A review of TIDDAS by Anita Heiss
© Michelle Evans
Anita Heiss’ runaway successful new book TIDDAS is a real page turner! I read it over a weekend and found myself completely engaged, wanting to know every morsel of what happens to our heroines Izzy, Vee, Ellen, Nadine and Xanthe. I think that engagement is one of the most important qualities of a good fiction book, so good on you Anita – write some more!!
For me TIDDAS is a platform for Dr Anita Heiss to discuss some powerful ideas. Two important ideas rang bells for me as I read TIDDAS – first, the complexity of status anxiety and the Aboriginal woman in the 21st century and second, the seemingly all or nothing decision around family and career priorities.
Let me address the later first. Izzy promises a fun loving career girl and perhaps Australia’s answer to Oprah, but within the first few pages she is stunned into a silence that seems unlike her. Avoiding people, decisions, questions, I was reminded of how, when you are stuck making a difficult decision and lye in the funk and ambiguity of it, you can easily detach from your career, family, friends, even your body and your inner voice. I have been (and probably still am) an all or nothing decision maker. This kind of decision-making places individuals in such a bind, so I applaud Anita’s affordance for Izzy to sit in a difficult, almost inert place without forcing Izzy to make a snap decision on what is a very pivotal life choice.
By far the most compelling tension Anita platforms in TIDDAS was the complexity of status anxiety Aboriginal women experience in Australia in 2014. What I was excited by was the discussion of how each character managed their own internal tensions – for example that pull towards home, family and place vs. making a difference and paying it forward in a career they love away from ‘home’. Despite healthy doses of self esteem these tiddas possess, we see each character having to manage the anxiety of what others think of them and their success.
One character manages this by buying hometown goods for her pantry, and another sends tidings home each pay. “…Ellen felt a pang of guilt for missing so much of what was going on in her family since moving to Brisbane.” Far from being an existential longing, this carriage of guilt and uneasy anxiety is a modern Aboriginal and universal theme.
Alain de Botton describes in his 2002 book Status Anxiety how feelings of resentment and general anxiety grow when members of our own group succeed. Aboriginal women are very aware of the image they portray and how they manage their own cultural and community responsibilities in balance with their own dreams and ambitions. My research into Indigenous leadership shows that leadership can be understood as having to navigate these tensions inside of ourselves in order to practice what could be framed as leadership like being fearless or expressing a diverse cultural identity with confidence.
TIDDAS Izzy, Ellen and Xanthe are positive role models, they are working to open doors into new industries and they are progressing movements for land/language/culture and social space for the diversity of Australian Indigenous peoples. The grit of status anxiety can be a double edged sword – on one side debilitating causing individuals to dwell on the perceived/real resentment about their success and contribution; and on the other side it can be the very boost individuals use to develop a strong sense of self and of mission.
I want to encourage all you Tiddas out there to never apologize for your achievements, these are everyday acts of leadership. And returning to my first point, don’t be afraid of ambiguity, it offers us time to sift through the complexity. Thanks Anita for your work, it inspires and makes us laugh!
 de Botton, A. (2002) Status Anxiety, New York: Vintage Books