Wongutha tales: Bawoo stories & Badudu stories by May L. O'Brien

cover image

The delightful and accessible book Wongutha Tales is distinctly set up in two parts. The first half, The Bawoo Stories, are four traditional teaching stories of the Wongutha people. The second half, The Badudu Stories are four stories from the author’s early life as a child of a mission.

The stories were first published individually in 1992 by May O’Brien, a First Nations woman born in 1933 in the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia (WA). Home of the Wongutha people, May’s early life was immersed in traditional culture until at the age of five, May was taken to Mount Margaret Mission where she lived for the next 12 years. May became the first Aboriginal woman to graduate from a tertiary college and taught for 25 years before she became the first Superintendent of Aboriginal Education in WA. May achieved many accolades in her life, fought tirelessly for First Nations people, and died in 2020.

Each of the four classic Indigenous stories in first section are told in English with traditional language used throughout. The Bawoo Stories include How Crows Became Black, Why The Emu Can’t Fly, The Kangaroo Who Wanted to be People and Barn-Barn Barlala, the Bush Trickster. All are told with a distinct message about what happens when the right thing has not been done. The second section contains four stories told with a sense of humour about situations in the Mission where there were misunderstandings due to English not being the first language. In the final pages is information about May L O’Brien as well as a pronunciation guide which would be a valuable teaching resource when looking at First Nations culture.

Themes: First Nations Traditional Teaching Stories, Bilingual, Wongutha Language, Mission Life.

Kathryn Beilby