When I was a child at school, my ABC Songbook had lyrics for “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Does your chewing gum lose it’s flavour on the bedpost over night?” and the “On top of old Smoke…” parody “On top of spaghetti, all covered in cheese…” Simple tunes, meaningless lyrics, nothing to be learned or remembered in particular.
That was in the 1970s though, and I’m pleased to say our cultural evolution in Australia means our kids now have access to song lyrics that enrich, engage, entertain and educate. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the National Year of Reading than with the titles below.
Four titles out of Melbourne-based publisher One Day Hill have brought to the page some of our most well-known Aboriginal anthems, written and performed by some of our most loved Australian musicians –black and white – married with artwork from community kids and professional painters.
The first book From Little Things Big Things Grow about the story of Vincent Lingiagri, the beginning of the land rights movement and the strength and will of the Gurindji people to fight for what was rightfully there’s, was originally released by musical icons Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly back in 1993, and it is fair to say its a melody that most Aboriginal Australians know.
The ‘anthem of hope’ was published as a beautiful picture book in 2008 (I was at the Sydney University launch and you can read what I wrote about the book back then here)
With illustrations by kids from Gurindji country and paintings by Peter Hudson, this picture book is perfect for introducing significant Australian history into the classroom in an entertaining and accessible way.
The second title, Solid Rock (Sacred Ground) first penned as lyrics by Shane Howard (of Goanna fame) following an experience he had at Uluru in 1981, was one of the first songs to hit commercial airwaves that discussed dispossession of Aboriginal land and the truth behind first contact: invasion, war fare, and consequences of colonisation.
The picture book, released in 2010, is translated in Pitjantjatjara by Ruby James and includes illustrations of the landscape around Uluru drawn by kids from the communities of Mutitjulu, Kaltukatjara and Imanpa, with paintings by Peter Hudson. Journalist and author Martin Flanagan writes in his foreword to the book: “It’s a passionate, angry song about the great silence masking fundamental truths about Australian history that won an enduring place in Australian popular culture.”
Perhaps one of the more popular and wider reaching anthems is My Island Home, which was originally performed by the late George R. Burarrawanga, then front man for the Warumpi band from Papunya. Written by Victorian muso Neil Murray and first recorded back in 1987 on the band’s Go Bush album, it’s the story of George reminiscing about or rather missing his home on Elcho Island while living ‘west of Alice Springs’. By it has also been recorded by Christine Anu and the now defunct girl-trio Tiddas. The song itself is something all Australians can relate to, living on the world’s largest island and the patriotism that can often be found when away from the ‘island home’.
Like the previous titles, the work is vibrantly illustrated by young people, this time from the communities of Papunya and Galiwinku, with paintings by Peter Hudson.
Here’s YOUR chance to bring some of that Australian history and pop culture into your home and your classroom (you can download teachers notes here).
Finally, to top off the set of anthems, we have one that has become synonymous with the Reconciliation Movement, and that is Warumpi’s BlackFella WhiteFella, also written by the talented Neil Murray for the NT band. As Olympian Ian Thorpe says: “This story challenges us all in asking if you are prepared to lend a hand to make a change, embrace each other’s differences, speak out and stand strong together; then we can truly be true to ourselves. This is a powerful message to pass on to all our children.”
And what simpler way to do it than through this beautifully packaged book with song words by Murray and illustrations by students from schools around Australia.
If you’re the one who is going to stand up and be counted, then you definitely need to share these stories, these songs, and these messages with those around you!
History behind these titles:
One Day Hill Publishing was set up Bernadette Walters. From Little Things was a collaborative project with Affirm Press, Shirley Hardy Rix and The Ian Thorpe Fountain for Youth and others. Solid Rock, My Island Home, and BlackFella Whitefella, were projects initiated by Bernadette Walters and One Day Hill in association with The Ian Thorpe Fountain for Youth.
The concept for taking these songs and turning them into children’s books was Bernadette’s who then partnered with Seek (Australia’s largest on-line employment agency), QLD artist Peter Hudson, the Ian Thorpe Fountain for Youth and the deadly creative parties i.e. Shane Howard and Neil Murray.
BONUS: a percentage of all these titles go to Ian Thorpe’s “Fountain of Youth” towards art and literacy projects, and you’ve gotta love that!