Review Blog

Jan 27 2009

Stories from the billabong by James Vance Marshall and Francis Firebrace

cover image

Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2008. ISBN 9781845077044
(Age: 8+) I approached this book with trepidation. The cover, colour and illustrations all reminded me of many illustrated books from the 1950s and 1960s when books of Aboriginal stories were first produced, without Aboriginal verification or involvement and told wholly from a European perspective. These books told Aboriginal stories as if there was one nation, without regard for the variety and difference between the groups spread over an area larger than Europe.
Dipping into this book I found, initially that I was wrong. There is regard for Aboriginal ownership. Stories are authenticated and the illustrations are done by Francis Firebrace, a Yorta-Yorta man from the northern Victoria, southern New South Wales region. Acknowledgment is given on the fly leaf that the stories are from the Yorta-Yorta people, and in the introduction on page 6, a nod is given again to those people.
But going further, the stories are from a range of areas. They are not all from the Yorta-Yorta people, nor do they remain in the Murray River district of western Victoria. The stories range from Central Australia (The lizard-man and the creation of Uluru) to Northern Australia (Why brolgas dance and How the crocodile got its scales) to Queensland (Why frogs can only croak). And I cannot imagine many of them being told around a campfire in the Australian desert, as most are set in much wetter areas.
So I was disappointed. There is a need for a well illustrated, educational book of authenticated Aboriginal stories reflecting the range and variety of Australian flora, fauna and land forms, involving Aboriginal people in all stages of production, but this is not it.
Fran Knight

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