Jared Thomas, thanks for talking to Boomerang Books.
Calypso Summer (Magabala Books) gave me a break-through insight into a young Aboriginal man. Calypso is a brilliant character. He tries so hard to make his life, and the lives of those around him, work, but it’s tough. Could you tell us about him and his cousin, Run?
Calypso and Run are young Aboriginal men trying to exist in a difficult world. Their interaction with each other, family members and others is framed by a history of dispossession, racism and discrimination that has contributed to some of the lowest levels of education, highest levels of unemployment, and poorest health conditions amongst any Australian people.
Having money and getting work plays heavily on both Calypso and Run. However, while Run is defeated and takes drugs and does petty crime to survive, Calypso attempts to change his life in order to obtain personal goals.
What is the importance of family, tradition and country to someone like Calypso?
Calypso’s love for family and his understanding of tradition and country provide him with a greater sense of purpose, a strength that enables him to cope better with challenges. It helps him to put things into perspective.
What is your background and why have you written Calypso Summer?
My father’s family is Nukunu and Ngadjuri from the Southern Flinders Ranges and Scottish, and my Mum’s Aboriginal family is from Winton, Queensland and her European family are Irish.
I wrote Calypso Summer because I want to raise awareness of how racism has and continues to impact on the lives of Aboriginal people and to show the positives that can occur if the right types of opportunities are available.
Cricket is the backdrop to your novel but I watched the movie Australian Rules, based on the novels Deadly, Unna? and Nukkin Ya by Phillip Gwynne not long before reading Calypso Summer. You do mention the game of Australian Rules briefly in your novel.
If you’ve seen the movie or read these novels, would you recommend them?
Phillip Gwynne’s Deadly Unna is a useful text in communicating the futility of racism, also providing important explorations of sexism and domestic violence.
Media relating to the release of Australian Rules, the film adaptation of Deadly Unna reveals much controversy as the story is based on the murder of two young Aboriginal men and consent wasn’t requested from the relatives of these men when writing the story.
The controversy prompted Screen Australia, then the Australian Film Commission, to employ Terri Janke to write a position paper for working with Indigenous content and communities. This formed the basis of Screen Australia’s Pathways & Protocols, a filmmaker’s guide to working with Indigenous people.
I’d recommend Deadly Unna and Australian Rules to be read and viewed by students in association with an introduction to protocols for representing Aboriginal people in various media.
If Phillip Gwynne had consulted with Aboriginal people in the writing of Deadly Unna and Australian Rules, they would be much more celebrated works.
Are there other relevant books you would prefer to recommend?
I would prefer to recommend Melissa Lucashenko’s young adult works such as Steam Pigs, Killing Darcy and Hard Yards.
Who have you written Calypso Summer for – young adults, adults or both?
I have written Calypso Summer for young adults but know that it also appeals to adults.
What do you hope for young men and women like Calypso?
I hope that young men and women like Calypso come to the realisation that in a society where Aboriginal people make up an outrageous proportion of the prison population, that being educated, healthy and employed, preferably within or contributing to our own communities is the most rebellious act that one can do.
What else have you written?
My young adult novel ‘Sweet Guy’ is published by IAD Press and my children’s novella ‘Dallas Davis the Scientist and the City Kids,’ is published by Oxford University Press. ‘Songs that Sound like Blood,’ will be released by Magabala Books in mid 2015.
I’ve also published academic articles, articles, short stories and poetry in various anthologies.
My first major work was a play called ‘Flash Red Ford,’ which was produced in Kenya and Uganda in 1999.
Thanks very much, Jared.
You can also listen to Jared’s interview with Daniel Browning at