In Gumbaynggirr country, stories are shared as a way to refocus attention to Country.
For Gumbaynggirr Elder Aunty Shaa Smith, writing is a way to express her culture as a ceremony of re-creation.
In her new picture book, The Dunggiirr Brothers and the Caring Song of the Whale, Aunty Shaa shares some of the stories from the mid-north New South Wales coast and how to care for Country tailored to First Nations children.
Aunty Shaa said the book was a continuation of Aboriginal culture.
“What’s happening in the story of the Dunggiirr Brothers is there was a wrongdoing against the sacredness of life, and something had to be done to set it right again,” she said.
“This is what is calling us now, to do that ceremony of setting things right again.
“It is a continuation of Aboriginal culture, our culture that maintains the sacredness of all life.”
Aunty Shaa said producing the book was a way to teach children about Indigenous ways of thinking.
“It feels like such an important book for this time with the big changes that are happening in the world,” she said.
“Sometimes there is fear to speak about that with children, no one knows how to talk about it.
“To talk about ‘other than what we are in’ is hard but kids have that potential and ability to imagine a different way of being.”
The Dunggiirr Brothers and the Caring Song of the Whale paints a landscape of Ngambaa Country and the importance of Gumbaynggirr stories.
“Gumbaynggirr stories help give a different reference point, one that isn’t about ‘me, me, me’,” Aunty Shaa said.
“I am just trying to create a window to help us go beyond our limitations to see our relationship, to live them and nourish them.
“I want to support kids building relationships with Country, with trees or birds, with whales and bats…it’s a matter of practice.”
Part of the picture book is written in a combination of English and First Nations languages.
Aunty Shaa said it was important for Aboriginal children to grow up reading books in their own language.
“I wanted to include First Nations language to make sure Aboriginal children are supported in their culture,” she said.
“This is so important to me, to make sure the children aren’t smothered by a mainstream approach.
“It is also about supporting Aboriginal families.
“The stories we share are important for Aboriginal children, to ground them in their strength and identity, to maintain their connection with Country, and so they can awaken to their expression of who they are.”
The Dunggiirr Brothers and the Caring Song of the Whale can also be used in schools and by educators through teaching notes available on the Allen and Unwin website.
It is available for purchase from Allen and Unwin.