So You Want To Be a Writer Podcast

In Episode 306, you’ll Meet Kirli Saunders, Celebrated International Children’s Author, poet and teacher and join her in an exploration of her creative process, and her unorthodox journey into publishing her debut picture book, The Incredible Freedom Machines. Listen now.

Blue Spirit

First Nations young women at Wollongong High School joined Dharawal based poet, Kirli Saunders and yogi, Leisa Hicks for Blue Spirit workshops. This program explored identity, connection and self expression through tailored movement and writing exercises, centred on connecting to Country, Self and Community.

Author Visits

In Terms 3 and 4, students at Keiraville PS, South Cronulla OOSH, Colo Vale PS, Berkeley West PS, East Corrimal PS, Oak Flats HS, Short Street Pre School and Basin Pre School joined Dharawal Based International Children’s Author and Proud Gunai woman to explore her creative process. Kirli led students through an interactive presentations and creative masterclasses as she reflected on her journey into writing and boundary breaking.

Poetry in First Languages


Winepress is an opportunity to engage with writers at the beautiful Eden Road Winery in Murrumbateman.  Held annually in November the program this year is focused on Poetry in First Nation Languages.  A exploration and celebration of two writers in the International year of Indigenous Languages. Winepress will feature readings and conversations with Kirli Saunders a proud Gunai woman, with ties to the Yuin, Gundungurra, Gadigal and Biripi people. She currently resides on Dharawal Country. Kirli is an award winning, international children’s author, poet, emerging playwright and artist. She manages Poetry in First Languages and Poetic Learning at Red Room Poetry.  Joining Kirli is Ethan Bell, Ethan is a Wallabalooa man from the Ngunawal Nation. He is an emerging artist and student based in Campbelltown, Sydney. Ethan’s practice is storytelling, drawing from his love of hip-hop. Ethan writes poetry to give insight into his life. Held on the 30th of November 2pm @ Eden Road Wines, 3182 Barton Highway, Murrumbateman NSW 2582. Priced at $10 per head this includes nibbles and a wine tasting. For more information https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/winepress-tickets-80184470911.

Wollongong Writers Festival

November 23-24, Wollongong NSW

FIRST NATIONS WRITERS: SPEAKING TRUTH  PANEL Chaired by Kirli Saunders featuring Tony Birch and Alison Whittaker, this panel explored  the importance of speaking truth and honouring identity, culture, language and country through poetry, essay and fiction.

WHAT DO WE WANT FROM EDUCATION? PANEL Chaired by Rhiannon Hall, Featuring Benjamin Law, Kirli Saunders, Gabbie Stroud and Jane Caro,  This panel asked the question: what do we want from education? Do we want our children to master basic skills, or do we want our children to be critical thinkers? Do we want our children to be curious and creative? Do we want our young people to be kind? What is the purpose of K-12 education in Australia? Why don’t we trust teachers?

BUILD YOUR OWN INCREDIBLE FREEDOM MACHINE WORKSHOP & LIVE READINGS saw Kirli Saunders – children’s author, poet, educator and proud Gunai woman – share the secrets of how she wrote The Incredible Freedom Machines, and supported children build their very own freedom machine out of craft materials and imagination.

Find out More

2505 Reimagined

Underpinned by the Port Kembla 2025 Revitalisation Plan, 2505 Reimagined engages local students, supporting them to creatively respond to the landscape and community through creative writing and arts workshops guided by local First Nations artists, Kirli Saunders and David Cragg.

Following introductory author talks and poetry performances, tailored writing workshops were led with First Nations students at Port Kembla schools, engaging students with tailored literacy learning exercises to art responses to Dharawal country.

With David Cragg’s guidance, students imagined their writing as creative art. A mural was then painted by David following the workshops embedding selected student’s words in public facing 3m x 1.8m murals. Following the installation of the mural, students will share a reading of their work at a school community event.

Prime Ministers Literary Awards Shortlist

Kirli Saunders The Incredible Freedom Machines, illustrated by Matt Ottley (Scholastic 2018) has been shortlisted for the Prime Ministers Literary Awards, Children’s Literature Category. The Awards celebrate Australian writing across six genres, selecting exceptional works from Australia’s talented authors, illustrators, creators and historians. Such recognition allows them to share their creativity and research on a national and international scale. Read the Judges Notes here.

