Black cockatoo by Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler

cover image

Magabala Books, 2018. ISBN 9781925360707
(Age: 11+) Highly recommended. Mia sees her brother Jy firing stones at birds with his shanghai. Among the fallen birds there is a dirrarn black cockatoo, and Mia defiantly gathers it up and wrapping it in her arms carries it inside to her bedroom hoping to nurse it to recovery. Her jawiji grandfather scolds her brother and tells him that he is doing the wrong thing by their culture.
It is never actually stated in the book, but the reader soon realises that this is an Aboriginal family. Mia's grandparents retain their culture despite experiences of being rounded up and losing family to the stolen generations, and they share their traditional values and cultural beliefs with their family. But Jy is becoming less respectful and is drawn into cruel and thoughtless games with other unruly teenagers. Mia is trying to follow a 'both ways' path, gradually discovering her totemic connection to the dirrarn, and also studying hard at school.
A deceptively simple story, enhanced by fine-detailed black and white drawings portraying Australian wildlife and surroundings, "Black Cockatoo" cleverly draws the reader into a greater understanding of culture and Country. The teasing humour and banter between family members is very natural and reveals warm and loving relationships. Words from the Jaru language and Aboriginal English are included in the text in a way that makes the meaning clear, so whilst there is a glossary at the end, there is really no need to refer to it.
Authors Merrison and Hustler bring their understanding of Indigenous teenagers growing up in a remote town - Merrison works with young Aboriginal boys through the Clontarf Academy and Hustler was a high school English teacher at Halls Creek, Western Australia. Their book will surely be welcomed by children in those areas, as a welcome reflection of their culture and experiences, but it is also a story that children anywhere can relate to, with its themes of exploring identity and overcoming bullying.
I would recommend this authentic Australian story for all school libraries, but it would make a particularly appropriate addition to the collection for the International Year of Indigenous Language, 2019, as it includes living Aboriginal languages in a way that is very natural and easy to understand and appreciate. Teacher's notes are available.
Helen Eddy