Nganga: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Words and Phrases

Nganga: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Words and Phrases

Nganga: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Words and Phrases












Nganga: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Words and Phrases

Sue Lawson & Auntie Fay Muir

Black Dog Books, 2018

144pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


From the publisher…“Nganga is an authoritative and concise collection of words and phrases related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and issues.

Nganga (ng gar na): To see and understand. Aunty, Uncle, sorry business, deadly, women’s business, marngrook, dreamtime, Elders, songlines. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander words have become part of our everyday vocabulary but we may not know their true meaning or where the words come from. In Nganga, Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson have brought together these words, their meanings and their history. “

Because Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir is an Elder and Traditional Owner of Boon Wurrung Country; the senior linguist at the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages in Melbourne; and  an advisor for the national curriculum on language and culture, the authority of this book is impeccable.  

Beginning with an explanation of the clan system and the conflicts between the Aboriginal belief system and that of the European settlers which has led to deep-seated issues that are still being resolved, it explains some of the terms commonly used by our indigenous peoples, many of which have a different interpretation  from the traditional English meaning normally associated with them.  There is a difference between Aboriginal, aboriginal and aborigine and while we associate “aunty” with a sister of our parents, for Aboriginal Peoples it is a term or respect for any older woman, whether a relative or not.

Given it is only 56 years since all indigenous Australians were given the right to vote in federal elections and while there has been progress towards respect, recognition and reconciliation in many areas, there are still divisions amongst the cultures including the recognition of January 26 as Invasion Day rather than Australia Day, so any authoritative resource that can increase our students’ understanding of the place and role that indigenous Australians have in this country’s history and culture has to be welcomed and promoted as essential.   

Well set out, written in language that is easily accessible with lots of cross-references for better understanding, this should be an integral part of any unit focusing on the ATSI cross-curriculum priority.


Sorry Day

Sorry Day

Sorry Day










Sorry Day

Coral Vass

Dub Leffler

NLA Publishing, 2018

34pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Standing amidst the large crowd gathered on the slopes of Parliament House in Canberra is light-haired, fair-skinned Maggie clutching her Aboriginal mother’s hand waiting for the most important speech from a politician for generations.  It is February 13, 2008 and, on behalf of a more enlightened nation,  the newly-elected Prime Minister is about to deliver the long-awaited apology to all Australia’s indigenous peoples for their losses in past times when it was thought that their children would be better off if they were taken to live with and be raised by white families – the Stolen Generations.

In a time ‘long ago and not-so-long-ago’ children were taken from their parents, their ‘sorrow echoing across the land’. 

Intertwined with Maggie’s story of anticipation and sudden loss as she falls among the legs of the crowd, is that of her mother, a young girl in different times when the roar of a truck and the thud of boots was a signal to hide before the white men came to take them.

“Screams echoed across the land as they scrambled to escape, sliding in the mud with every step.”

But, in the final fold-out flap the stories merge as Kevin Rudd proclaims,For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.  To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry… We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.”  

And at last, hope glimmers.

The recognition of the treatment of Australia’s indigenous peoples was a central focus of the 2007 election campaign for it had been 40 years since the referendum to acknowledge and include  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as citizens of Australia, and ten years since the historic Bringing Them Home report  was tabled in Federal Parliament. 

While many of an older generation will remember where they were on the day of the speech, our younger generations may not understand its significance seeing it as just another day paid homage during the school year. So to have such a beautifully written story with such evocative illustrations to explain its importance – perhaps akin to ANZAC Day in the shaping of our nation – is superb and a must-have in every school library collection, particularly as there are two pages of explanation and illustrations drawing on the collection of the National Library of Australia  to complete it. 

In a few, well-chosen words and sublimely constructed sentences, Coral Vass has written an evocative story that not only expresses the heartbreak of those whose children were taken but also the fear of the children as Maggie is briefly separated from her mother.  Accompanied by unforgettable illustrations that capture the landscape, the emotions and the tension of both Maggie and her mother’s stories, this is a unique story that enables all of us to understand the importance of May 26 each year.

