Last week saw the return of two of our program team, Tina and Nicole, from their field trip to the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands. These Indigenous lands cover a vast area, across SA. With ILF Ambassador, and renowned illustrator, Alison Lester in tow, they set out with the mission of visiting Amata playgroup to launch our Book Buzz program and to produce two new board books in language. In true ILF fashion, much more was squeezed into the 5 day trip, including workshops with school children at Amata and Mutitjulu, and opening up a free ILF Book Shop.
First up was Amata - a town that genuinely loves language, loves art, and loves books. A flight to Yulara (Uluru) was followed by a beautiful, red dusty drive to Amata. As Nicole put it, “The weather was clear; the road was red. As expected, it had not rained.” Around sunset they arrived, slightly crimson, to the medium-sized township of around 450 people, where the community is built around the school – not just in terms of location.
A good sleep in their “luxury” accommodation (dongas attached to the school) prepped them for a huge day of workshops ahead. Greeted with excited faces and an overwhelmingly warm welcome from three generations of the community - kids, mothers and grandmothers - it was clear this visit was a special event for the school.
Nicole describes being around Alison during this welcome like “walking in with Beyonce.” With the next few days bringing her an endless stream of drawings done by the kids, and always being first preference as storyteller of books thrust upon her, she was given the total celebrity treatment.
Collaborative illustration workshops were run every day involving all three generations; with babies and toddlers playing their part by creating painted pieces of paper, for mothers and grandmothers to then draw on. Animals and food were brought to life on paper, through an Amata-style blend of design; involving a mix of line and dot work. This is quite rare in children’s illustrations, according to Nicole, as it combines both traditional and modern practices.
Alison was also lucky enough to have award-winning artist Barbara Moore on side to assist. As one of the top Indigenous artists in the region, as well as grandmother to multiple children at the school, Barbara is much-loved and respected in the community – which only encouraged other elders and mothers to participate in the artwork even more.
It became evident very quickly that the kids at Amata are drawn to books, consistently seeking adults to sit down with them for story time. Nicole even had one toddler sit her down and read to her the ‘Dear Zoo’ book - written totally in English - animatedly translating all the animals featured in the book into local Pitjantjatjara language. Clearly, language is deeply rooted in culture here, appreciated and loved.
As done in previous years, and to much delight from the students, the ‘ILF Bookshop’ in the library was also run again. Here, students got to select their own books from a smorgasbord of Book Supply selections laid out before them, to pack away into their bright yellow backpacks and take home. Tina noted following this that non-fiction books and the few Disney books were clearly the favourites with kids.
While the workshops at the Playgroup were the main focus of the trip, exploring the township also created many special, lasting memories. Days were started peacefully with sunrise (and slightly fly-filled) walks around the outskirts of town, and ended each night with the sounds of church music filling the air, as a man bellowed out tunes on a mic (reliably at 7.30pm sharp, each night).
They also managed to squeeze in an absolute must for the town – a visit to the local art centre, Tjala Arts. There’s something about this town that elicits a real artistic energy - with many famous Indigenous artists being featured in the centre. Many respected elders from the local area, and surrounds, are exhibited, as well as some incredible talent coming out of some younger emerging local artists. It’s also hugely community-driven, with all proceeds going back into the local community. Our Foundation has also been connected with and has received a lot of support from Tjala Arts over the years, so the ladies were really excited to finally visit. All of them managed to walk away content, having each purchased some of Barbara’s beautiful work.
After three hardworking, yet deeply fulfilling, days of workshops at Amata, illustrations and text for two boardbooks for babies and toddlers were produced. The illustrations are brimming with beautiful paintings and white liners produced mainly by the grandmothers and mothers, with words put together with the support of the language teacher, Muna. At the Playgroup celebration, bookpacks that were gifted to the kids remained proudly on their backs (some as big, if not bigger than the kids themselves). Barbara’s departing words to Tina and Alison were, “Thank you for coming out. We enjoyed doing the artwork and we know these books are going to be good for our little ones.”
Back in Uluru, the final day of the trip started with the “Fields of Light” sunrise tour. Up at 4am and on the bus by 5am, they journeyed to the middle of the desert to witness the incredible art installation by celebrated artist Bruce Munro.
With just a few hours remaining until their flight back to Sydney, the last stop of the trip was a visit to Mutitjulu. This small town is intimately nestled at the base of a national treasure – Uluru. Nicole recalls the ever-evolving vibrancy of the rock, with its unique ability to transform from deep oranges, to bright reds, to purple blues, all dependent on the time and the sun.
If the ladies thought they received a warm welcome at Amata, the welcome here was boiling hot. The joy for being at school and learning at Mutitjulu was palpable.
First came Storytime - with perhaps the most captivated audience Alison had ever read to. Excited to learn, and wholly engaged, the students then participated in illustration workshops with Alison. They jumped right into the task of using crayons, black fine liners and watercolours to create images of animals familiar to them – which was anything from dogs to dinosaurs.
And with this being the last stop of their five-day journey, it was time to jump on a plane back to Sydney and Melbourne. They said goodbye to the central desert (and the flies), leaving with text and illustrations for two beautiful board books written in Pitjantjatjara, and leaving behind what will hopefully inspire a deepened love for language, art and books in both communities.