Roberta Sykes is one of Australia’s best-known black activists. The story of her life’s journey was first presented in Snake Cradle in 1997, and followed by Snake Dancing (1998) and Snake Circle (2000). Snake Dreaming brings together these three books in one complete volume.
In Snake Cradle we meet Sykes, growing up in Northern Queensland in the 1940s, the daughter of a white mother and an unknown father. Sykes grows up aware that her dark skin marks her as different than other children, an awareness that is proven correct by many of the events she recalls. Probably the major formative event is a harrowing and horrific rape when Sykes is a teenager living away from home. Snake Cradle was the winner of the Age Book of the Year award and Nita Kibble prize.
In the second book, Snake Dancing, Syke’s experiences lead her into the political arena. Sykes works to fight for justice and equality for all black people, among other things playing a formative role in the setting up of the Tent Embassy outside Parliament House, and becoming the first Aboriginal columnist for Nation Review.
In the third and final book, Snake Circle, Sykes embarks on a more personal journey. She fights for, and wins, funding to attend Harvard University, where she overcomes personal doubts, feelings of isolation, and other obstacles, to complete a Doctorate. At the same time, she works to ensure that this is not a one off achievement for herself, but an ongoing opportunity for others.
Snake Dreaming is an incredible journey. Readers are swept into the struggles, the highs and the lows, learning not just about Sykes, but about the struggles of Australia’s black community. An essential read for every Australian.
Snake Dreaming: Autobiography of a Black Woman, by Roberta Sykes
Allen &Unwin, 2001.