Teachers notes are available

Welcome to Country

Welcome to Country

Welcome to Country










Welcome to Country

Aunty Joy Murphy

Lisa Kennedy

Black Dog, 2016

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


“Aboriginal communities across Australia have boundaries that are defined by waterways and mountains.  To cross these boundaries or enter community country you need permission from the neighbouring community.  Each community has its own way of welcoming to country”.  

This is the acknowledgement of the ancestors and traditional lands of the Wurundjeri People, the first people who occupied the Melbourne area prior to European colonisation  extending north of the Great Dividing Ranges, east to Mt Baw Baw, south to Mordialloc Creek and west to Werribee River. 

Through the voice of Joy Murphy Wandin AO, Senior Aboriginal Elder of the people, it tells the story of the people whose name comes from Wurun, the River White Gum and Djeri, the grub that lives within the tree; each sentence being brought to life in the stunning illustrations of Lisa Kennedy a descendant of the Trawlwoolway People on the north-east coast of Tasmania. Combining words in Wolwurrung Nguiu, the traditional language and English, it demonstrates the deep connection between the people and the land they occupy, their love and respect for it and their desire that this be also respected by those who visit.  

“We invite you to take a leaf from the branches of the white river gum.  If you accept a leaf and we hope you do, it means you are welcome to everything, from the tops of the trees to the roots of the earth.  But you must only take from this land what you can give back.”

Despite being a relatively recent addition to our formal ceremonies, we are now used to each beginning with the Welcome to Country of the traditional indigenous inhabitants of the land on which the ceremony takes place.  This book is an essential addition to our understanding of not just the Welcome itself but also to that enduring, deep-seated connection of the people to their lands and how it is such an integral part of who they are and their heritage.

Although not shortlisted for the CBCA Awards, 2017 it was recognised as a Notable Book.  While this is an essential addition to every school library in the Wurundjeri district, it is also an important acquisition to every school library because while the words of their local indigenous peoples’ Welcome to Country may differ, the sentiment and acknowledgment of ancestry and heritage is common.  Students could be encouraged to discover just what their local greeting is and use the activities described in the teaching notes 




Colours of Australia

Colours of Australia

Colours of Australia











Colours of Australia

Bronwyn Bancroft

Little Hare, 2016

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


That eerie time just before dawn as the sky lightens and the stars are fading rapidly.

That split second of sunrise as the shards of light spread new life on the landscape.

That changing palette of oranges and yellows as the sun marches across the zenith on its inexorable journey , textures are in sharp relief and stones shelter and slumber.

That sheltered, filtered coolness as a few rays reach down through the canopy to the soft, sensitive plants on the forest floor.

Those subtle changes as the day draws to a close in a hush of blue, indigo and violet as gentle showers fall and sometimes thunder rumbles.

That all-consuming blackness of night as the sun takes its rest and only shadows remain.

In this visually stunning new book by one of our nation’s leading indigenous artists, the colours of the day stride through the pages capturing and encapsulating the patterns, the moods and the moments of what we so often take for granted, or just don’t see.  Bancroft always brings the beauty of nature into focus in her paintings and her evocative text, leaving an impact that forces us to look around and start to view what she sees – perfection in the natural shape, lines and layers of the landscape – through a new lens. Even if we do not have the talent to interpret the landscape and tell its story in the wonderful way of Bancroft, at the very least we can drink in this book and look with new eyes and better understand the connection to the land that our indigenous people enjoy and celebrate so well.

She has used the colours of her homeland west of Grafton, NSW as her inspiration but are they the same colours  that would be seen in other parts of Australia?  Are we united by them or is the landscape different but no less beautiful?  Have you students observe and paint what they see during the course of the day to discover the answer. 

As always from this creator, superb.