Let’s Dance – Momentum –  Urban Theatre Projects

Urban Theatre Projects announces a return to Barangaroo with the presentation of Momentum – a new deep listening experience presented in Blak Box. Curated by Daniel Browning (Bundjalung/Kullilli/South Sea Islander), this sound work examines the impact of representations of First Nations peoples in global popular culture. Momentum pivots on the central idea that the past has not passed using the 1983 music video for David Bowie’s Let’s Dance as a starting point. Featuring Eric Avery (Ngiyampaa/Yuin/Gumbayngirr), Troy Russell (Birrpai/Kamilaroi), Wesley Enoch (Nunukul/Ngugi), Ursula Yovich (An Barra Clan, Burarra/Serbian), Joel Davison (Gadigal/Dhunghutti), Vernon Ah Kee (Kuku Yalanji/Waanji/Yidinji/Gugu Yimithirr), Kirli Saunders (Gunai), Larissa Behrendt (Euahlayi), Lorna Munro (Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi), Evelyn Araluen (Bundjalung), plus more to be announced soon!

The Sound of Picture Books, The Literature Centre Fremantle

With thanks to The Literature Centre Fremantle, Kirli joined Matt Ottley, the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra and Yamaha Music Aus to perform The Incredible Freedom Machines for The Sound of Picture Books. This multimodal performative workshop 1800+ students across 11 schools throughout WA.



Writers Residency, The Literature Centre Fremantle

From September 3-13, 2020 with thanks to The Literature Centre Fremantle, Kirli toured Kindred and The Incredible Freedom Machines to Cocos Island District High School and Christmas Island High School, with 27 performances reaching 1000 students in kindergarten, pre-primary, primary and secondary stages. Under her guidance, students explored the need to make social impact through the arts. They formed solutions to social issues, focusing specifically on the environment, repurposing plastic into freedom machines that could heal the land.

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Jakarta Post – Author Kirli Saunders

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Kirli Saunders never saw anyone who looked like her in the books she read or the movies she watched growing up. As an Australian of Aboriginal descent, her darker skin and her culture was, and still is, rarely featured in the landscape of her home country’s popular media. First Nations Australian culture is even less represented around the world. Kirli, an author, poet and emerging playwright, is on a mission to change that with her work, including her children’s book The Incredible Freedom Machines.

Continue reading… 

Australian Embassy tour Jakarta and Bali

July 28-30th, Kirli Saunders joined the Australian Embassy in Jakarta and Bali, to share stories, culture and language with literary and educational communities internationally. Her tour involved community events, workshops, performances and panels to celebrate NAIDOC week 2019.

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National Indigenous Times Article – WA Premiers Literary Awards


A matriarch is a leader – a symbol of compassion, strength and power.

She is the backbone of community and family, and a force building a path into the future.

Kirli Saunders, a proud Gunai woman with ties to Yuin, Gundungurra, Gadigal and Biripi country, encompasses all that is a matriarch.

Following in the footsteps of matriarchs before her, Ms Saunders was announced the inaugural winner of the Daisy Utemorrah Award, part of the WA Premier’s Awards, for her work Mother Speaks.

Continue reading… 


WA Premiers Literary Awards Inaugural Recipient Daisy Utemmorah Award


Magabala Books, in partnership the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards and the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund, are thrilled to announce Kirli Saunders as the inaugural winner of the Daisy Utemorrah Award for her rhythmic junior verse-novel, Mother Speaks.

Presented at the WA Premier’s Book Awards ceremony at the State Library of Western Australia in Perth on Friday, Kirli Saunders received $15,000 and a publishing contract with Magabala Books.

The new national award is for an unpublished work of Indigenous junior or YA writing, and is named in honour of the late Daisy Utemorrah: elder of the Wunambal people, award-winning poet, author, community leader, educator and one of the founders of Magabala Books.

On winning the award Kirli said:

‘It is a real privilege to be the inaugural recipient of the Daisy Utemorrah Award and to follow in the footsteps of a powerful poet and educator who spoke her truth. Daisy’s contribution as a founder of Magabala has provided a much-needed publishing platform for First Nations voices and stories and I’m really excited to contribute to her work.’

