Veronica Gorrie is tough and brave. She has suffered intergenerational trauma, sexual and domestic abuse, and additional trauma during the 10 years she served in the Queensland police force.
Having been diagnosed with PTSD and consequent amnesia it’s hardly surprising that she doesn’t remember a lot of her life, and that the memories she does have are neither fond nor good. “The things I do remember are pretty shit,” she says bluntly. But that didn’t stop her writing Black and Blue: A Memoir of Racism and Resilience.
Now Gorrie, a Kurnai woman who lives in Gippsland, has some consolation: she has won the richest writing prize in the country, the $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature, to go with the $25,000 prize for Indigenous writing she received in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards , which were announced on Thursday evening.
Other winners were: smoke house, Melissa Manning (fiction); The Mother Wound, Amani Haydar (non-fiction); TriggerWarning, Maria Takolander (poetry); Milk, Dylan Van Den Berg (drama); Girls in Boys’ Cars, Felicity Castagna (young adult), who each received $25,000. The winner of the unpublished manuscript award, Keshe Chow for Fauna of Mirrors, receives $15,000 and the people’s choice winner, Rebecca Lim (Tiger Daughter), $2000.
Gorrie says she wrote black and blue because she wanted to document for her children the memories she still had. But far from being a healing experience, she found the writing triggering. And she was surprised by its reception. “I think that’s because I speak about past atrocities that have occurred to my ancestors due to the direct result of colonization and the racism I was subjected to whilst I was in the police.”
Joining the police was an attempt to break the cycle of fear of the force that exists for her family and many Indigenous Australians. Her grandmother and her siblings were stolen in 1941 and the family subsequently lived in dread. But she concedes she didn’t succeed in her aim.
“The fear that my people all have is still here today. I have grave fears that when my children or myself leave the house or my family they’re going to be the next black death in custody. We’re singled out. I know this because I was a copper and I used to do the same, so I was complicit.“
She says she should have spoken up more about the racism she was subjected to in the police and the brutality inflicted on Indigenous people.