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Country

Aunty Fay Muir & Sue Lawson

Cheryl Davison

Wild Dog, 2024

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781742036779

Becoming more and more familiar to our younger students, and, indeed, the nation generally are the expressions of Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country.  But while they may hear the words, perhaps even recite them, what is meant by “Country”?

“Country is past, present and future.”

“Country is songs and stories, art and ceremony.”

“Country is waterholes, creeks and rivers.”

In a series of seemingly simple statements, superbly illustrated by Walbunja, Ngarigo woman Cheryl Davison, the complex concept of Country demonstrate that, to Australia’s indigenous peoples, Country is more than the physical landscape and landshapes – it is the emotional, spiritual, cultural connections to the past, present and future that govern their lives in a way that non-indigenous people rarely understand, let alone feel.  And that when Country is cared for, respected, even revered, then its people are too.

Released in time for National Reconciliation Week, 2024 (May 27-June 3) this is an ideal book for helping all ages to begin to understand the deeper meanings behind the words, each unpacking the statements at a level that they can grasp.  So while Kindergarten might read the final statement as just being environmentally based, older readers can delve deeper into considering what it might mean to be emotionally, spiritually and culturally healthy and how they can have that in their lives.

As more and more titles are released to shine a light on the positives of being an indigenous person so the understanding between cultures is developed, and “Now more than ever, we need to tackle the unfinished business of reconciliation.” This is the perfect one to begin the journey with our youngest readers and to continue it with those with a little more awareness.   

 

 

 

Three Dresses

Three Dresses

Three Dresses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Dresses

Wanda Gibson

UQP, 2024

40pp., hbk., RRP $A6.99

9780702266355

Three things are vivid memories of  the childhood of author and illustrator Wanda Gibson, Nukgal Wurra woman of the Guugu Yimithirr people – the harsh life on the Hope Vale on the Cape York Peninsula, Queensland; the annual two weeks holiday, the only time they got off the Mission, spent at the beach; and receiving three dresses and three pairs of undies from the Lutheran Church at Christmas time – “one to wash, one to war and one spare”.

But despite the hard life on the Mission – school in the morning, work in the afternoon, picking weeds out of cotton, pineapples and peanuts for no pay even in hot weather, – this is a story of the happy memories of those special two weeks spent with her family at the beach and the simplicity of a time shared and enjoyed just by being together,  

Taken at face value it is a joyful story of a holiday at the beach that could no doubt be contrasted to the holidays current students have at a similar location, or even the notion of being thrilled to get just three dresses a year, and even those were second-hand. However, thorough teachers notes help readers delve into the impact of  colonisation on our indigenous peoples and the various policies that governed their lives including extensive background information as well as points for investigation and discussion and classroom activities, making this a picture book to span all ages and aspects of the curriculum.  Indeed, there are links to further resources specifically for upper primary students. 

Whether it is shared as a story of the importance of a family making and sharing memories or one that opens doors to a different aspect of Australia’s history, this is one that has the potential to make a big impact. 

Wurrtoo: The Wombat Who Fell in Love with the Sky

Wurrtoo: The Wombat Who Fell in Love with the Sky

Wurrtoo: The Wombat Who Fell in Love with the Sky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wurrtoo: The Wombat Who Fell in Love with the Sky

Tylissa Elisara

Dylan Finney

Lothian, 2024

185pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9780734421982

In the fifty-fifth burrow of Bushland Avenue in a beautiful clearing on Kangaroo Island where the arching gum trees kiss, is the home of Wurtoo, the hariy-nosed wombat. His is the one at the end with the big red trapdoor and large gold doorknob and a myriad of tunnels because he loves to extend it, so much so that it can take awhile for him to get to his front door. It even has a library where he has just four books that he cherishes – a book of fairytales that has taught him all about love; a plant encyclopedia that told him where to find his favourite muntrie berries and wattleseeds;  a cookbook which helps him make them into something delicious, and a fourth, his favourite, which had stories as old as time and in particular, a map of a most sacred place, the Forest of Dreaming. And it fuelled his dream to follow the map across the water to the mainland, climb the ancient tree to the heavens, and marry the love of his life, the sky.

