This Children’s Book Council 2022 Honours winner, Heroes, Rebels and Innovators, by Karen Wyld and illustrated by Jaelyn Biumaiwai, shares seven inspiring stories about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from history. Author Karen Wyld, a writer of Martu descent, and illustrator Jaelyn Biumaiwai, of Mununjali and Fijian descent, have created a beautiful book, that is easy to pick up and share with children and young people, and equally as fascinating for adults.
Karen and Jaelyn’s combined skills weave together these seven real-life stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, whose adventures, courage, determination, kindness and innovation, changed the world, but are little known, especially by white Australians. These stories highlight just a small number of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heroes, rebels and innovators, who stood fast, stood up, and held onto their dreams, in the face of invasion and settlement by the British.
Amongst the stories are:
- Patyegarang: Under the Light of Yan-Na-Dah – Patyegarang was a Darug woman who shared stories and language with William Dawes, a British officer of the First Fleet, sent to set up an observatory and watch for an expected comet. Patyegarang taught William words from local Aboriginal languages and he taught her how to read and write in English. Together they made the first books featuring Aboriginal languages.
- Bungaree: Nautical Adventurer – Bungaree, a Darug man soon to be King, ‘strutted’ into Sydney, his wife Cora Gooseberry by his side, fascinated by the British colony and determined to be part of the change he could feel in the air. He was offered a job on a ship and eventually, circumnavigated Australia with Matthew Flinders and his cat, Trim.
- Tarenorerer: Freedom Fighter – Tarenorerera was stolen from her mother’s arms and sold to white men. She watched and listened and learned their language. When she eventually returned home, she showed her brothers and sisters how to fight the settlers. Her story is one of a legendary resistance fighter who dreamed of freedom.
- Yarri and Jacky Jacky: Heroes of Gundagai – Yarri and Jacky Jacky rowed bark canoes for three days, leading the rescue of sixty-nine people during the Gundagai floods of 1852, people who had refused to listen when Wiradjuri warned them not to build their houses and businesses on the Murrumbidgee flood plains.
- Mohara Wacando-Lifu: Escape from Mahina – Mohara Wacando-Lifu a woman of Torres Strait Islander, Niue Islander and Papua New Guinea heritage, was the first Indigenous woman to receive the Royal Humane Society’s Gold Medal for bravery, after saving the lives of two sailors in the 1899 tropical cyclone Mahina, which struck Torres Strait and Bathurst Bay in Far North Queensland.
- David Unaipon: Perpetual Knowledge – David Unaipon, Ngarrindjeri inventor and author, whose image features on our $50 note, was ‘always thinking, reading, learning, doing.’ He wanted more people to know about the world’s oldest knowledges. He wrote Ngarrindjeri stories on paper, becoming the first Aboriginal author. He also wrote about Indigenous sciences and gave talks in universities. He never stopped dreaming his big ideas, including a perpetual motion device.
- Fanny Balbuk Yooreel: The Woman Who Walked Through Walls – Fanny Balbuk Yooreel, a Whadjuk woman, became a resistance fighter. She climbed over fences and opened settlers’ front doors, walking through their houses and out their back doors. She stood at the gates of Government House and voiced her concerns about the environment. She understood that the settlers disregard for the land and the running of sheep across those lands, would be disastrous. She tried to teach settlers how to care for the environment: ‘Country is everything; why can’t they understand?’
Karen Wyld states in her notes that the process to ensure the content of this book was respectful and accurate was ‘time-consuming and often challenging,’ and that this process was carefully constructed in order to ensure the book was culturally appropriate and honoured peoples’ ancestors. The result is a complex combination of facts with lyrical storytelling, coupled with beautifully drawn illustrations that pop from the muted ochre tones of the coloured pages that reflect Australia’s oranges, browns and reds.
This book is a perfect resource for school libraries, classrooms and book clubs. It would lend itself well to a range of topics and learnings. I enjoyed all of the stories and found it a wonderful way to begin to delve into the complex histories and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures connected to Lands across Australia.
Each of these stories is presented with two narratives – the first is a poetic and lyrical telling of the heart of each tale. This is followed with a more factual narrative, which provides a summary of the historical elements. This hardcover book is earthy in its pallete, with striking illustrations and wonderful words, which will hopefully inspire readers to continue to seek out more stories about the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures.
Publisher: Hachette Australia
CBCA Awards Year: 2022
Category: Eve Pownall Award