Uni project sparks novel reflections on family history

8 February 2021

Every great journey starts with a single step! For Indigenous Arts student Sharlene Allsopp, that first step was a short story which turned into a book chapter assessment at the University of Queensland.

That UQ project has since evolved into a draft of a novel titled The Great Undoing, alongside smaller projects including a memoir about her great-grandfather.

Sharlene’s draft novel helped her earn a Wheeler Centre Next Chapter 2020 award, providing $15,000 funding along with mentoring opportunities throughout this year. The Wheeler Centre will also work closely to connect her with peers, potential publishers and future readers.

The Great Undoing explores definitions of belonging – who’s in, who’s out and who decides.

“I’m obsessed with the way that blood and language are used as weapons against the marginalised. Somehow race and accent are used as measurements of belonging,” Sharlene says.

“The Next Chapter award is a significant milestone in my writing career; it’s more than conceivable that towards the end of 2021 I will have a finished novel and hopefully been offered a publishing deal.

“The Wheeler Centre will support me to achieve this outcome. I’m thrilled to be in the company of such talented, hard-working creatives.

“I’m incredibly proud that the four Next Chapter judges – all magnificent Australian authors – have read a 12,000-word excerpt of my novel and loved it.”

Sharlene juggles her passion for writing and her third-year UQ studies alongside her roles as a wife and mother of four children (two still at home).

She’s also a co-founder and regular volunteer for the Open Haven charity (for domestic violence survivors) and an occasional tutor for UQ’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (ATSIS) Unit.

Sharlene was published in the 2019 Jacaranda journal and in Aniko Press’ 2020 inaugural magazine – Unsung (with the origin of a memoir about her great grandfather, who served in WWI).

She also earned an honorarium and additional mentoring support through the Emerging Writers’ Festival At Home Residencies program. This EWF program focused her writing on the memoir still further.

“I discovered my great grandfather’s war record online,” Sharlene says. “I didn’t know that he was a soldier in WW1, and many of the details were a revelation to my close family. He was a Bundjalung man, and at that time enlistment for Indigenous men was unlawful.

“That discovery led me on a search for answers that I may not ever find. I cannot know why he enlisted for a nation that had no regard for his interests.

“Pursuing his story has resulted in the idea for a memoir that weaves our stories together, to expose the lies that Australia tells about us; lies that I grew up believing, that have shaken me to the core, that still inform our nation today.

“It’s a challenging task to capture with words the weight held within a human’s story. I love that challenge because the journey is incredibly rewarding, and, for me, bringing visibility to my family stories writes us into an archive that erased us for so long.”