Teela May Reid wins Daisy Utemorrah Award for “Our Matriarchs Matter"

Magabala to publish Teela May Reid’s Daisy Utemorrah Award winning novel


Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman Teela May Reid has been awarded this year’s Daisy Utemorrah Award at the WA Premier’s Book Awards for her unpublished manuscript “Our Matriarchs Matter.”

The Sydney based co-creator of Blackfulla Bookclub was presented with the award at the State Library of Western Australia last Friday, where she received $15,000 and a publishing contract with Magabala Books

In her acceptance speech, Reid acknowledged the impact Daisy Utemorrah’s life had on her decision to enter a manuscript into the award.

“It was never my intention to submit a manuscript, but I had an urge and energy, thinking about her and her story, and thinking about the matriarchs in my life,” she said. 

The Award was named in honour of the late Kimberley Daisy Utemorrah, an Wunambal Elder poet and activist. Utemorrah was also one of the founders of Magabala Books, the Broome-based publishing house that exclusively publishes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices and is the nation’s oldest independent Indigenous publishing house.

The national award named in her honour is presented to an unpublished work of Indigenous YA writing, and began in 2019. Last year’s winner was Gunai poet and writer Kirli Saunders for her verse-novel, “Mother Speaks”.

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Congratulations to @teelareid ✨ Winner of the Daisy Utemorrah Award in the WA Premiers Book Awards for her manuscript, ‘Our Matriarchs Matter’. … Inspired by her niece Jakayla May and Daisy Utemorrah’s own story, Teela’s winning manuscript is a moving tribute to First Nations Matriarchs – and we cannot wait to share it with you all. Teela is a Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman, lawyer, activist and storyteller 🙌🏽 Join us in congratulating Teela in the comments. … The Daisy Utemorrah Award is generously supported by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund and the State Government of Western Australia, @statelibrarywa … #magabalabooks #blackpublishingpower #ownvoices #Indigenouspublishing #FirstNations #Matriarchs #DaisyUtemorrahAward

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This year’s winner said she “I felt an urge to submit my story having learned more about Daisy Utemorrah, but also because I have been strongly shaped by all the Matriarchs in my life,” Reid said in a statement. “The story is something that comes from my soul and my spirit.”

The “powerful work of junior fiction”, as the judges noted, was inspired by Reid’s nine-year old niece Jakayla May Reid.

Reid was born in Gilgandra; a small town 67-kilometres north of Dubbo, on Wiradjuri land in Western NSW. Earlier this year, she described struggling from a young age “with stories passed down to me about my mob’s fight for truth and justice.”

“What I was told at home was vastly different to the history that was preached to me in school,” she wrote. “Walking through the school gates was like entering a foreign world. My mother would send me off each morning in my crisp, clean uniform and perfectly crafted pigtails and advise, ‘If they give you hell today, walk out!’”

“Searching for a sense of belonging in a system that routinely denied both my true identity and the history of my people was a constant battle of two worlds colliding.”

As a criminal defence lawyer at Legal Aid NSW, Reid told her alumni UNSW, that she decided to study law and work in the legal field after being selected as Australia’s female Indigenous Youth Delegate to the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York in 2010.

“I love my role, because as a lawyer, I am able to defend the rights of those most vulnerable,” she said in an interview in 2018 with UNSW. “As a lawyer, I understand I am in a position of privilege by providing legal advice to those whom the laws bear most harshly ensure they have the opportunity to access justice.” 

Reid has since been advocating to abolish systemic racism in the criminal justice process and remains a staunch campaigner for the Uluru Statement from the Heart. In February this year, she spoke on ABC’s 7:30 about the importance of Australia’s responsibility to reckon with its past.

“The education system doesn’t necessarily reflect the truth of Australia’s history,” she said. “One of the challenges Australia has to face, is that reconciliation is now used as a tool to give lip service to really serious issues that haven’t been fundamentally addressed.”

As one half of Blackfulla Bookclub, a group she runs with her friend and fellow lawyer Merinda Dutton, she is eager to highlight First Nations Ancestors as the original storytellers.

On winning the award last Friday evening Teela said, “I am deeply humbled to receive this award and to be collaborating with my niece Jakayla, the little Wiradjuri and Wailwan artist who will illustrate this story with me.”

“My gratitude is to our ancestors and to the legacy of the matriarchs in our First Nations communities. They are the backbone of our communities and their stories need to be honoured and told. They are integral to our history and our survival and our existence.” 

Rachel Bin Salleh, a publisher at Magabala, who is also Australia’s only Indigenous publisher, was one of the judges and spoke of Reid’s manuscript as a “beautiful soaring tribute to the strength of matriarchs that will delight and inspire young readers.”

“We’re thrilled to be able to work with Teela on her debut book,” Salleh said. “She has such an incredible energy and is an absolute dynamo – as a lawyer, an activist and now as an author. We are humbled to share this journey with her and her niece Jakayla. The story an important, timely and moving tribute to First Nations Matriarchs.”

Magabala Publishing House began in the late 80s with an aim to restore, preserve and maintain Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures through literature. Authors have included Anita Heiss, Alexis Wright, Brice Pascoe and Stephen Hagan.

Last year, the publishing house announced the a two-year cadetship for First Nations publishing professionals in response to the racial homogeneity of the Australian publishing industry.

Salleh, who will participate as a mentor, said in a statement the cadetship will create a meaningful career pathway for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the publishing industry. Her house publishes up to 15 new titles annually across genres including children’s picture books, memoir, fiction and poetry.

Reid’s manuscript, ‘Our Matriarchs Matter’ will be published in 2022. 

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