Karen Wyld (author) and Jaelyn Biumaiwai (illustrator), Heroes, Rebels and Innovators: Inspiring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People from History, Hachette Australia, July 2021, 32 pp., $26.99 (hbk), ISBN 9780734419835
This lavish and beautiful book tells the stories of seven Aboriginal heroes and heroines from the eighteenth century through to the twentieth. Each character’s story is presented once through a text that is dramatic, poetic, and vivid, then it is told again through a more sober historical text. You might say that the story is told once proper way, then repeated white way.
Each of the historical figures is presented as a stylish semi-abstracted portrait by Jaelyn Biumaiwai, a Mununjali and Fijian woman. These depictions are beyond being illustration, for they are artworks in themselves and make the book worth having for them alone. The stories are gripping, enlightening and important. Some of them are accounts of collaboration and alliance, such as Patyegarang’s willingness to teach William Dawes her local language, or Bungaree and Cora Gooseberry mingling with Sydneysiders in the 1790s. Some of the figures were warriors, including the armed freedom fighter Tarenorerer of Van Diemen’s Land, around 1800. Sometimes they were at hand to rescue the colonists from their own foolishness, like Yarri and Jacky Jacky who rescued nearly seventy people from floods at Gundagai in 1852. They did this on their bark canoes, and have been remembered as Wiradjuri heroes with a statue in modern day Gundagai. Many though have been forgotten, repressed or neglected.
This important book is an antidote to histories of Australia that don’t attend to the complexity of historical interactions between Indigenous peoples and invader-settlers. Such stories will also hopefully inspire pride and deepening interest in history among young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers.
This is Karen Wyld’s first children’s book. She is of Martu descent (Pilbara region). I hope there are more of this quality to come. Recommended for readers from five to fifteen.
Reviewed by Kevin Brophy