Continue reading… 

Speech Pathology Book of the Year

Kirli’s Internationally published and CBCA nominated picture book, The Incredible Freedom Machines was recently shortlisted for the 2019 Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards. Find out more.


Author Visits

On July 7th, Students at Wonona PS joined Dharawal Based International Children’s Author and Proud Gunai woman to explore her creative process and the NAIDOC theme, Voice Treaty Truth. Kirli led students through an interactive presentations and creative masterclasses as she reflected on her journey into writing and boundary breaking.

Centre for Stories

‘For emerging writers, I’d say be true to you, to your Ancestors, to our Future Elders – who will read your work and find home in it, I’d say keep writing, write through the ache, write until the past is healed, write until we’re not shrouded in the shadows of beaurocracy. I’d say speak, step out with the confidence and knowledge that you’re not alone in feeling the weight of whiteness in the arts. I’d say question every element of the system. All of that truth speaking is bound to carry us forward, to decolonise, to pave the way for the Emerging First Nations writers that follow in your footsteps.’

~ Kirli Saunders 2019

Earlier this year, Kirli was interviewed by the Centre for Stories on Kindred and her project, Poetry in First Languages, delivered by Red Room Poetry. You can read the article here.


Indigenous Writers Festival

Aboriginal students from Illawarra schools spent the day learning from literacy experts at the Lake Illawarra South Network Aboriginal Writers Festival on Friday. The 60 students worked with local Aboriginal children’s author, poet and emerging playwright Kirli Saunders to develop their creative writing skills.

The festival was organised by local director, educational leadership, Raechel McCarthy, and principals from the Lake Illawarra South network, as part of ongoing programs to encourage Aboriginal students to express themselves through writing.

The students now have the opportunity to work with mentor teachers to plan a piece of creative writing, exploring the 2019 NAIDOC theme, Voice. Treaty. Truth. A judging panel of local Elders will select students for a Creative Masterclass with Kirli Saunders. Find out more.



On June 6, students from Central Coast secondary schools joined Kirli Saunders (Gunai woman, author, poet and motorcyclist) as she explored the breaking of boundaries through visual literacies and storytelling for Litfest 2019. Students considered the role of the visual in adding meaning to text, and the intersections of poetry and fiction while creating creative works of their own.


Kindred Launch feat. Enough Said


With the generous support of Enough Said Poetry Slam, Kirli Saunders launched her poetry collection, Kindred at Society City, in her home town on Jun 27th. Enough Said is a monthly event, drawing together poets and writers from the Illawarra and beyond. Find out more.


Kindred Launch feat. Word in Hand

With the generous support of Word in Hand, Sydney’s premier and most diverse performance and storytelling gig, Kirli Saunders launched Kindred on Gadigal Country among red velvet backdrop at The Red Rattler on June 4. Find out more about Word in Hand. 

Photo: (c) Nicola Bailey for Word in Hand 2019. 

Glasshouse Radio Interview

The Glasshouse is a space for spoken word artists, poets, sound makers, audio storytellers, emerging cultural leaders, thinkers, writers and anyone who celebrates story as a means of self-expression, self-representation and community-building. In this episode Kirli joins Elena Savage to explore her poetry collection, Kindred.


Author Visits

On May 31, Students at Austral PS joined International Children’s Author and Proud Gunai woman, Kirli Saunders, a South Coast creator and educator to explore her creative process and her unorthodox journey into writing and boundary breaking.


Kindred Launch feat. QPF

With the generous support of Queensland poetry Festival, Kirli Saunders launched Kindred at Riverbend Books on 28 May, 2019. Supporting poets included Raelee Lancaster, Loki Liddle and Lionel Fogarty. Find out more


Paint the Gong READ

Come join Bright Spark and the Reading Bug, our special guest star story tellers, Aunty Lorraine Brown and Kirli Saunders, for some singing, dancing, reading and craft to celebrate the National Book Relay final event in Wollongong.

All families with children 0 – 5 years are invited! Paint the Gong ReAD is all about encouraging and celebrating reading, singing, talking and rhyming with children from birth.

When: Wednesday May 22, 9:30-11:30am

Where: Stuart Park (North Wollongong Surf Club end of park), George Hanley Drive, North Wollongong NSW 2500 

Find out more.