But first, he needs to find the courage because right now, he can barely leave the burrow without his nerves getting the better of him, because having led such a solitary life, the thought of meeting other creatures terrified him. And so , despite being nocturnal by nature, he chooses to go out in the daytime so he can be unseen, and each day he makes a pilgrimage to the lighthouse for a picnic.Little does he know, that on this particular day his life will change forever because he inadvertently saves Kuula the koala from a bushfire, and acquires the adventure companion he didn’t know he needed.

With Kuula by his side, Wurrtoo finds the courage to leave the safety of his burrow and sets out on an epic journey to cross the island, reach the mainland and climb to the top of tallest tree in the Forest of Dreaming. But it’s fire season, and danger and strange creatures lurk behind every gum tree. To make it, the pair must face their fears together, learn the importance of friendship and discover the power of wombat wishes.

Described as an “Indigenous Blinky Bill meets Winnie the Pooh”, this heartwarming and beautifully illustrated novel for independent readers by the 2021 black&write! fellow Tylissa Elisara, and it is worth reading for the power of the descriptions of the landscape alone.  Immediately, the reader is transported into Wurtoo’s world, akin to Tolkien’s description of the home of Bilbo Baggins, and relate to his ambitions, desires and fears.  It is one for those readers who love adventures and quests, and with traditional First Nation stories, knowledge, food and culture woven seamlessly into the tale, it becomes one that not only engages and entertains, but helps the non-indigenous reader better understand that incredible connection to Country that exists for those who are.

There is also the underlying universal theme of building trust, facing your fears, accepting those you meet for who they are, so friendships are built on similarities rather than differences, that will speak to many readers, perhaps encouraging them to think that if Wurrtoo can do this, so can they.  

For me, the mark of a story that works, is hearing myself read it aloud to a class of students, and this one is one of those rare ones.  So with teachers’ notes available to enhance and enrich the experience, this is definitely recommended as a read-aloud for Years 3-4.  Something different, inspiring and Australian.

When the World Was Soft

When the World Was Soft

When the World Was Soft

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the World Was Soft: Yindjibarndi Creation Stories

Juluwarlu Group Aboriginal Corporation
96pp., graphic novel, RRP $A34.99
9781761180651
Yindjibarndi people traditionally lived in the area near the town of Roebourne in the Pilbara region of Western Australia and believe “all creation is written in our landscape and was sung long ago, filling our Ngurra (Country) with sacred meanings and deep religious significance. At the dawn of time, Ngurra Nyujunggamu, the world was soft as clay and the sky was very low. Our Creator, Minkala, sang the songs from which all life and Ngurra evolved.”
Encapsulated in this new publication with dramatic artwork by Alex Mankiewicz  in graphic novel format, including paintings by members of the Juluwarlu Art Group are some of these stories including Ngurra Nyujunggamu – Creation;  Jargurrungu Wangangga Garranyga – Wedgetailed Eagle, Crow and Black Kite; Nyinkara the Stoneman; Jiruna Yuya -Pelican and Quail; Bunggaliyarra – Fallen and Barrimirndi – Water Serpent. Each story not only has deep significance about the origins of the place and its people, but embeds the timelessness of respect and responsibility for the land making it as relevant today as it was for the ancient elders.  And while the characters and their circumstances may vary from other indigenous nations, nevertheless that deep-held connection to Country and the continuity of life is common to all. So although these songlines are of the Yindjibarndi people, there is the opportunity to understand that unique relationship with the land and its inhabitants that all indigenous communities share and perhaps seek out those stories that are unique to the particular part of Country that the reader lives in. 
There are also a number of pages at the back explaining who the Juluwarlu Group is, as well as a glossary of specific cultural words, explanations of the paintings and other relevant information that offers even greater depth and understanding.