Trace Balla

Allen & Unwin, 2016

80pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99



Uncle Egg and Clancy are spending a lazy, languid afternoon on the Glenelg (Bugara) River which flows through the area we call The Grampians but which is known to its indigenous peoples as Gariwerd.  Clancy muses on where all the water is coming from and Uncle Egg suggests that they should find out.  But this adventure will be different to the previous one in Rivertime  where they took a canoe to the river’s mouth.  This time they will be heading upstream so they will have to walk and rockhop.  And this time, Clancy is much more enthusiastic, even prepared to walk to school in new boots every day so he can prepare for the journey.

Their journey begins at Budja Budja (Halls Gap), sleeping in a tent under the stars amongst the motorhomes, caravans and pop-tops, already suggesting an underlying theme of being at one with the world rather than manipulating it.  And just as in Rivertime, through detailed text and illustration in graphic novel format, we share Clancy’s journey, learning as he learns about the river’s story, its flora and fauna, its secret ways of enabling its ancient custodians to survive, and the prehistoric mountains it passes through.  It is an intimate account of his journey, not so much his self-realisation this time as it was in Rivertime but one of resilience, perseverance, self-reliance, respect and trust, particularly when Egg’s backpack falls into a ravine and Clancy is stranded halfway up the cliff.  He learns about the power and the gift of silence and solitude and the surprises and secrets Nature is willing to show us if we take the time to look and listen, and about his place in the universe.  Even when Egg rejoins him and while they are not lost –“just going a different way”- there are lessons to learn and gradually the relationship becomes one of two equals regardless of age, sharing something unique that teaches them more than they ever imagined. Going with the flow rather than the plan.

This really is a story about the journey being as important as the destination.

“That’s just it.

I’m not going anywhere, or trying to find anything. I’m just being here.”

And that message of enjoying the moment we are in is perhaps the most important of all. 

There is an interview with Trace Balla on the CBCA Reading Time site  which explains the authenticity of the story and how she enables the reader to be embraced by the serenity and beauty just as Egg and Clancy are.  In my review of Rivertime I wrote, “ It’s not just the story of Clancy and Egg and their journey, but a calming, almost meditative, read for the reader. The format of the comic strip with individual panels not only reflects the pace of the dogged, uphill climb but also ensures the reader slows down to enjoy the surroundings just as Clancy and Egg do. Often when we pick up a picture book we just skim read it just as we can “skim read” our daily lives because we don’t think we have time to delve deeper and really appreciate and value what we have, but as you get into this story it drags you in, just as it did Clancy, until you become absorbed and oblivious to the distractions around you.”  And so it is with Rockhopping.  It’s a book that deserves every minute you put into reading it but ensure you have lots of minutes so you can savour it to its core.

The epitome of Australia: Story Country.

Go Home, Cheeky Animals

Go Home, Cheeky Animals

  Go Home, Cheeky Animals









Go Home, Cheeky Animals

Johanna Bell

Dion Beasley

Allen & Unwin, 2016

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

In the Northern Territory is the remote indigenous community of Canteen Creek, a tiny settlement that seems to have more dogs than people.  Grandpa feeds them so they like his house best and even when Mum tries to shoo them away, he tells her to let them stay because they keep the cheeky animals away.  For, as the weather works through its annual cycle of big rains, the sweaty season, the cool winds, the drying grass and the dry soaks a gang of goats, a drove of donkeys, a herd of horses, a bunch of buffaloes, even a caravan of camels invade the little town one after the other making life awkward.  Nothing seems to deter them – not Dad’s flapping arms; not Uncle’s stamping foot; not Aunty’s big stick; not even sister’s thong and certainly not the horde of cheeky dogs – who just lie there despite Grandpa’s beliefs!  Until the big rains come again…

This is an unusual book that has a fascinating back story  The most striking aspect is the illustrations which look like they have been done by someone the age of the intended audience, and that in itself will appeal because young children love that their style is validated in a “real book”.  So often they dismiss their efforts because they don’t look like “book pictures” or the “real thing” so to have illustrations that they themselves could have done will draw them into the story.  A bit of research though indicates that the artist, Dion Beasley, was born with multiple disabilities – profoundly deaf and with muscular dystrophy – and the whole book is testament to celebrating the diversity of abilities that people have, focusing on what they can do, not what they can’t. It would be perfect as the centrepiece for the International Day of People with a Disability on December 3 and Don’t Dis My Ability 

