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June 10, 2019

Wilam A Birrarung Story
by Aunty Joy Murphy and Andrew Kelly with Illustrations by Lisa Kennedy, Black Dog, 2019

This beautifully illustrated picture book celebrates the spiritual home of the Wurundjeri people whose home is Birrarung, the Yarra River. Birrarung is a place where everything is connected; the rain, the river, the forests, the wildlife, and wilam (home).

Senior Wurundjeri elder Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin AO and Andrew Kelly, a Yarra riverkeeper, proudly tell their story using Woiwurrung language. “As ngua rises, turning clouds over the distant red, Bunjil soars over mountain ash, flying higher and higher as the wind warms. Below, Birrung begins its long winding path down to palem wareen.”

Lisa Kennedy’s rich artwork celebrates the natural, the traditional and the contemporary world that reinforce Wurundjeri wisdom – when we look after the river, the river looks after us.

Black Cockatoo
By Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler, Magabala Books, 2018.

Mia rescues an injured dirrarn (black cockatoo) from her older brother’s merciless taunting. Yet despite this bird being her totem, where Mia is not supposed to say its name, her grandfather allows her to keep it recognising “there is something deep at work”.

Mia’s jawiji (grandfather) continues his traditional culture, telling creation stories about how the land connects them all. Yet he deeply impresses on Mia the importance of learning and forbids her to miss a day of school.

The black cockatoo comforts Mia. She dreams she is like the dirrarn, flying high to find freedom and hope. Her dirrarn dream gives her the strength to face the challenges of living in two worlds where she must negotiate “code-switching” to try to get things right both ways. The dirrarn dream helps Mia realise that freedom is something within her and like the dirrarn she can “stretch her wings far and still land safely back home whenever she needed. Wherever she went.”

A White Hot Flame
By Sue Taffe, Monash University Publishing, 2018.

This biographical history explores the devotion of English woman Mary Montgomerie Bennett (1881-1961), who worked tirelessly to improve conditions for Aboriginal Australians.

Historian Sue Taffe writes this compelling history about the complex life of Mary Bennett, who as a young woman she spent the winters visiting her adored Queensland pastoralist father’s cattle station in north-western Queensland. There, she was warmly loved by the Dalleburra people on whose traditional land the property Lammermoor stood.

Aged 49, she relinquished her privileged life in England, to travel alone to live in the Western Australia desert, where she became an excellent teacher and educator, introducing progressive and enlightened teaching methods to enable Aboriginal children to achieve their best.

From the 1930s she worked tirelessly for justice for Aboriginal Australians. She became a fierce critic of governments and vehemently opposed policies of removing mixed-descent children from their Aboriginal mothers. She fearlessly championed the rights of Aboriginal women and children and argued for the necessity of land rights.

In 1938, she travelled across the deserts from Kalgoorlie to Sydney to celebrate the Day of Mourning on 26 January that recognises the day that marked Australia’s First People’s dispossession.

Mary Bennett’s life story is highly relevant today as we rethink the appropriateness of celebrating Australia Day on 26 January; the need for constitutional recognition and land rights; as well as recognising Australia’s dark and violent history towards its First Peoples.

All three books are all available from Federation Library.

Janine Kitson is a Federation Life Member

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© New South Wales Teachers Federation. All Rights Reserved.

Authorised by John Dixon, General Secretary, NSW Teachers Federation, 23-33 Mary St. Surry Hills NSW 2010

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