Today, Friday 27 May is the first day of National Reconciliation Week which runs until 3 June. The theme this year is ‘Be Brave. Make Change.’
As expressed on the Reconciliation Australia website, the theme ‘is a challenge to all Australians— individuals, families, communities, organisations and government—to Be Brave and tackle the unfinished business of reconciliation so we can Make Change for the benefit of all Australians.’
It ‘is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.’
The dates are chosen to commemorate two events:
On 27 May 1967, more than 90% of Australians voted ‘Yes’ in a referendum to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would be recognised in the Census.
On 3 June 1992, the Australian High Court delivered the Mabo decision which recognised the incorrectness of the term ‘terra nullius’ (land belonging to no one). This decision led to the legal recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land and paved the way for recognition of Native Title.
The day before Reconciliation Week, 26 May, is National Sorry Day which remembers and honours the Stolen Generations.
The website lists actions we can all take to make a change toward reconciliation.
The basis of many of these actions is education. It begins with us, teaching our children to honour and respect the cultures of our First Nations, to learn the truth of our history, and to implement actions for change.
I rarely mention politics in my posts, but with our recent change in government, I was very proud to be an Australian when the incoming Prime Minister Anthony Albanese acknowledged our First Nations peoples in both the introduction and content of his victory speech. These are the words with which he opened his speech:
“I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. And on behalf of the Australian Labor Party, I commit to the Uluru Statement from the heart in full.”
And these are the words which he used further in:
“And together we can embrace the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
“We can answer its patient, gracious call for a voice enshrined in our constitution. Because all of us ought to be proud that amongst our great multicultural society we count the oldest living continuous culture in the world.”
In further recognition, in his first press conference as Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese hung the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flags alongside the Australian flag in the media room at Parliament House. These statements give me hope for the recognition that our First Nations deserve and is long overdue.
In this post, I share some wonderful books by our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors and illustrators. This is only a small selection of the growing number available. Magabala Books is a great resource to check out as it publishes only books by First Nations authors and illustrators. Other publishers also have a collection of titles, so it is worth checking out others too. I will be adding these titles to the list already available in readilearn resources Indigenous Australian picture books and resources. A previous post Resources for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Culture has links to many other useful resources also.
Books for Reconciliation
Common Wealth by Gregg Dreise
Published by Scholastic in 2021
Dreise is the author of many wonderful picture books. I first came upon his delightful stories in books such as Kookoo Kookaburra and Mad Magpie which introduce children to the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Common Wealth is different. It is a book that challenges us to acknowledge our true history and to ‘break down the barriers of division … by discussing without ammunition, a willingness to listen … to a true common wealth vision.’
The book may not be as suitable for sharing with our younger children, but it makes valuable reading for us anyway as it can empower us in our knowledge and discussions. The half-title page informs us that this book is ‘A Slam Poetry Persuasive — A picture book for older readers. Contains some confronting imagery.’
Dreise opens the book with the words, ‘All that I’m wishing, is that you take a moment to listen …You see, I’m on a mission, to spread unity — not division.’ He takes us on a journey through our national anthem and our history, pointing out the parts that are incorrect and what we need to do to make them more inclusive and true. His illustrations pull no punches and the text added to the illustrations add to the depth of the story and its message. There is much to contemplate and discuss. It may be challenging but it is also empowering and I, for one, can’t help myself wishing for change along with Gregg.
Finding Our Heart by Thomas Mayor, illustrated by Blak Douglas
Published by Hardie Grant 2020
Thomas Mayor was involved in the writing of the Uluru Statement of the Heart. His book for adults titled Finding the Heart of the Nation: The Journey of the Uluru Statement Towards Voice, Treaty and Truth talks about the writing of the statement and reports discussions with many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people whom Mayor met with as he took the Statement on a journey around Australia. It is a very valuable read for adults.
I was delighted that Mayor had written this picture book to share the same message with younger children.
Mayor assures us that the heart of the nation is to be found in truth but that it won’t be found until ‘First Nations voices are heard’. He invites young readers to take action by asking the question, ‘Will you help find the heart of the nation?’
The final pages of the book include information about the Uluru Statement, some suggestions for helping to find our heart and the words of the Uluru Statement.
This is a wonderful book to share with young children. It spreads a positive message for change towards reconciliation.
You can listen to Mayor discuss and read his book here.
Books about the Stolen Generations
Took the Children Away by Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter
Published by Simon and Schuster, 2020
After listening to the audiobook of Roach’s memoir Tell Me Why, I just had to purchase this picture book with the words of his iconic song Took the Children Away. The book is beautifully illustrated by his wife Ruby Hunter in a mix of dark and colourful images to match the mood of the text. It also includes stories and photographs from Archie’s life. As in his memoir, although so much of the story is of a dark and tragic past, it leaves me with a feeling of hope. Although Archie is committed to truth, he begins with the words ‘This story’s right this story’s true I would not tell lies to you’, he does not blame or hold a grudge, he just wants to know why all these terrible things happened. In telling his story, perhaps we will learn to understand and empathise, and ensure there is never a reason for such atrocities to happen again.
As with other stories, it’s simply a telling of what happened. It is for the readers to make up their minds about the events, and I’m certain that children will find discussions of these events quite moving and life changing. The book ends with hope and the message that ‘The children came back Yes I came back’.
Books about Art
Patterns of Australia by Bronwyn Bancroft
Pulbished by Little Hare 2005
This beautiful book will encourage children to look into the detail of the illustrations to find all the animals, plants and objects hidden within.
In the introduction to the book, Bancroft says that although the illustrations are not traditional Aboriginal art, they are influenced by the stories and artwork of her ancestors. She encourages young readers to look beneath the patterns, below the surface to find stories in the layers.
