9 books in Kriol language, new to our publishing program. Written and illustrated by 13 Binjari women and gifted to Kriol-speaking children in the Katherine region.
Arriving at Darwin airport, smacked with the heat but squirming with nerves and excitement, it was the first time for some to the Northern Territory. Gathered in our group were ILF staff, lifetime volunteers and supporters from HarperCollins Publishers. We were on our way to Katherine to launch a series of nine books written in Kriol language by women from Binjari community.
In Binjari, about 20 kilometres southwest of Katherine, Kriol is the first and dominant language spoken. Denise Angelo, linguist and educator, worked with this inspiring group of 13 women in the small community to produce the books, but the project was very much the women’s initiative.
Initially, they developed some Kriol alphabet charts and a wall dictionary. Then our Foundation, the Australian National University and HarperCollins Publishers came on board. After writing workshops with Denise and illustration workshops with artist Julie Haysom; three board books, three picture books and three chapter books were created, and here we were in Katherine to gift them back to the community and to the surrounding Kriol-speaking playgroups, schools and health centres in the region.
“If the grown-ups are enthused about books, then this provides good role models for the kids reading,” says Denise.
We boarded our Diesel 4WDs and hit the open red roads. The skies were big, blue and clear, but we could tell it was wet season from the intense humidity and lush green scrubland that lined the path.
The launch was held at Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts and Culture Centre in East Katherine, and after packing the award bags, displaying the books, testing the mic, setting the chairs and laying out the food, we waited for the authors and our guests with anticipation. In true ‘Territory time’ our audience of supporters and friends, and many of the organisations that receive our Book Supply program, families of the Binjari authors, and students and teachers from local schools, filled in.
For Cindy Manfong, our Program Coordinator, she was back in her hometown. She welcomed us to her country, and then Program Manager Tina Raye opened the event (with translations in Kriol from local translator Mary-Anne).
“A story well told in language is the best way to experience the joy of reading,” said Tina.
Denise introduced Kriol as a “living language”, and invited the authors to the stage to read their stories. Moli det Bigibigi (Molly the Pig), a true story about a pig in the community who loves Weetbix was a favourite, filling the hall with laughter. The books were officially launched and queues lined up to make orders.
The next stop was Cindy’s childhood school, MacFarlane Primary School. The Binjari women joined us with 80 young students for storytime.
“Who likes books?” said Tina as the children’s hands jumped to the air. “These books are bit different, they are in another language to the other books in this library. Does anyone here speak Kriol?” and more hands shot up.
Mesmerized, the kids that rolled in the doors with barrels of energy, now listened intently, so engaged you could hear a pin drop.
The library was then transformed into a free bookshop as the children raced to choose a book to take home. Proud with their new goodies, they trickled out the door sharing their excitement with each other.
“I got a book about snakes!”
“Mine’s about an emu!”
“Mine’s the A-Z of aaaaall the animals!”
When the Binjari women visited St Joseph's High School the next day (one of the schools that attended the launch), the students were calling for Moli det Bigibigi. With much anticipation, there were more readings and then the students broke into groups to learn some of the Kriol words from Denise.
“The students read in front of the group individually. I think this really surprised the teachers, because they see their students as risk-averse and liable to "shame", but may not usually see the students operate when their linguistic strengths are played to. The teachers joined in as learners and really made the students feel good about already knowing a language that the teachers would like to learn. They were inspired by the students’ "can do" attitude, which was really assisted by the Binjari women,” says Denise.
This project has led to discussions about the importance of learning to read in your first language in the region, and having the right support and resources to do this. We left Katherine feeling so incredibly proud, inspired by the women and excited that this wonderful series is part of our publishing program. These resources are already taking impact in schools and these women have confidence and skills that they did not have before, not to mention they are already planning their next series.
Congratulations to the 13 Binjari women, Halrisha, Marilyn, Milly, Natasha, Rozelle, Sarah, Tasiana, Daniella, Karen, Maureen, Bernadene, Sylvia and Stella, now published authors. Thank you to Denise Angelo who has been the driving force of the project and to HarperCollins Publishers and 1010Printing for bringing the project to life.
By Jane Crowley, ILF Marketing Manager