Naidoc Week & Indigenous Picture Books

2021 National NAIDOC logo

The 4th – 11th July, 2021 is NAIDOC week.

Lisa @ANZLitLovers hosts an Indigenous Literature Week to coincide with NAIDOC week. Lisa is careful to acknowledge that as ‘a non-Indigenous Australian, I am mindful that I do not and cannot know or understand all aspects of Indigenous Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Maori culture or experience, and I hope that nothing here gives offence or causes distress.  Within the limits of my opportunities for research, I have tried to create this page with good will and respect for the cultures included here.

A couple of overseas bloggers have asked me what this week is about, so as part of my annual Indigenous picture book post, I thought I would include a little more information about NAIDOC week.

The best place to start is at the NAIDOC website where you will find all the information you need, plus a little about their history, how to get involved and various resources. It is an inclusive week. Sadly many of the Sydney events have had to be cancelled, or turned into online events this year, due to our latest Covid outbreak. 2021 National NAIDOC posters and badges (like the ones I’ve used in this post) are available on the website.

NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia each July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life. The week is a great opportunity to participate in a range of activities and to support your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

NAIDOC originally stood for ‘National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee’. This committee was once responsible for organising national activities during NAIDOC Week and its acronym has since become the name of the week itself.

Each year there is a theme. This year’s theme is Heal Country.

Country is inherent to our identity.

It sustains our lives in every aspect – spiritually, physically, emotionally, socially, and culturally.

It is more than a place.

When we talk about Country it is spoken of like a person.

Country is family, kin, law, lore, ceremony, traditions, and language. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples it has been this way since the dawn of time.

Through our languages and songs, we speak to Country; through our ceremonies and traditions we sing to – and celebrate Country – and Country speak to us.

*The 2021 National NAIDOC Poster incorporating the Aboriginal Flag (licensed by WAM Clothing Pty Ltd) & the Torres Strait Islander Flag (licensed by the Torres Strait Island Council).

This strong connection to country, experienced by Indigenous Australians, is a reciprocal one. Respect and responsibility are at the heart of it. Cultural knowledge and ceremony ensures that each generation develops an intimate relationship with their place. Everything is linked to country – spirituality, culture, language, family, law and identity. The land is not owned; instead each person belongs to a piece of land. Honouring the land is a sacred relationship, where the ‘land sustains and provides for the people, and the people sustain and manage the land through culture and ceremony.’

Understanding the deep distress and disconnect that occurred to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders when Australia was invaded and colonised, is the starting point for truth-telling and reconciliation.

Fundamental grievances will not vanish. In the European settlement of Australia, there were no treaties, no formal settlements, no compacts. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people therefore did not cede sovereignty to our land. It was taken from us. That will remain a continuing source of dispute.

To Heal Country, we must properly work towards redressing historical injustice.

While we can’t change history, through telling the truth about our nation’s past we certainly can change the way history is viewed.

One of the tips for how to get more involved in NAIDOC week is to learn about the traditional Country on which you live and work. Which is why you will now see this note at the bottom of my posts.

This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are our first storytellers.

Tip (6) is also relevant for all book bloggers – ‘Find a book to read, written and published by Indigenous authors and illustrators‘. Which leads very nicely, into my 2021 Indigenous picture book post!

Common Wealth | Gregg Dreise | May 2021 | Scholastic

Common Wealth: A Slam Poetry Persuasive | A picture book for older readers. Contains some confronting imagery.

So begins Gregg Dreise’s latest picture book. He then dedicates his book to ‘all of the people in Australia who are ready for change.

All that I'm wishing,
Is that you take a moment to listen...(winunga listen) 
You see, I’m on a mission,
to spread unity – not division.

Dreise uses his slam poetry to explore the words in our national anthem, including the phrases ‘young and free’ and ‘wealth for toil’. Australia is not a young country and any wealth for toil is not, and has not been, equally distributed. Our ‘nature’s gifts’ have been despoiled and exploited. The traditional connection to country has been disrupted.

Despite the confronting images of murder and slavery in the middle of the book, Dreise moves on to find that ‘unity, not hate‘ is the way forward for all. He posits a new flag that includes a floral emblem of wattle in place of the union jack, and suggests the 1st June, when many wattles actually begin to flower, could by a good date for all Australians to celebrate together with respect.

Dreise’s book is a provocation and call to action. It’s designed to promote discussion about our history for mature readers.

Gregg Dreise is a Kamilaroi and Euahlayi author and illustrator from northwest NSW.

