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 ‘I hope the book will reach kids like me’

A recent Australian study has revealed many Indigenous LGBTIQ+ people feel a strong sense of pride in their identity but frequently experience heterosexism and racism. Gary Lonesborough hopes his debut YA novel will help young people as they navigate this complexity and find the courage to explore who they are.

Gary Lonesborough, author of The Boy from the Mish, says that while writing the book, he “was thinking of 17-year-old me, writing for my teenage self … I hope the book will reach kids like me. If the book can help one person, that’s good.”

Lonesborough, who finished high school in 2013, says he loved reading in primary school, but “at 14, 15, it started to dawn on me that I didn’t have much access to books with Aboriginal protagonists. I also started getting interested in underage drinking, partying.”

Thankfully, he had teachers who encouraged him academically, and the book’s acknowledgements include teachers at his primary and high schools in Bega.  “I definitely credit my Year 12 English teacher – I fed off that passion that he had.”

Small town race relations as depicted in the book are complex. Jackson (the narrator a 17-year-old Aboriginal facing a huge issue of sexuality and identity), his cousins and their friends are insulted and threatened by Ethan and his mates, watched carefully by shop keepers and hassled by the cops. They also party with white kids on holiday at the local camp ground, and (spoiler alert), the (white) teacher and principal at Jackson’s school pledge their support for him, and sound like they mean it.

Lonesborough agrees that race relations in a small community such as the one shown in his book are complex. “I don’t think I could have written a book about growing up Aboriginal without talking about racism – there’s direct racism, there’s casual racism. I wanted to underline that, there’s that unsaid, hidden racism that goes on behind closed doors. I wanted to play around with that.”

While the book’s ending doesn’t tie up every loose end, it does finish on an optimistic note. “I wanted the ending to be hopeful,” says Lonesborough. “It’s about acceptance, and realising how love can change you. By the time we get to the end, we feel it’ll be OK.”

See Catherine DeMayo’s review of The Boy from the Mish here.

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books@ssh.com.au

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