Saturday, July 16, 2016

Australian Indigenous Literature: A review of 8 wonderful books

Magabala Books is Australia's leading Indigenous publisher. Based in the pearling town of Broome in the far north of Western Australia, it is one of the most remote publishing houses in the world. Since its incorporation in 1990, Magabala has been recognised as a producer of quality Indigenous Australian literature. Its books can be found on its own website or through other online stores and search engines. You can also find teaching resources for most of their books on the site HERE. This will be very helpful for teachers.

Magabala is a not-for-profit organisation that preserves, develops and promotes Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language and cultures. It has released more than one hundred and fifty titles from a range of genres, many of which are still in print.

While I've enjoyed Magabala's books for some time, recently I had the chance to visit the publisher and consider all of their titles. As well, I was able to buy some for myself and as gifts for children in my family. In this post I want to review just some of the wonderful material that they publish.

1. 'Tjarany Roughtail' by Gracie Greene and Joe Tramacchi and illustrated by Lucille Gill

Tjarany Roughtail contains eight dreamtime stories from the Kukatja people of Western Australia’s remote Kimberley Region. Each story is complemented by beautiful artworks painted by Aboriginal artist Lucille Gill that visually explain each story using traditional dot paintings. Told in English and Kukatja.

This wonderful book offers mysteries of the Dreamtime centred on the cultural history of the Kukatja people of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Told in English and Kukatja, the book includes magnificent paintings, maps, kinship diagrams, exercises and language notes. Children aged 7-12 will love this book and gain a greater appreciation of the richness of Aboriginal culture and story.

The book was the winner of the Australian Children's Book Council (CBCA) Eve Pownall Award for Information Books (1993), and was also shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards.

2. 'Two Mates' by Melanie Prewett and illustrated by Maggie Prewett

The true story of the special mateship between two boys who have grown up together in Broome; Jack is Indigenous and Raf is non-Indigenous. The boys share their daily life as they search for hermit crabs, go hunting for barni, fish for salmon, explore the markets, eat satays and dress up as superheros. At the end of the book it is revealed that Raf is in a wheelchair due to spina bifida. The book offers some additional information on this condition at the end of the book. 

This is a lovely story that shows that true friendship sees no barriers in race or disability.  This would be a wonderful book to share with children aged 5-8 years. There are also some teaching notes on the Magabala site HERE.

3. 'Joshua and the Two Crabs' by Joshua Button

Joshua Button is a young Indigenous author with a keen interest in the saltwater country he has grown up in. His observations of his family’s fishing trip to Crab Creek give us a unique opportunity to see this adventure through his eyes. Joshua’s illustrations evoke the beauty of Crab Creek—a tidal creek that lies in the mangroves of Roebuck Bay near Broome in Australia’s north west.

I had the pleasure of spending some time at Roebuck Bay just last week. This is an exquisite place where I spent hours looking at the sheer beauty and the rich marine life. Some of the stars of the wildlife are definitely the crabs. Watching them scurry (at great speed), eating, digging and leaving their intriguing marks on the red sand was a great joy. My photos below show a little of this beauty.

4. 'Our World Bardi Jaawi, Life at Ardiyooloon' written and illustrated by the students of One Arm Point Remote Community School 

Ardiyooloon is home to the Bardi Jaawi people and sits at the end of a red dirt road at the top of the Dampier Peninsula, 200km north of Broome in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. This vibrant book is bursting with life and activity and takes readers inside the lives of the children of a remote Indigenous community.

This wonderful book is inspired by the stories of the elders and the beautiful beauty of the land and culture of Ardiyooloon. The many chapters in the richly illustrated book consider the history, language, food and cultural practices of the Bardi Jaawi people. The children's illustrations enrich the many factual texts that consider fishing, bush food, special events, language and the wildlife of this wonderful place. For example, on one double page the children describe and draw 23 different saltwater creatures that are found in their world. The authenticity of the waters and the richness and colour of the illustrations, make you want to dip again and again into this beautiful book.

The book was the winner of the Speech Pathology Australia's Indigenous Book of the Year 2011 and was also shortlisted in the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) awards in the same year.

Comprehensive teacher notes for the book can be downloaded here

5. 'The Grumpy Lighthouse Keeper', by Terrizita Corpus and illustrated by Maggie Prewett

This amusing tale takes place on a stormy wet-season night at the Broome lighthouse. Meet Cassius the hermit crab, Jacob the jellyfish, Bruce the bluebone and more sea creatures as they head down the beach and race up the lighthouse staircase to escape a wild storm — all while the lighthouse keeper is out checking the lamp for passing ships. When he discovers his bed has been taken over by slimy sea creatures, he is very grumpy.

