Review Blog

Oct 04 2017

Free diving by Lorrae Coffin

cover image

Ill. by Bronwyn Houston. Magabala Books, 2017. ISBN 9781925360738
(Age: 7-10) Recommended. Themes: Pearl Diving, Broome, Western Australia, Pearl Industry. Singer and songwriter Lorrae Coffin wrote her song Free Diving in 1996 as a moving tribute to the Aboriginal men and women who were forced to work as divers for the pearling luggers in the mid to late 19th century. This unscrupulous practice was called blackbirding and was used by white people for the pearl shell industry in Broome Western Australia. The Aboriginal people dived underwater to a depth of 12 metres without protective gear. The reality of this practice was quite confronting, with every dive they faced succumbing to the bends, attacks by sharks and diving in cyclonic weather. Many of these Aboriginal and Asian divers never returned home.
In Free Diving we are drawn into the emotional journey of a young man who is a 'long way from home', . . . 'my people, my country I leave.' With the help of the Malays and Japanese men on board he learns to dive deep for the pearl shells. Bronwyn Houston's colourful pictures add life and dimension to the sensitive text. Her sweeping ocean scenes show both the majesty of the underwater world and dangers faced by the divers.
At the conclusion of this interesting picture book, Lorrae's song is included with the guitar chords as well. Information about the practice of blackbirding and both the author and illustrator's Aboriginal heritage is incorporated too. Free Diving is a useful resource for the Australian Year 5 History curriculum studies of colonial life in Australia in the 1800s. This includes the impact of the Aboriginal, Japanese, Indonesian and Malay pearl divers in Western Australia.
Rhyllis Bignell

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