Possums and Tall Trees is one of our first 2017 Community Literacy Projects that will be published and gifted to a number of communities that speak Arabana language. ILF travelled with an artist and designer to work with Marree Aboriginal School children to illustrate a traditional Arabana story written by Thanti Syd Strangways. This traditional story is told in English and Arabana and was about a time when Arabana country was full of very tall, leafy trees in which many possum families lived.
Last month, we visited remote South Australia with designer Steven Dunbar and artist Susan Dodd, to Marree Aboriginal School, 685 kilometres north of Adelaide. Marree community sits at the junction between the Oodnadatta and Birdsville tracks and in the peak, winter, season has thousands of visitors. Not so many in the hot season – it’s just too hot to be outside during the day. Life is lived indoors during this period – everyone staying cool inside their air-conditioned homes. About 150 people live in Marree, and it sits on Ngurabanna (Arabana) country, an area of 69,000 square kilometres. The Ngurabanna are Australia’s biggest individual tribe.
This was ILF’s first visit to the Marree Aboriginal School where we were warmly welcomed into the school’s cool buildings by head teacher Janeen and her staff and their sixteen students. We were there to work with the students to illustrate a traditional Arabana story that had been written down by Thanti Syd Strangways. The story is told in English and Arabana, which delighted Janeen as they have few resources in Arabana language.
This traditional story was about a time when Arabana country was full of very tall leafy trees in which many possum families lived. The possums got very fat eating those leaves and the Arabana people enjoyed catching and killing the plump possums for food. This went on for a while until one of the old men realised that if they kept eating and killing the possums at the rate they were, there wouldn’t be any left. So it was decided that no more possums would be killed. That must have been some time ago as today there are no tall trees or possums on Arabana country.
Susan led the illustration workshops and she showed the kids some new techniques, creating some interesting backgrounds by letting the paint run across the paper. All the students wanted to have a go at this and they were impressed with the effects they achieved. Over the two days the students created some wonderful artwork, which we will be using to illustrate the bilingual story of Possums and Tall Trees. The book will be one of our first 2017 Community Literacy Projects that will be published and gifted to a number of communities that speak Arabana language.
And of course, we came with boxes of books, ILF book bags and ILF T-shirts. There was great excitement as the students chose their books, putting them safely in their book bags. A peak into one of the classrooms a little while later saw them all sitting quietly reading their new books - is there a better sight?
We had a few books left over and the school was grateful to add them to their small library.
In our short time, we were made to feel very welcome and look forward to returning to the Marree Aboriginal School with the potential of producing more books with the students, and we can’t wait to gift this unique book to communities on Arabana country.