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Rosemaree Whitehead: my favourite Indigenous based stories for kids

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Indigenous Primary School teacher standing front of Indigenous artwork of Honey ants and dots in circles on a brown background.
Primary School teacher – Rosemaree Whitehead
14 Dec 2018

Primary School teacher, Rosemaree Whitehead, is a Gangalidda Woman from Doomadgee in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland.

Rose started working at Griffith public school in NSW as an Aboriginal Education assistant, supporting the Aboriginal Children and their learning.

’I really enjoyed it. I could see if I was a teacher how much of a difference I could make to a child’s life by being in that classroom and encouraging them to learn,’ Rose said.

‘I wish I could have had that when I was growing up.’

Rose has been a primary school teacher for 15 years and is so grateful to have completed her teaching degree.

’I’m actually influencing and changing children’s lives; that’s a dream come true,’ Rose said.

In the lead up to the school holidays we sat down with Rose and asked her to share her favourite books that are either written by Aboriginal authors or are influenced by Indigenous people. They include:

The Rabbits by John Marsden

‘The reason I love this book is it’s so powerful. There’s a lot of learning in it and I’m really passionate about when we teach children about the British colonisation of this country and that we do it from a balanced point of view,’ Rose said.

‘The author is so clever the way he used the Rabbits to take over and how he used the Aboriginal people as the Numbats. Not many people knew about them and they were becoming extinct, so I can see why the author used those animals to represent the non-Aboriginal people and Aboriginal people. That in itself is a learning for the students; to know why the author used those animals.’

’I think you could go forever with the learning you can get from that book. You can do a Venn diagram with the rabbits’ needs and the numbats’ needs in the book and you can see that the common need is land. They both want the land. ‘

’I love this book because it teaches the reader about reconciliation and I think every educator should use it in their learning.’

Going for Oysters by Jeanie Adams and Pigs and Honey by Jeanie Adams

Two book covers side by side. At left: Going for Oysters shows an Indigenous woman holding a young Indigenous baby on her hip. At right: Pigs and Honey featuring three Indigenous individuals and a dog.

’These books were written by a non-Indigenous teacher working in the remote community Kowanyama. The books tell the stories that the Aboriginal students told their teacher what they would do on the weekends,’ Rose said.

‘I really love reading these books to my class to give them an idea of what living in a remote Aboriginal community is like.’

‘The books show that although they don’t have fast food restaurants and grocery stores down the street, they can go out to the bush and have a lovely day out finding a nourishing meal, looking for pigs and wild honey or going to the sea and getting their seafood. It’s such a wonderful laid back lifestyle.’

‘They are things that I love doing when I go home to my community. I can see the Aboriginal kids reading those books and feeling a connection to them.’

Mad Magpie by Gregg Dreise and Kookoo Kookaburra by Gregg Dreise

Two book covers. At left Mad Magpie featuring a magpie in flight with traditional designs behind it. At right: Kookoo Kookaburra featuring a kookaburra on a yellow background.

‘The author’s name is Gregg Dreise and he’s a Kamilaroi man. Gregg’s stories are similar to dreamtime stories. My favourite one is Mad Magpie. This one is about the magpie who always gets angry because he’s being bullied by the butcher birds,’ Rose explains.

‘The Magpie learns from the other animals to be calm like water and eventually he takes their advice.’

‘The Butcher Birds always stay in groups and will say mean things like “you’re ugly” and the magpie gets very angry. This is also a reflection of people as well, for some students get angry when people call them names. This book can teach students to not react when people call them names.’

‘The other animals told Magpie to fly away when they start to pick on him or tell them to go away but they kept on taunting him. Instead Magpie learns to sing and he noticed when he sang he could drown out the noise of their taunting and insults. The butcher birds flew away because they didn’t get a reaction from Magpie.’

‘Bullying is such a major problem in our schools and society. I think that Gregg has captured how to address bullies perfectly.’

‘Koo Koo Kookaburra is also about bullying. The Kookaburra starts out telling funny jokes but then didn’t have an audience so he started to be mean and make fun of people.’

‘He was taught by the other animals to be kinder and eventually realises kindness is like a boomerang, it comes back if you give out kindness. Once he started being nice with his stories, he got an audience again and had lots of friends’.

Stolen Girl by Trina Saffioti

‘Trina is an Aboriginal woman from Queensland. This story is based on the stories that her mum and grandma told her. I really like it because it’s about the Stolen Generations. She tells the story of what happened with her family and her story is very similar to what happened to my mum when she was taken away, ‘Rose said.

‘I appreciated the way the author talks about their daily life in camp and how she always wanted to go home to her mum.‘

‘She starts to think about how she would sneak away, practicing how many steps it would take to get to the gate and what she would do when she got to the river.’

‘Eventually she opens the door and goes on the journey to find her family.’

Big Rain Coming by Katrina Germein

Big Rain Coming is another great book. The illustrator Bronwen Bancroft recently visited a local high school and we were lucky enough to go meet her,’ Rose shared.

‘This book is about old man Stephan telling everyone big rains are coming and no-one knows how he knows. It’s amazing how Aboriginals know at certain times of the year that certain flowers will bloom or certain animals are available to hunt. They know that it’s going to rain soon; sometimes they can even smell it in the air. They have this built in sense about the weather and what’s happening.’

‘My mum told me we are connected through the land, sea, sky, animals and trees; we are all related in the kinship way. We have responsibility to each other, she said, when we go outside and look up at the sun. She calls him uncle and I call him grandpa.’

‘Mum would hear all the old people saying “Go away uncle under the clouds it’s too hot for you to be out today. They would talk to them like people and have that connection with nature.’

‘Every time I go home to my community I love it because up in Queensland, its either wet season or dry season; no summer, winter, autumn or spring,’ Rose said.

These books are so important to keep culture going through the classrooms and wider community.

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