Back on country by Adam Goodes and Ellie Laing. Illus. by David Hardy

cover image

Somebody’s land and Ceremony have showcased the collaboration between Adam Goodes and Ellie Laing with books that have informed and entertained younger children about the people of the First Nations. Now a third book has been added to their repertoire, one that explains in a story what the land means to this family.

Lucy and David travel to the Flinders Ranges, Adnyamathanha country in the Mid North of South Australia. Here Mum is going back to where she came from, showing her children the country, her relatives, the stories and the environment in which she was raised. With bright engaging illustrations the group goes camping to see what being on country is all about.

As they sleep under the stars, her father sings songs to the children, using words from his language, words reflected in the illustrations. At breakfast they are woken by the loud noise of a wdhingala and ready themselves for the day. Their day includes a walk to the wirra, the family’s special tree, one that has drawn their ancestors to its canopy for many years. Overhead they spy an eagle, and they move on to an ochre pit and paint their faces. Sheltering in a cave they see drawings done by the people who lived here years before, and the remnants of a shelter, now a pile of sticks on the ground. Adniyini tells them that they are part of the Ararru or Mathari, either the north wind or the south wind a delineation which tells them who they can marry when they are older. By the campfire that night, the children are impressed with the night sky so different from the one they see at home and they are told that the sky is like a map which shows them where to go and tells them about the seasons. The next day the children see their mother painting under a tree and come over to her. She unfurls a piece of canvas for them to draw their memories of being back on country. They have learnt so much about their country, its traditions and customs, the  environment. Their efforts are shown on the last double page encouraging the readers to reprise their journey with them, adding the Adnyamathanha words they have learnt.

The illustrations show the sort of country in the mid and upper north of South Australia, with river red gums, dry dusty river beds, mountains and caves, ochre pits, and birds and animals that can be found thee. Readers will love spotting the detail on each page, asking for their faces to be painted, or a night out under the stars, as they to learn what it is like to be back on country.

Writers, Adam Goodes and Ellie Laing have produced a story that reflects what being on country means for people of the First Nations, encouraging empathy from all readers as they travel the same path. An activity sheet is available.

Themes: Aboriginal themes, Adnyamathanha, Flinders Ranges, Family.

Fran Knight