Black Cockatoo

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Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler, Black Cockatoo, Magabala Books, July 2018 64 pp., (pbk), $11.99 ISBN 9781925360707

When Mia’s brother Jy hits a black cockatoo with his shanghai, Mia takes it upon herself to rescue the bird. Set in a remote community in the Kimberley, the story revolves around indigenous mythology and the symbolism of the dirrarn (cockatoo). It was inspired by author Carl Merrison’s life growing up in a remote town in Western Australia.

Once Mia learns that the dirrarn is her totem animal, she feels an even stronger connection to the bird and strives to care for it so it can be returned to the wild. The focus for the story is the relationship between sister and brother and the cross-cultural dilemmas the siblings feel.

            ‘You live in both worlds,’ her grandmother added. ‘You will be strong both ways.’

            Mia didn’t reply. Sometimes she wished that she lived in a time when her ancestors were here. It was hard code-switching, always trying to get things right both ways.    (p. 34)

The story includes evocative black and white paintings, mostly of the cockatoo. There is a glossary of indigenous terms used in the story at the back of the book.

Like much of the short fiction being produced by Magabala, this story could be used in the classroom for talking about indigenous culture and animals as motifs.

Reviewed by Heather Gallagher

Teacher Notes available here.

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