Bidhi Galing by Anita Heiss & Samantha Campbell

Bidhi Galing (Big Rain) by Anita Heiss

Dr Anita Heiss is an internationally published, award-winning author of 23 books; non-fiction, historical fiction, commercial women’s fiction and children’s novels. She is a proud member of the Wiradyuri Nation of central New South Wales, an Ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and the GO Foundation, and Professor of Communications at the University of Queensland.

Her novel, Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray about the Great Flood of Gundagai, won the 2022 NSW Premier’s Indigenous Writer’s Prize and was shortlisted for the 2021 ARA Historical Novel Prize and the 2022 ABIA Awards. Anita’s first children’s picture book with illustrator Samantha Campbell, Bidhi Galing (Big Rain), tells the same story of the Great Flood of Gundagai, in a format that children can access and understand, and is equally suitable for any age to enjoy.

Illustrator Samantha Campbell grew up in the Northern Territory and lives in Alice Springs. She is descended from the Dagoman people from Katherine and as a child lived in remote communities across the Top End. Her first book, Alfred’s War, written by Rachel Bin Salleh, was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards and the Speech Pathology Australia’s Book of the Year Awards. Her other books include Aunty’s Wedding by Miranda Tapsall and Joshua Tyler, Brother Moon by Maree McCarthy Yoelu, and Freedom Day by Rosie Smiler and Thomas Mayor.

Bidhi Galing (Big Rain) celebrates the Wiradyuri heroes of the Great Flood of Gundagai in 1852, told through the eyes of a young girl who is rescued from the raging floodwaters by her father.

Wagadhaany grew up near the Marrambidya Bila. She loved dancing in the rain and listening to her father, Yarri, tell her stories about life on Wiradyuri ngurambang.

When white people started building on the floodplains, Yarri was worried. He knew the power of the bila and tried to warn the strangers, but they would not listen.

Years later, the big rains came …

This is the story of the Great Flood of Gundagai in 1852 and the Wiradyuri heroes, Yarri and Jacky Jacky, who paddled bark canoes through raging floodwaters, risking their lives to save countless others.

Anita Heiss’s powerful text, accompanied by Samantha Campbell’s evocative illustrations, is a gift of Wiradyuri culture, knowledge and language, sharing a resonant message for our times.

A stunningly illustrated hardcover picture book, the blues, greens and browns used by Samantha evoke the colours of country and especially of the river and the rain. Sweeping lines and curved shapes denote movement and flow, just like a river. Anita’s telling of this true story weaves Wiradyuri culture, knowledge and language together, with a glossary at the back of the book for the Wiradyuri words that are used throughout the story. In her author notes, Anita explains how she began to learn her Wiradyuri language in 2018.

The experience of being home on country with my miyagan (kin, family, relations) was life-changing. Being back on homelands was a gift, and it allowed me to reflect on the life my anscestors led, particularly in and around Gundagai, Brungle and Wagga Wagga.

Wagadhaany is a happy girl, living her life on country with her miyagan. Her name means dancer and this is her favourite thing to do. In the safety of her family, she knows the comfort and the rhythms of her days. When the raindrops become big and the river rises, she knows to race to higher ground. She learns stories from Yarri, her babiin (father) about never going to the river alone and to always follow her elders when the rains begin to fall.

When white people build their shelters on the floodplains, Yarri warns them it is not safe, but they do not listen – ‘They never listen to us. Never listen,’ he says to Wagadhaany. When the rains do come and the river rises, taking buildings, horses, animals and people’s homes in its wake, Wagadhaany is caught up in a terrifying situation with the white family she is working for. What follows is a courageous and selfless story of Wagadhanny’s babiin and another man, Jacky Jacky, who will be the heroes of the day.

Many, many years later, the town of Gundagai had a ceremony to celebrate Yarri and Jacky Jacky. Everyone said the men were heroes and very brave, and they were given brass chest plates. The Wiradyuri men were proud and stood tall. Wagadhanny was proud too, but remembered her babiin’s warning all those years ago. Everyone would have been safe and alive if they’d only listened and not built on the floodplains.

This is a beautiful book with an important message and one which is relevant now, as we face the impacts of climate change, habitat loss and risks of extreme weather due to human behaviours. If only we would listen to those who have thousands and thousands of years knowledge about the land and the ways in which we can live in harmony with nature.

There is a central theme in this true story of kindness, selflessness and courage. Despite the terrible ways in which their people were treated, despite the horrors that were enacted by white people, Yarri and Jacky Jacky risked their own lives to save others. They did not stop until they rescued all those people they were able to save. This is a story of humanity and respect, and one which everyone should know about.

The book includes a scannable link to a recording of Anita reading the book, which is a great way to learn the pronunciation of Wiradyuri words, which makes this book an even more valuable learning resource for schools. Teaching notes available here.


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