Skip navigation

Prize-winning author Claire G. Coleman was homeless when a life-changing trip set her on a new path.

Celebrated author Claire G. Coleman was homeless when a life-changing trip lit her creative spark… and exposed some burning questions about the place we call Australia.

Photo By Jen Dainer, Industrial Arc via



My life changed forever back in 2015, when I first visited my ancestral Country in the south of Noongar Boodjar. That visit inspired my debut novel Terra Nullius, a work that changed my life (and other people’s lives too, from what I’m told). All the good things in my life, the love of my partner aside, began with Terra Nullius.

The wild thing about that experience – about my life and success since then – is that I had been homeless for almost a decade at the time. And I remained homeless during my first few years as an “award-winning author”.

Terra Nullius was written while I was traveling around the continent, writing at campground picnic tables and the dining table of the 30-year-old caravan I was towing behind a Land Cruiser just as ancient. (As I always say, if you’re already homeless, why not travel?)

My writing is what led me out of homelessness. It earned me enough money to pay rent and provided the character references that made up for my lack of rental references. It was through writing that I bootstrapped my way out of homelessness, a task that can be almost impossible.

Homelessness is often a one-way ticket; without a stable home, it’s nearly impossible to hold down a job, get references, or rent a house. The only real option is to wait for social housing. If you qualify as a “priority case”, you’ll be waiting at least two years. 

If you’re not on the priority list, the wait is essentially forever.

One detail in my story might not have pinged your brain, because it’s such a wild notion, such an injustice, that it’s almost beyond comprehension: I wrote my first novel after visiting my ancestral Country while I was homeless. Ancestral Country that has belonged to my family for tens of thousands of years, where my family has belonged virtually forever.

Homeless, in my ancestral homeland.

Surely nobody but the worst racist would believe Indigenous people should be homeless on our own ancestral homelands? Surely not now, three decades after the Mabo decision confirmed that this land always was and always will be Indigenous land?

Let’s not mince words: there should be no such thing as a homeless Indigenous person on this continent.

And yet we are disproportionately impacted. One-fifth of the people who are homeless in Australia are Indigenous. We are just three percent of the population, but 20 percent of the homeless population.

There are many reasons why more Indigenous people end up homeless. In remote areas, for example, people who need lifesaving medical treatment, such as dialysis, must travel to cities, where there is nowhere for them to live. Grog bans in remote communities also push drinkers into nearby towns, where they cannot find accommodation.

Other people, myself included, cannot return to Country – because despite winning our land rights claims, we have no community on Country to return to. No wonder Indigenous people have such high rates of intergenerational poverty: everything we once had has been stolen and degraded. For generations, we were not even allowed to own land.

Yes, really.

Another little-known fact: during both World Wars, our remaining land reservations were taken away from us and given to returning soldiers. Under the “soldier settlement scheme”, this land was made available to any returned soldier, provided they weren’t Indigenous.

Today, if I want some of my family’s stolen land, I have to buy it. That’s like someone stealing your car then demanding you buy it back from them.

Imagine how I feel when anonymous keyboard-warrior racists tell me I should go “back to the bush”, that I should leave the city and return to Country. If only I had a community to return to. If my mob still had a community on Country, I might never have become homeless.

I have been extraordinarily lucky. I’ve worked hard to use what talents I have to make a living. I’ve had people in my life who gave me places to stay and helped me get back on my feet.

But I should never have become homeless. All it took was one bad week: losing my job within days of experiencing a relationship breakup. Bad weeks can strike anyone. And most people are just a few pay-packets away from homelessness.  

Nobody should end up homeless because of one bad week. But when it happens to an Indigenous person, there’s an extra layer of injustice.

We are ten times more likely to become homeless than non-Indigenous Australians, and this happens on land that was stolen from us. How can that possibly be acceptable?


Noongar woman Claire G. Coleman is an award-winning Australian author. Her books include the novels Terra Nullius, The Old Lie, and Enclave, and Lies, Damned Lies, a work of non-fiction.


Add your voice to the Melbourne Zero campaign - be part of positive change today! We’re making Melbourne a world-leading city in ending homelessness, starting with ending rough sleeping by 2030.

Continue Reading

Read More

Add your voice today

From business leaders to your next-door neighbours, we're calling on every Melburnian to join the Melbourne Zero movement and help end homelessness in our city.