This is a more contemporary work of fiction situated in the lighthouse at Cable Beach in Broome. The lighthouse keeper's house and the ruins of the lighthouse remain, plus a new less visually attractive unmanned lighthouse (see below). The beautiful watercolour illustrations complement the funny text. My final recommendation is that any book that has a crab named 'Trev' would have to be good! It will be well received by children aged 4-7 years.

Above: The modern lighthouse
The Grumpy Lighthouse Keeper' is inspired by the iconic Broome lighthouse and the remains of the old lighthouse keeper’s house that sits on the edge of the world-renowned Cable Beach. This is a beautiful place with great wild beauty and the rich colours of the earth so synonymous with the remote north west.

6. 'Do Not Go Around the Edges' by Daisy Utemorrah and illustrated by Pat Torres

This remarkable book weaves together the story of Daisy Utemorrah’s life with a collection of playful parables and poems. It explores themes such as Creation, tradition, memories, family and most importantly, country. 'Do Not Go Around the Edges' imbues a simple autobiographical story with humour and depth, and will appeal to adults and children alike. Retold with love and honour, be transported to a place where time stands still...

Daisy Utemorrah was an elder of the Wunambal people from the Mitchell Plateau area in the far north Kimberley. She was born in 1922 at Kunmunya Mission and her family background gave her fluency in three Aboriginal languages. Daisy was recognised for her work as a poet and a teacher. This was her first book and of course was published by Magabala in 1991. It won the Australian Multicultural Children’'s Book Award the following year, and was also shortlisted for the Children’'s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) award for Younger Readers. As well, Pat Torres won the prestigious international IBBY award for illustration for her work on this book in 1994.

It is a remarkable book for various reasons. It integrates Daisy's unique autobiographical story with a variety of traditional Aboriginal Dreamtime themes, focussing on memories, family, creation and country, the important relationship between a people and their land. It is beautifully told with simplicity and economy of words, and it weaves Daisy's traditional languages with her stories and the wonderful illustrations of Broome-based Djugan artist Pat Torres. Here is a sample:

I am the native cat, I dance everywhere.
I hop, skip and jump.
I jump on the flat stone
and dance and wobble my bum and hold my hips
And then I dance again.

7. 'The Mark of the Wagarl' by Lorna Little and illustrated by Janice Lyndon

Maadjit Walken is the Sacred Rainbow Serpent. She is the mother spirit and creator of Nyoongar Country in the south west of Western Australia. She formed the landscape and the waterways, and made her first child Maadjit Wagarl, the Sacred Water Snake, the guardian spirit of all the rivers and fresh waters. The Mark of the Wagarl is the story of how a little boy dared to question the wisdom of his elders and why he received the Sacred Water Snake for his totem. Janice Lyndon’s pastel illustrations resonate with the cultural power of the Maadjit Wagarl and the landscape of the south west. This is a revised edition.

This is a traditional Aboriginal Dreamtime story featuring a well-known character - the Rainbow Serpent - who appears in other books for children, most notably 'The Rainbow Serpent' by Dick Roughsey. The slightly more contemporary illustrations are designed to appeal to a new generation who should love this book.

Comprehensive teacher notes for the book can be downloaded here from the Magabala website.

8. 'Ngay janijirr ngank. This is my word', by Magdalene Williams, illustrated by Pat Torres and with photos by Maria Mann.

A beautifully illustrated account of the life of Magdalene Williams of the Nyulnyul people. Raised in the confines of Beagle Bay mission in the Kimberley, she was nevertheless exposed to her traditional culture through her Elders. Magdalene's account of the coming of the missionaries, and the destruction of law and culture is interwoven with the richness and diversity of her Nyulnyul stories.

I love this book for the beauty of the language and the power of the stories that Magdalene Williams tells. The work is also well illustrated by Pat Torres and has wonderful photos from Maria Mann. The opening line gives a sense of what is to come as she tells the story of the Nyulnyul people of Beagle Bay:

"A long time ago in Ngarlan, the place where Beagle Bay now stands, a very strange and frightening thing happened."

The book also contains several wordlists. Helpfully, these include Nyulnyul to English and English to Nyulnyul, selected phrases, traditional names of the family members mentioned, and also a pronunciation guide. This is a book that works at many levels, it has an engaging story, it raises cultural awareness, offers language study and more.  Children aged 7-12 will enjoy this excellent book.

Further reading

Other previous posts on Indigenous literature HERE.
Other reviews on children's literature HERE.

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