NT Writers Festival – Regeneration and Return

Whether for metaphor, solace, or self-understanding, writers have turned to nature. But what is it to write in an age of monumental environmental change, of the transformation of the places we live in and love? Bush fires, melted ice caps, endings and extinctions. We call on scribes of all kinds (agrarian, ecological and literary) for their insights and antidotes. Is it too late to regenerate the earth?

Writers: Charles Massy, Steve Morton, Kirli Saunders, Monica Gagliano

Facilitator: Kelly Lee Hickey

Where: Marquee, Olive Pink Botanic Garden, Alice Springs, NT 0870, Aus

When: Sunday, May 19, 10:00-11:15am

Book your ticket.

NT Writers Festival – Story Time for Kids

Join Warlpiri writer and artist Maureen Nampijimpa O’Keefe and international children’s author, Kirli Saunders, for a special session of reading and activities for children.

Maureen will read from her bush stories, about growing up around Ali-Curung. Kirli will share an interactive reading of her CBCA celebrated book, The Incredible Freedom Machines. This story follows the journey of an unnamed girl and her pet pig as they unearth a freedom machine, and adventure widely. With Kirli, you’ll adventure in your own machines and contemplate boundary-breaking and freedom-chasing.

Where: Gallery, Olive Pink Botanic Garden, Alice Springs, NT 0870, Aus

When: Saturday, May 18, 11:15am-12:00pm

Find out more.

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NT Writers Festival – Poets Moon Reading

Step into an electric soundscape of strings and soaring melodies, with cellist Xavia Nou, as poets gather under a growing moon with offerings on the festival theme: lyapirtneme | returning. Featuring poetry in First Languages, writers read of remembrance and mourning, regeneration and renewal, seasons and cycles, death and life again.

Including Kirli Saunders, Sue Fielding, Paul Collis, Meg Mooney, Charmaine Papertalk Green, Victoria Alondra, Leni Shilton, Laurie May, John Kinsella (read by Craig San Roque), Sylvia Neale and Arrernte women writers and readings from Arrernte students from the Poetry in First Languages festival workshops.

Where: Olive Pink Botanic Garden, Alice Springs, NT 0870, Aus

When: Friday, May 17, 6pm-7:30pm, bar open from 5pm

Book your ticket.

NT Writers Festival – Opening

Please join us in the gardens for a very special opening of the 2019 NT Writers’ Festival – Alice Springs where we begin the journey of Lyapirtneme | Returning. Pat Ansell Dodds will open the festival with songs and dances of Arrernte songwomen, followed by short readings from guest and local participating writers, including Merlinda Bobis, Maureen Nampijimpa O’Keefe, Charles Massy, Monica Gagliano, Kirli Saunders and Charmaine Papertalk Green, and students from the Poetry in First Languages workshops.

Where: Olive Pink Botanic Garden, Alice Springs, NT 0870, Aus

When: Thursday, May 16, 5:30pm-7:00pm

Find out more.

NT Writers Festival – PIFL Arrernte workshops

Developed by Gunai poet Kirli Saunders and delivered by Red Room Poetry, Poetry in First Languages (PIFL) celebrates, shares and preserves knowledge of First Nations languages and culture through poetry, music and art.

On May 13,14 and 15, Arrernte Playwright, Declan Furber Gillick and Gunai Poet, Kirli Saunders led First Nations students at Centralian Senior College and Yipirinya School in Poetry in First Languages workshops. These workshops were generously supported by NT Writers Festival. During workshops, students connected to country to create poems in Arrernte/Arnanda language. Poems from the workshops will be published on the Red Room poetry Website and shared at the NT Writers Festival during the Festival Opening (May 16, 5:30-7pm, Olive Pink Botanic Garden) and Poet’s Moon Readings (May 17, 6-7:30pm, Olive Pink Botanic Garden).

Find out more.

Coniston Primary School

On May 3, Stage 2 Students at CPS joined International Children’s Author and Proud Gunai woman, Kirli Saunders, a local writer and educator to explore her creative process. Kirli led students through creative masterclass as she reflected on her journey into writing and boundary breaking. Students created Freedom Machines that would provide sustainable solutions, freeing the community of contemporary societal issues.

