Papua New Guinean creative Alana Hicks reflects on winning the SBS Emerging Writer’s Competition
Multidisciplinary creative Alana Hicks won over the judges at the ‘SBS Emerging Writer’s Competition’, with her coming-of-age memoir piece titled ‘The Australia of my youth was not diverse. It was medium-beige.’
The competition, which received over 2000 entries, encouraged prospective Australian writers to submit stories on the topic of ‘Growing up in diverse Australia’. Alana says she was surprised to receive the call from SBS announcing her win.
“I don’t really enter things to win,” Alana says, “you inevitably get your hopes dashed and there are just so many factors that come into creative writing that you cannot control.”
Alana grew up in Australia and her background is a unique mix of native Papua New Guinean from her mother’s side and Scottish-Australian from her father’s side. She is the youngest of four children.
Alana’s memoir entry, which depicts her youth experiences as a Papua New Guinean migrant, recognises the discrimination faced by her mother as a woman of colour.
This prejudice is amplified in the heartbreaking line in Alana’s memoir piece, from her boyfriend at the time, “You know, I wouldn’t be with you if you looked like your mother.”
Alana says that it was cathartic for her to write out this memory, and she felt removed from the negative feelings associated with it.
“When you’re a kid you are just receiving information, and you don’t really have the contextual knowledge to analyse or assess it,” Alana reflects.
“It is not until much later that you can retrospectively interpret these experiences. You suddenly realise that they may have been prejudiced or ignorant… but I had this instinct, at the time, that it wasn’t right.”
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Alana’s winning entry is raw, personal and authentic, representing a need for Australian migrant stories to be shared.
Alana says that these stories, “are important for both parties, to write and to read.”
“There are so many different ways of experiencing life and I think it is important to be able to read those voices, hear those voices, and understand their points of view.”
Alana acknowledges that storytelling is essential to her cultural identity, as it is “so integral to Pacific Islander culture and lore.”
“When I was a kid my mother used to sit me down and tell me stories,” Alana recalls, “that oral storytelling is a form of writing and that tradition is quite vital to many Indigenous cultures.
“For me to experience that as a listener and later tell those stories to other people, the same way she told stories to me, makes me feel part of a continuum of storytellers, and part of a tradition of storytelling.”
Alana hopes that her story can resonate with other children of migrants, particularly those of colour.
“Storytelling is indeed a very important part of the culture and tradition of Papua New Guinea and the Pacific as a whole. We proudly acknowledge Alana Hicks and her achievements in winning the inaugural SBS Emerging Writers competition and her efforts to continue the tradition of storytelling in Australia with younger generations in Australia. Alana’s story uniquely captures her childhood experience and her cultural identity in both Papua New Guinea and Australia.” – Chris Pearsall Secretary, Papua New Guinea Association of Australia (PNGAA)
“I really hope that somebody feels like their experience is validated by a connection to my own, that we can resonate with each other,” says Alana.
“It’s important to understand, as much as we think we are unique and special, quite often our experiences are relatively common and writing stories that have universal resonance can make us feel less alone.”
Alana hopes to adapt her work into longer-form prose or a collection of short stories in the future.