Review Blog

Mar 10 2020

Mum's elephant by Maureen Jipyilya Nampijinpa O'Keefe

cover image

Illus. by Christina Booth. Magabala Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781925936728. pbk., 32 pp.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. The image of the mother lying with her back to the reader, clutching her teapot remains with me. It is a powerful reminder of just how lonely people can be despite what is going on around them. In her hand she clutches an old aluminium teapot, shaped in her children's eyes, like an elephant, a remnant perhaps of days gone by but one she still uses when her friends and family drop in to share a cup of tea on the rug outside in the sun.
Maureen Jipyilya Nampijinpa O'Keefe, a Kaytetye-Walpriri woman from the Northern Territory was reminded of her mother after finding a teapot in a secondhand shop. She wrote this story, brimming with love and understanding of her mother's life, revealing their lives on an outstation a long way from any town or city. Here the children play together, eating damper and jam for breakfast. Mum likes to clean the teapot, keeping it shiny, and has harsh words to say if anyone picks it up by the trunk, or takes it from the shelf as a plaything. Sometimes she sits all alone on her rug, talking to the elephant, telling it stories, and sometimes she shuns her family. But when she has visitors, especially the ladies dressed in their finery, afternoon tea is to be had, with the teapot in pride of place.
This beautiful story tells of life lived far from many of our students' lives in urban Australia: it tells of remoteness and how people live with that remoteness, it reveals the life of a sad woman, clutching the familiar to her, we see family life, the strength of the community, the routines of the day. And all is beautifully illustrated by Christian Booth, a Tasmanian artist with a feel for the environment which radiates from this book. The sweep of the orange sandy background, the few trees and sparing amenities is depicted, while the community's lives are lived on rugs on the red earth. Here the children play, the adults meet and drink tea and Mum finds refuge with her elephant. Booth's illustrations of the Aboriginal community are glorious: happy and poignant, boisterous and contemplative, revealing past memories and lives lived today. The sweep of colour draws the eye to all the details she offers, slyly revealing the teapot a small piece at a time, until it is all revealed. Themes: Aboriginal themes, Aboriginal life, Outback Australia, Depression.
Fran Knight

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