Early Childhood Story Telling and Art Workshop

On April 24, Kirli led students at Shining Stars ELC in story telling and art making workshops. The Figtree canvas co-created will be printed on to t-shirts in a collaborative art project across centres. Contact Kirli, to book your own workshop.



Creativity Camps Merrigong

On Monday April 15, Kirli Saunders worked with Red Room Poetry to deliver holiday programs at the Merrigong Theatre  for their Creativity Camps. Students were engaged in story telling, drama, design and writing exercises, prompting them to connect with the Earth.

AWAYE! with Daniel Browning

Kirli Saunders and Dan Browning sit down to yarn about their love of languages in this velvety heartfull interview for ABC RN. They explore Poetry in First Languages and Kirli’s collection, Kindred.  Find out more.

National Indigenous Times article

This in-depth article captures Poetry in First Languages on Gundungurra Country and beyond. Read more.


Talking Writing: Indigenous Languages

Join Writing NSW on Tuesday 2 April, 6.30-8:00pm, as we celebrate the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages with a special Talking Writing event. This night of readings and discussion will include Gamilaroi and Anaiwon playwright Cathy Craigie, Gamilaraay author and linguist Donna Gayford McLaren, Gunai children’s book author Kirli Saunders, Darug singer and songwriter Jacinta Tobin, and Yuwaalaraay songwriter Nardi Simpson.

Register here and find out more.


First Nations Languages Webinar

On March 22, Kirli Saunders explored the practical application of First Nations language learning in the classroom with Stephanie Woerde in a Red Room Poetry and Reconciliation Australia collaboration. The NESA accredited digital Webinar provided educators from around Australia with support to enhance their own programs to embed First Nations Languages in culturally responsible ways. Register for free to access the PD.


NITV article

Kirli Saunders has a bold proposal: teach Australia’s kids local Indigenous languages by writing poetry.

The Gunai woman founded the Poetry in First Languages program – which started last year and delivered workshops to students around New South Wales.

The initiative is just one example of how primary and high school students are using Aboriginal languages to express themselves and preserve traditional cultures.

This year the program will expand to Queensland, the Northern Territory and the ACT with the help of a grant from the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund. Read more.


Poetry in First Languages – Gundungurra

In its second year, Poetry in First Languages – Gundungurra focused on connecting to Country through a conservation project in partnership with Wingecarribee Shire Council and the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH, Glossies in the Mist. First Nations students from Southern Highlands schools worked with Kirli Saunders, Aunty Trish Levett, Aunty Sharyn Halls and Gumea Custodian, Jacob Morris to connect to Country. They learn’t about traditional bush care, bush medicine, Dreaming and Culture and planted she-oaks with the OEH to regenerate the local landscape for the Glossy Black Cockatoo. Students then wrote poems in Gundungurra language with Aunty Trish’s guidance. Poems from the  Red Room Poetry workshops will be published on the website, and read at local NAIDOC events in July.

Poetry in First Languages is supported by the Commonwealth through the Australian National Commission for UNESCO of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is proudly supported by Graeme Wood Foundation, Oranges and Sardines Foundation, Copyright Agency, and generous individuals. On Gundungurra country, PIFL is also supported by Wingecarribee Shire Council, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, and Elders and Custodians, Aunty Sharyn Hall, Aunty Trish Levett and Jacob Morris.

Find out more.

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Keira High School

On March 15, Kirli engaged year 7 students at Keira High School in her creative process, exploring the ways that writing and activism intersect, and allow her to fulfil her Dreaming.

Girls Write Up

Kirli worked with the Stella Prize and Girls Write Up Western Sydney to deliver workshops and panels on February 7 alongside Lorin Elizabeth, Winnie Dunn, Sarah Ayoub and Randa Abdel-Fattah. The fierce panel of writers explored the relationship between language, gender and power, and supported students in developing their own creative voice. Kirli’s workshops focused on Speaking our Truths and writing for change.

Kirli Saunders, Bec Kavanagh and Lorin Elizabeth

Survival Day

On January 26, Kirli Saunders delivers creative readings of The Incredible Freedom Machines with Wollongong City Council. Over 100 community members engaged in discussions around freedom, and embodied their own Freedom Machines for the afternoon.

Photo credit: Annastasia Gaylard 2019