Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: Noongar language books for kids

 
Mamang
Kim Scott, Iris Woods and the Wirlomin Noongar Language & Stories Project
UWAP 2011 36pp  RRP:$24.95
  
Noongar Mambara Bakitj
Kim Scott, Lomas Roberts and the Wirlomin Noongar Language & Stories Project 
UWAP  2011  44pp RRP: $24.95

When twice Miles Franklin Awarding winning novelist Kim Scott sets about a book project, he doesn’t do it lightheardly, and the results are always significant. His recent work with the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project is no different to his previous efforts, although the genre and focus is a departure from his novels analysed largely by academic students and lovers of literature.

Rather, his two latest publications Mamang and Noongar Mambara Bakitj have been completed after much community collaboration. With a responsibility to a Noongar audience in mind, both stories were first told to, and recorded by linguist Gerhardt Laves at Albany, Western Australia, around 1931.

The story of Mamang as told by Freddie Winmar to Laves, and Noongar Mambara Bakitj first shared by Rob Roberts to the linguist, were both workshopped in a series of community meetings which included members of the Roberts, Winmar and Laves families – how extraordinary an experience that must have been.

Mamang which means whale, is the story of a Noongar fella who goes for a journey inside the belly of a whale, squeezing the whale’s heart and singing all the while, until he arrives at a beautiful sandy beach with a welcoming community. The story re-told in English and Noongar by Scott, Iris Woods and the WNLSP, is vividly illustrated with artwork by Jeffrey Farmer, Helen Nelly and Roma Winmar (Yibiyung)


Noongar Mambara Bakitj is a story retold by Kim Scott, Robert Lomas and the WNLST. It centres on a hunter and his ability to read the land to find kangaroo for sustenance. But in killing and generously sharing his catch, he makes the mamabara (spirit creature) very angry and a boomerang battle follows. But how will it end?

A story that should be read out loud for most impact, it’s the accompanying illustrations with their vibrant sky and rusty coloured earth and figures that dance on the page, that make this a story that will engage young and old. Kudos to both Geoffrey Woods and Anthony Roberts for their artwork in this book.

In writing about the process of creating these books Scott said, ‘Our intention was to celebrate the stories, as well as to create a sense of community ownership …we wanted to use these stories to bind a community together rather than – as sometimes happens in oppressed communities – promote rivalry over our collective heritage and exacerbate other community tensions and tear us apart. We hoped the people who received the stories would share them with their family and friends.’

And it is this purpose as expressed by Scott that sets the development of Aboriginal children’s books like Mamang and Noongar Mambara Bakitj apart from general kids books written purely for entertainment value.

Personally, I hope those working on the project feel their goals were reached. For those of us non-Noongars, we have been blessed with an insight into just two stories of the Noongar people and with sampling of their language. Scott notes in his comments on behalf of the WNLSP that the group, in considering on whether to use standard English of Aboriginal English, ‘…that Noongar readers would make their own versions anyway, and so we decided on a relatively standard English, flavoured by the spoken voice.’

Both titles include a glossary and a note on vocabulary, pronunciation and spelling. So while the work can be considered as reclamation and maintenance of language, it can also be a fantastic learning tool for those wanting to build some foundation to the language. Scott notes in his comments on behalf of the WNLSP that the group, in considering on whether to use standard English of Aboriginal English, ‘…that Noongar readers would make their own versions anyway, and so we decided on a relatively standard English, flavoured by the spoken voice.’

Unfortunately, many of the elders who were involved in the recording of these stories and since passed on, and while these works remain beautiful and significance legacies of them, it is a harsh reminder of the need to record and publish as many stories of our old people while they are alive.

To download a reading of Mamang, or for instruction on how to purchase a CD containing the reading, go to: www.wirlomin.com.au To order books go to The Coop Bookshop.

*Noongar country covers the south-west corner of Western Australia, extending from around Geraldton on the west coast to east of Esperance on the south coast.

2 comments:

Jane GW said...

Great reviews thanks Anita. I love the sound of this project and the stories.

Dr Anita Heiss said...

Thanks Jane! Peace.