POEM FOREST Prize Partner Spotlight: Magabala Books


Photograph supplied by Magabala Books: Magabala Books Publishing Cadet Melena Cole-Manolis


Photograph supplied by Magabala Books: Magabala Books Board and Staff


Photograph supplied by Magabala Books: Author and Illustrators Gladys Milroy and Helen Milroy

Magabala Books is Australia’s leading Indigenous publishing house. Based in Broome, they are Aboriginal owned and led, and their guiding purpose is to celebrate and nurture the talent and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices. As a prize partner for POEM FOREST, Magabala Books are offering a range of exciting books as part of this year's prize packs.

Melena Cole-Manolis has been a publishing cadet at Magabala Books since 2021, so who better to fill us in on all things Red Room Poetry and Magabala?

Welcome, Melena! First of all, tell us a bit about yourself and your work – where does your role as a Publishing Cadet fit within Magabala Books’s overarching vision?

My name’s Melena Cole-Manolis. I’m a Warumungu, Luritja and Yawuru woman from Alice Springs but I’ve lived most of my life in Broome.

In 2021, I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of two publishing cadets at Magabala Books, Australia’s leading Indigenous publisher, based here in Broome. The cadetship program is all about creating employment pathways for First Nations publishing professionals who may have no experience in publishing.

The cadetship was a dream come true for me, as someone who has always had a passion for reading and listening to stories. My role at Magabala includes assessing manuscripts, project managing upcoming titles including communication with creators, designers, typesetting, editing etc., all under the guidance of our publisher, Rachel Bin Salleh.

Magabala Books has been publishing First Nations stories since 1987. Our vision is to honour diverse voices, stories, cultures and truths – so my role as a Cadet is to provide a safe space for our creators and support to tell the story they want to tell. It is such a privilege!

Why books, why publishing?

I fell in love with books when I was in high school and since then I’ve been an avid reader. My family used to roll their eyes at me when I’d return home from Uni every holiday with a new box of books to add to the shelves.

Since graduating, I’ve worked in both education and the arts sector, and First Nations storytelling has become increasingly important to me.

I believe that it’s vital for us (First Nations people) to have our own voice and to tell our own stories in a way that is culturally safe. Working at Magabala, I get to see this happening every day and get to work with First Nations people in an area that I am passionate about and love doing.

Being able to read books now, especially in the junior fiction and young adult genres, with characters I recognise, is something I wished there was more of when I was in school.

Magabala has a valuable working relationship with Red Room (with lots of crossover among the poets we both work with!) What makes this partnership important to you?

Red Room Poetry is a wonderful organisation! Magabala are proud to work with such a great initiative that supports diversity, poetry and storytelling. In 2020, we were proud to publish Guwayu – For All Times, and this radical celebration of uncensored storytelling is testament to the synergy between Magabala and Red Room Poetry and the integrity of our shared practice.

The link that POEM FOREST makes between poetry and trees seems to make a lot of intuitive sense – at least to our team. What, to you, is the connection between poetry and conservation?

Without our beautiful trees we wouldn’t have the amazing books we love so much. Country and the environment is everything, from which everything derives. Poetry captures the essence of this – and as Aunty Gladys Milroy says we need to learn to love ‘the trees. We can’t live without them.’

What advice would you give to emerging writers and/or young people wanting to work in book publishing more generally?

I never imagined my love of reading would bring me to publishing. When I was younger, I didn’t think I had the skills for it. Working at Magabala has opened my eyes to the different opportunities to develop your skills and ways to work in the industry. If you have a passion for writing, editing, illustration, design etc., don’t hesitate to pursue it.

What five Magabala books should we all read this year?

Gurawul the Whale by Max Dulumunmun Harrison – A beautiful telling of the legend of Gurawul the Whale with exquisite illustrations by Laura La Rosa.

More than these Bones by Bebe Backhouse – A debut collection of poetry exploring the raw joy, love and heartbreak of life.

Hairy Holes by Brenton E McKenna – A graphic novel by Yawuru man Brenton McKenna. I cannot tell you how many times I laughed while rereading this during production and at the final pages. You’re never too old for this type of humour.

Open Your Heart to Country by Jasmin Seymour – A beautiful children’s picture book about reconnecting with Country, written in both English and Dharug.

Silver Leaves by Gladys Milroy – an exquisite illustrated junior story about conservation, working together and hope.

Learn more about the amazing POEM FOREST Prize Packs that Magabala Books is contributing to here, and explore their full catalog via the Magabala Books website.