But illustrations do not necessarily a story make, and the text, too, is fascinating as it cycles through the seasons in a land that we all live in but most are so unfamiliar with.  The northern climate is so different from the four distinct seasons that we southerners experience and the changes on the landscape are subtle but profound so as well as being introduced to the feral animals of the north, the reader is also taken on a journey that is in sharp contrast to what most would be familiar with. Right there is the kernel of an investigation that could stretch across year levels and even countries.

In the bio blurb, Johanna Bell says that working with Dion has changed the way she sees the world and tells stories.  In the hands of an informed, imaginative teacher this book could have a similar impact on our students.  Perfect for Australia: Story Country.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Boomerang and Bat: The story of the real first eleven

Boomerang and Bat: The story of the real first eleven


Boomerang and Bat: The story of the real first eleven

Mark Greenwood

Terry Denton

Allen & Unwin, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


It’s the 1860s in the Wimmera district of Victoria and Aboriginal stockman Unaaarrimin (aka Johnny Mullagh) is watching the white settlers play “a curious game called cricket”.  When he is invited to play he hits the ball so hard he splits the redgum bat!  And so begins the remarkable story of the first Aboriginal cricket team and the first Australian team to tour England.  Johnny introduced his fellow stockmen to the game and they were so good that soon they were beating the local white settler teams and invited to play in the city at the MCG!  An English cricketer, Charles Lawrence spotted them, recognised their potential and proposed a tour of England.  But his plans were thwarted when the Board for the Protection of Aborigines refused to let them go claiming “These men might not survive the voyage.”

Undaunted and driven by the money-making opportunity of the novelty of such a team, Lawrence did not give up, continuing to coach them and all the while hatching a secret plan to smuggle Johnny and his mates to England.  After eight days of sneaking through Victoria to Queenscliff, they were taken by longboat to a steamer bound for Sydney and from there, under the cover of darkness they boarded the Parramatta bound for England. 

The tour of England was both triumphant and tragic.  Viewed initially with fascination and later admired for their ability, the team played 47 games in six months with 14 wins, 14 losses and 19 draws.  Mullagh scored 1,698 runs and took 245 wickets.  But racism reared its head, Bripumyarrimin (King Cole) got sicked and died, the players were tired and they were all homesick.  And so they returned to Australia, but unlike today’s teams, “there was no triumphant welcome” – and each, apart from Mullagh,  went their own way back to the bush and anonymity, at home in their country.

Mark Greenwood is the master of telling the back story, the unknown or unheralded truth of those who should be Australian heroes, and this book is no different.  Once again he stands up for the Aboriginal people who were denied their identity, their heritage and their dignity to shine a light on our original cricketing heroes, and bringing to life a team of characters and personalities, not just facts and statistics.  Who knew they had to sneak out of the country like criminals? Who knew they donned traditional gear at the end of the match to entertain crowds with their “tricks” so they could make a little extra money?

Terry Denton also brings each of the players to life with his iconic illustrations.  Double page spreads, vignettes – each one helps the reader picture the action as well as the emotions. Even though the text is written in the third-person in a ‘reporter-like’ fashion, the astute reader marries both words and pictures to get to the purpose that drives this story-telling.   The endpapers are poignant – showing the delight and excitement of the cricketers as they leave on their long sea voyage to the individual portraits that gives each a name and an identity, going a little way to restoring the dignity they deserved but didn’t get 150 years ago.

This book is rich in so many areas for discussion and investigation and comprehensive teaching notes are available.    