Books with First Nations Languages
Bularu Gurrbaru Waburru Guburi, Five Little Ducks written and illustrated by Jill Dodd
Published by Xlibris 2020
This book is written in Birri Language which is spoken in Eastern Central Queensland. It is an adaption and translation of the well-known nursery rhyme Five Little Ducks.
The author dedicates the book to her grandchildren with the words “We cannot loose our ancient language and culture.”
A list of the Birri words and their English translation is included in the front of the book, and the text of the rhyme is presented in both Birri and English on each page.
Open Your Heart to County by Jasmine Seymour
Published by Magabala Books 2022
This text of lovely book, written as a poem, is accompanied by brilliantly coloured and gorgeous illustrations. As well as its English text, each page has words written in the Dharug language which has been spoken across the land we know as Sydney for thousands of years. At the back of the book, the author has included a pronunciation key to use when the pronunciation of Dharug words differs from that of English. The book has an important message for appreciating and maintaining language.
“Welcome home lost children,
To land singing you back home.
Listen to its language.
Learn how to speak its song.”
(See also Hello and Welcome by Gregg Dreise listed below.)
Books about History
Young Dark Emu A Truer History by Bruce Pascoe
Published by Magabala Books 2019
This book is not suitable for our younger children in its entirety. It is more suited to older children but is worth reading for your own education, particularly if you don’t have time to read the longer and original award-winning version Dark Emu published by Magabala Books in 2014.
I think the note to readers in the introduction to the book explains it perfectly:
“Young Dark Emu is taken from the book Dark Emu, written for older readers. It includes many quotes from people in the past. At times words are used to describe Aboriginal people that are now considered inappropriate.
“Young Dark Emu includes extracts from many original nineteenth century colonial diaries. Because of this, spellings vary between quoted documents.”
I also appreciate the explanation of the title Dark Emu:
“European astronomy uses constellations of stars to tell a story, but sometimes Aboriginal Australia uses the darkness between the stars. Dark Emu is a shape in the dark areas between the stars of the Milky Way.
“It’s a different way of seeing.”
Books about Culture
My Culture and Me by Gregg Dreise
Published by Puffin Books 2019
This beautiful book is a wonderful display of pride in heritage and culture. Gregg’s colourful illustrations complement his words and portray the joy and hope he feels as he says,
“We need to always remember,
to keep our culture glowing inside.
We must learn our traditions,
and always be filled with pride.”
Hello and Welcome by Gregg Dreise
Published by Puffin Books 2021
Another beautiful book added to Gregg’s collection in which he gives thanks and pays respects and encourages us all to live in harmony.
At the back of the book, he uses illustrations of actions and words of the traditional Gamilaraay language of the Kamilaroi people to teach us how to give a ‘Hello and welcome to our gathering’ greeting. He also thanks all the schools and organisations that begin their gatherings with a Welcome or an Acknowledgement to Country.
These of course, are only a few of the books that are available. You can find more by searching the authors, illustrators and publishers of these books and by checking out what’s available at Magabala books.
My personal Acknowledgement of Country
I think it’s time for me, in this post, to be brave and write my own Acknowledgement of Country. While I have long believed in the need for change in our attitudes to our First Nations and the need to have greater respect for their histories and cultures, I have been reluctant to post a statement on my website. This was not because I didn’t want to, but because I wanted it to be right. I wanted it to come from my heart and not be a glib repetition of statements made by others. I hoped that sharing information about days and events that celebrate Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as I have done in numerous posts, would show my support. It is interesting that Indigenous Australian picture books and resources is one of readilearn’s most popular resources.
This is my statement, a work in progress, so I’d love to know your thoughts about how I can improve it.
I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which I live and write, the Yuggera and Turrbal peoples, and all of the First Nations people of Australia. I acknowledge that they are the first educators and storytellers to have lived on this land we now call Australia.
I am proud to acknowledge that First Nations peoples have lived on and cared for this land for tens of thousands of years and that their cultures are the oldest living cultures in the world.
I sadly acknowledge that wrongs have been done to First Nations people since the coming of Europeans but am hopeful of a better future with the implementation of the Uluru Statement of the Heart.
In the spirit of reconciliation, I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging wherever they have lived, are living and will live on this land.
Indigenous Literacy Foundation
If you haven’t already followed the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and signed up to their newsletter, I recommend you do. They are a great source of information and provide many ways in which you can become involved. The Great Book Swap is a great way for schools and community organisations to become involved. As this is the first year of UNESCO’s Decade of Indigenous Languages, in each newsletter, they are teaching us a word from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language. How important is that.
I also recommend the Reconciliation Australia website and newsletter for its wealth of information and educational resources. In their current newsletter, they have this message for educators:
“Reconciliation Australia challenges all educators to ‘Be Brave’ in their teaching and tackle the unfinished business of reconciliation so we can ‘Make Change’ in our classrooms, around our schools and early learning services, and in our communities.”
Know Your Country
There are also wonderful resources available on the Know Your Country website, including business cards and banners you can customise for your area, such as this one I have used here.
This video explains a little more about the Know Your Country mission.
ABC Education also lists many other useful resources when teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures. You can find them here.
I hope you and your children enjoy finding out more about the history of our country and our First Nations as much as I do. The resources listed in this post are but a mere fraction of what is available. There is much to explore and learn.
While you are here, remember to check out the complete readilearn collection of
over 500 teaching resources for the first three years of school
Resources beyond worksheets – lessons for teachers made by teachers.
Let readilearn lighten your workload.
While resources are available for purchase individually, best value comes through an annual subscription which gives access to all resources for a year for just A$25. That’s less than 50 cents a week.
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