyer with Meriam and Wuthathi heritage. Janke’s law firm was established in 2000 and focuses on Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property law and commercial law.
As a non-Indigenous Australian, I was fascinated by the chapter on Indigenous languages. Janke includes impacts, protocols, and the best way to care or pass on Language. What is even better is at the end of each chapter Janke provides resources and notes that allow readers to further their own search on what was mentioned. Janke discusses Kylie Bracknell’s Tedx talk where she asked an audience who knew how to say ‘hello’ in an Australian Indigenous dialect. Unsurprisingly, there was not anyone who could. But Bracknell insisted that people could recite other worldly greetings. This certainly stopped me as I read and made me think of whether I could or not. There are probably four or five ways of greeting I can remember from Japanese to French, but when it comes to an Australian Indigenous dialect, I was not sure. I took from this the opportunity to research a few Nyoongar words, which is the group situated in Western Australia’s South West. ‘Hello’ is Kaya and ‘welcome’ is wanju – read more here.
While a long read with a few terms I had to look up, it is a book well worth diving into to become a well-informed citizen. Janke looks at the ownership of the Aboriginal flag inchapter 17: Appreciate don’t appropriate: It’s fashionable to be culturally respectful. This has been a point of contention since 2019, where, if businesses wanted to reproduce the flag on jerseys or t-shirts, they had to pay. This is not applicable for the Australian flag. Janke makes a point of discussing Harold Thomas – the copyright owner of the Aboriginal flag – and how it is his legal right to seek license fees. In January of 2022 the Australian Government purchased the flag and made it freely available for public use. Reading this section, I had not thought of it before and how if the flag were to be made free, Harold Thomas’ right to his work could be taken away. I had not previously thought of the issue in this light and was able to look at other perspectives on this issue.
Janke does this throughout her body of work, making you think, re-think, and think again on all the issues of copyright and respecting Indigenous knowledge and culture. Janke outlines that her framework for ethical Indigenous engagement or “True Tacks: is about ‘set(ting) a track or pathway that people could follow. In this way it is proactive not reactive.” (page 14). I thoroughly enjoyed engaging in this text and learning more about respecting Australian Indigenous people’s knowledge and culture. Learning about such important ideas as you read is a privilege and I appreciate all the effort and research that Janke has put into this work.