Stories for Simon

Stories for Simon

Stories for Simon











Stories for Simon

Lisa Miranda Sarzin

Lauren Briggs

Random House Australia, 2015

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



Simon lives with his family in a little house in a big city near a famous beach and he loves to collect things.  When his uncle sent him a beautifully painted boomerang wrapped in an old newspaper, it is not the boomerang that captures the attention of his teacher during Show and Share but the newspaper itself.  For it has a large headline…”For the pain, suffering and hurt, we say SORRY.”  The teacher tries to explain what the headline means – the apology by Prime Minister Rudd on February 13, 2008 to all those affected by the Stolen Generations saga – but the word SORRY burns itself into Simon’s brain and that night he dreams he is in the middle of a stone storm, with each stone having SORRY imprinted on it. 

The next morning he finds himself surrounded by the stones and he decides to take them to the ocean to throw them in because that’s was the only place he could think of that would be deep and wide enough for them.  But as he starts to do so, he meets Vic who suggests that Simon has been given the stones for a reason and if he throws them away, he will never know why.  He suggests they take them to his Nan who will know what to do.  And Vic’s Nan, Aunty Betty, suggests that they swap each stone for a story.  Simon doesn’t believe that anyone could know so many stories but Aunty Betty has many and so she begins to tell Simon and Vic the stories that stretched way back into the very beginning of creation, about animals and people, the land, the sea, the sky and the rain.  And when she comes to the last stone, she tells Simon that the last story is about her and what happened to her as a child.

And so Simon truly learns what it meant to be one of the Stolen Generation, taken away from parents and brothers and sisters with only loneliness and fear for companions.  And he learns how that word that captured him – SORRY – is the start of the healing after all this time.  And while there was a long way to go on the journey, at least the journey had begun.

This is a most powerful and most important story as we try to help our younger generation understand this part of Australia’s history.  When Simon’s mum explains that we are saying sorry not because the people of today have done anything wrong or to feel sad or guilty, but to always remember bad things and ensure they don’t happen again, it puts into perspective that train of thought of “What did it have to do with me?”

Accompanied by strong, dynamic and unique illustrations which support the text, this is a story of reconciliation and of hope for the future, with a stunning ending that is just perfect. Simon understands and we must teach our students so they too understand and the healing continues with meaning and sincerity, not just lip service to another day on the calendar. With a foreword by Vic Simms, an Aboriginal elder of the Bidjigal nation and a commendation by Adam Goodes, Australian of the Year 2014, this book meets the rigorous standards suggested for selection by Lorraine McDonald in A Literature Companion as both author and illustrator were guided through the process so the Aboriginal content is accurate, sensitive and respectful. As Suzy Wilson, founder of the Indigenous Literary Foundation says, “This book is an important and welcome addition to school libraries and bookshelves everywhere.” Colleagues Sue Warren and Susan Stephenson have both reviewed this book and endorse this opinion. 

As we recognise acknowledge National Sorry Day on May 26, this would be the perfect vehicle to help our students understand its significance with comprehensive teaching notes available.


Where is Galah?

Where is Galah?

Where is Galah?









Where is Galah?

Sally Morgan

Little Hare, 2015

hbk., 24pp., RRP $A24.95


Dingo is on the prowl.  He can see Emu, Swan and Turtle and he can hear Crocodile, Frog and Kookaburra.  But where is Galah?  From sunrise to sunset, we track Dingo’s quest for Galah across the Australian landscape in a burst of colour and pattern and delight that is so uniquely Sally Morgan.  Until Galah finally shows herself (although the children will have fun spotting what Dingo can’t) – but where is Dingo?

This is a superb book to share with our youngest readers as they use their eyes and their ears and join in with the sounds and the repetitive text. By tracking the movement of the sun and the colour of the sky as the day passes, the suspense builds up for surely Galah will be found before moonrise.  And the twist in the ending is very satisfying.

Every page of this book brings new things to explore and marvel at and there are so many opportunities for the listeners to interact from creating sounds to making movements.  If you go to this page and then click on the link to this title you will get teachers’ notes with lots more activities to do including getting students to write their own version substituting two new main characters and who they see and hear.