Walking in Gagudji Country | Diane Lucas, Ben Tyler, Emma Long | June 2021 | Allen & Unwin

Walking in Gagudju Country: Exploring the Monsoon Forest is a collaborative project. Diane Lucas has lived in and around the Kakadu region since her late twenties. She was employed by the Gagudju Association to be the teacher for the Murdudjurl Community at Patonga outstation in Kakadu, where she first me Ben, at age six. Ben is now a Bininj entrepreneur and founder of bush food brand Kakadu Kitchen. He lives in Darwin on Larrakia country, studying business at Charles Darwin University. Emma is an artist living and working in Darwin.

Ben explains that the writing and creative process between himself and Diane ‘reflects the relationship between Di and me as teacher/student in Western way and as mother/son in Bininj kinship way‘. The story is a walking tour through the forest, pointing out birds, insects and plants. Woven into the walk are traditional stories and language. Love and respect for country shines through on every page. A perfect primary school teaching resource.

You can listen to Diane and Ben reading the book here.

Ben Tyler is from the Bininj/Mungguy peoples and cultures of Kakadu.

Kunyi | Kunyi June Anne McInerney | June 2021 | Magabala Books

The blurb from Magabala Books perfectly describes this heartfelt story from one who was part of the Stolen Generations, that I will use them to springboard my own thoughts.

Kunyi June Anne McInerney was just four years old when she and three of her siblings were taken from their family to the Oodnadatta Children’s Home in South Australia in the 1950s. This makes Kunyi a mere handful of years younger than my own parents. I say this as reminder, that the Stolen Children generations, could be the parents or grandparents of many of us. This is not ancient history.

Through an extraordinary collection of over 60 paintings, accompanied by stories, Kunyi presents a rare chronicle of what life was like for her and the other Children’s Home kids who became her family. Kunyi’s vibrant paintings are intimate and detailed. The paintings were originally featured in the exhibition ‘My Paintings Speak for Me’ at Adelaide’s Migration Museum.

Her paintings are a healing trove of memories that reveal the loneliness, fear and courage of the Stolen Generation children who were torn from family and loved ones. From bible lessons to sucking bone marrow and collecting bush fruits, the escapades, adventures and sorrows of the children are painted with warmth, humour and unflinching honesty. Each story or memory is written simply, to reflect Kunyi’s tender age. She was kept at the children’s home until she was nine, at which point she was sent to a foster care home.

The text is divided into short sections to focus on different aspects of the day, including meal times and hygiene tasks, nights in the dormitory, kitchen work, and lessons. There’s plenty of play, too. The children seek fun and adventure whenever they get the chance—tales of bush tucker expeditions, collecting wild peaches, and climbing high in the gum trees to hunt for honey grubs bring moments of joy. It was heart breaking to read with how little they made their own fun. How some of the older kids looked after the younger ones, telling them traditional stories and providing some much needed affection.

Kunyi’s story is one of healing and reconciliation. She is telling it so that the lives of the children at Oodnadatta Children’s Home will not be forgotten. This is a collection of tender and honest stories that will educate children on our nation’s history and remind adult readers of the real impact of the Stolen Generations.

Kunyi is not only an educational book, it is a beautiful work of art as well. If you only have time to track down one of the picture books I’ve featured today, then this is the one. It’s a pictorial biography that should be read by everyone, no matter how old you are.

Kunyi June Anne McInerney was born on Todmorden Station near Oodnadatta in South Australia. Her family’s language group is Yankunytjatjara.

Sea Country | Aunty Patsy Cameron | June 2021 | Magabala Books

Sea Country embodies this year’s NAIDOC week theme of Heal Country beautifully.

Both Aunty Patsy and Lisa are descended from the same Flinders Island clan. Aunty Patsy grew up on the island, and shares her stories and traditions depicting seasonal life on Flinders Island, from making necklaces to picking seasonal berries and watching the comings and goings of the mutton birds. The gentle story-telling in Sea Country makes it easy for young readers to see how country provides nourishment and support to people, and how people care for and respect country.

Lisa’s illustrations are beautiful as always, using a gorgeous, restful sea-toned wash throughout. A lovely introductory picture book for younger readers.

Aunty Patsy Cameron is a descendant of the Pairebeenne Trawlwoolway clan in North East Tasmania.

Lisa Kennedy is also a descendant of the coastal Pairebeenne/Trawlwoolway clan, although she had never been to Flinders Island before working on Sea Country.

7 thoughts on “Naidoc Week & Indigenous Picture Books

  1. Thanks fir the explanation of Naidoc Week. I’d seen the term used but didn’t really understand what lay behind it. I do t have anything in my TBR that fits unfortunately – I tried getting some books when I was inNew Zealand but didn’t get very far. Will try harder next year.

    Liked by 1 person

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