A beautiful picture book about the Birrarung (Yarra River), told through the indigenous eyes of Aunty Joy Murphy (a senior Aboriginal Elder of the Wurundjeri People of Melbourne and surrounds), and Andrew Kelly, (the Yarra Riverkeeper - it is the role of the Riverkeeper to speak for the Yarra on behalf of the community).
This gorgeous picture book begins with the quote: “Me no leave it, Yarra, my country. There’s no mountains for me on the Murray”, by Williams Barak in 1874. William Barak was Aunty Joy Murphy’s great, great uncle. Aunty Joy is descended from Barak’s brother Robert Wandin.
We then follow a day in the life of the Yarra from sunrise to sunset. We see all the beautiful fauna and flora that live along the Yarra, and we learn their names in Woiwurrung language. The fauna and flora are very significant to the indigenous. For example, notice that the Bunjil (wedge-tailed eagle) features at the start of the story, soaring over mountain ash, watching over the Birrarung’s journey; and then on the last page sharp-eyed Bunjil is soaring overhead watching everything spread beneath him. In Wurundjeri-Woiwurrung, Bunjil is the creator spirit, and therefore very important.
The very last line of the story is “Birrarung is Wilam to man”. This is the first time we see the word “Wilam” which means “home”.
This is a beautiful peaceful read, and you really feel like you are seeing Birrarung for the first time, seeing it through indigenous eyes, drenched in history, almost feeling ghosts of the past...really feeling that connection. The amazing illustrations have a lot to do with this.
The glossary at the back is very well arranged, and absolutely necessary. It is wonderful how there is a glossary for each page, so you don’t have to go searching for the meaning of each word.
Lisa Kennedy illustrated this book with acrylic paints. Lisa and Aunty Joy have teamed up before, for the picture book “Welcome to Country”. Lisa Kennedy is a descendant of the Trawlwoolway People on the north-east coast of Tasmania. She was born in Melbourne and as a child lived close to the Maribyrnong River. Here she experienced the gradual restoration of the natural river environment alongside cultural regeneration and reclamation.
Through sense of place she feels connected to the Wurundjeri country and all that entails - the water, the land, the animals and the ancestors. The experience of loss and reclamation is embedded in her work. Her indigenous artwork is simply stunning.
Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin is a storyteller and writer and is passionate about using storytelling to help bring about a greater understanding of Aboriginal culture.