The visual impact of the book is stunning and there is much to investigate in the way that Morgan has, again, used colour and pattern to tell the story.

As well as our very young readers, this would also be a wonderful way to introduce new English language learners to our Australian wildlife.

Birrung the Secret Friend

Birrung the Secret Friend

Birrung the Secret Friend


Birrung the Secret Friend

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2015

pbk., 144pp., RRP $A12.99



Sydney Cove.  December 1789.  The new colony is 18 months old and Barney Bean is waiting in line for his share of the meagre rations doled out on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  He is so hungry he can taste the maggots in the cheese he is hoping for because they are extra meat.  He’s also hoping that there will be some cheese left because his pannikin was stolen the night his mother died and you can’t boil dried peas or rice without a pannikin.

In front of him in the line is a convict who, even with his arm in a sling, looks as strong as a bullock and Barney mentally dubs him Bullock Man watching him warily him because he knows that he and his rations are at risk the minute he is out of sight of the storehouse.  And he’s right… Bullock Man sees him being slipped some cheese (which he had been denied) and follows him.  Barney scarpers and scampers amongst the huts with Bullock Man in pursuit not knowing that this chase will change the course of his life forever when Bullock Man is stopped in his tracks by a stone thrown from a beautiful yet mysterious Aboriginal girl wearing European clothing. Even the fact that she is an “Indian” is remarkable because it was thought that they had all been wiped out by the plague that hit them so soon after the arrival of the Europeans, but for one to be wearing shoes and “a clean dress, all bright with tiny blue showers on it, not the nothing colour of convicts’ clothes”???

This is Abaroo, or Birrung (meaning ‘star’), as she calls herself, an Aboriginal girl taken under the kindly wing of Mr Richard Johnson, the colony’s first clergyman and this is the story of Birrung, Barney and the enigmatic Elsie who never speaks but whose eyes have clearly seen more than they should have.  Flourishing amongst the squalor and dishevelment that is Sydney in its first year is the oasis of Mr Johnson’s vegetable gardens, tended and nurtured to feed a colony that is virtually on the edge of starvation because none of the promised storeships have arrived from England and the inhabitants, reluctant residents at best, have neither the skills nor the inclination to help themselves by growing their own food. Even Barney doesn’t know that a seed the size of a speck of dust can grow into a magnificent carrot!  Mrs Johnson reads the children stories and Barney’s favourite is that of Jesus and the fishes and the loaves. “We could have used Jesus in the colony.”  Yet all around them are the riches of the bush – bush tucker – some of whose secrets Birrung shows Barney. But because of the times they live in, his friendship and all that he learns has to remain a secret forever.

Although the Second Fleet finally arrives, it brings so many more problems than it solves…

Jackie French is a master of historical fiction for children and she tells fascinating stories of the not-so-well-known parts of our history, putting the reader right in the story so it becomes a personal experience not just a painting that has an historical backdrop. You are there, right alongside the characters with your tummy rumbling but feeling glad that there is a fridge with cheese and other goodies nearby!  While Barney Bean. Elsie and Sally are fictional characters, Mr and Mrs Johnson and Birrung were very real as were the circumstances in which the story is set.  Painted in less than flattering terms by others in Australia’s history such as Elizabeth Macarthur, and only tolerated by Arthur Phillip who had a different agenda, Birrung the Secret Friend shows a different side of Richard Johnson and the good that he did for the establishment of the fledgling colony.  He was revered by the convicts and those who benefited not only from the produce of his gardens but his ministrations in their hours of need. In fact, Jackie writes, “I had always taken the Johnsons at the valuation of most historians have accepted: well-meaning but ineffectual.  But as I read their letters and other writing, I became stunned that such an extraordinary and compassionate couple had been so misremembered,”

This is the first in The Secret Histories series from Jackie to be published by HarperCollins, a series that will reveal many more secrets at many levels.  There is an extensive teaching guide   explicitly linked to the Australian Curriculum, providing an even more compelling reason to have this in your collection – if you needed one!