Once upon a dreamtime

A STORYTELLING festival boasting Australia’s first all-indigenous line-up of presenters could help overcome a dire shortage of Noongar literature for kids.

The Woylie Festival was the brainchild of local kids’ bookshop owner Jennifer Jackson, who wanted to add some works by local Aboriginal authors to her shelves, only to find there were hardly any available.

She resorted to importing titles from the other side of the country, but through discussions with publishers such as Broome’s Magabala Books realised there was a growing demand for local Dreamtime stories that just needed a catalyst.

“Because Aboriginal literature is now on the curriculum, teachers and students want the books, but there’s not much around other than what Kim Scott had put out,” Ms Jackson told the Voice.

• Jennifer Jackson, Alison Nannup, Rachel Bin Salleh, Anna Moulton, Kerry-Ann Winmar, Noel Nannup and Cassie Lynch hope the Woylie festival will help get Noongar stories onto bookshelves. Photo by Steve Grant

Miles Franklin

She convinced Fremantle council to support the festival and soon had a who’s who of WA indigenous literature signed up, including Scott, who’s a dual Miles Franklin Award winner, Sally Morgan, Josie Boyle, Noel Nannup and Ambelin Kwaymullina.

The inaugural festival will take place over Easter, Ms Jackson hoping to capitalise on the crowds attracted to the Fremantle Street Arts Festival to give it a big kickstart.

Dr Nannup, who played a big part in helping shape the festival, says there have been a combination of factors behind the low number of published Noongar stories.

“If you talk to our mob in the community it’s not our highest priority, which is to put food on the table and keep our kids safe,” he said.

“There are people coming through that spent time with the elders, but one of the main impediments has been…our good people who work in the industry were gobbled up and put into jobs in offices.”

Dr Nannup said education was also an issue: as a youngster he didn’t expect to receive much schooling, and says the opportunity to know pass on his storytelling knowledge to youngsters is very exciting. These days he’s employed as a consulting elder by Edith Cowan University and last year was named male elder of the year at Perth’s NAIDOC awards.

He says there was also a great lag between Noongar elders leaving the missions and passing on their stories to the next generation, but he says despite the gaps that created, he’s confident it can be recovered.

“You can recover the loss, because the spirit will not let it die.”

Magabala Books publisher Rachel Bin Salleh attended this week’s launch of the festival and says while the addition of Aboriginal literature to the school curriculum was welcome, there had been some in the industry trying to cash in by employing white authors to write Aboriginal stories and only using indigenous artists for the illustrations.

She said the Woylie Festival was a great way to empower the authors to ensure the integrity of important local stories.

The Woylie Festival kicks off Friday March 30 at the Moore’s Building on Henry Street with a welcome to country by Aunty Marie Taylor at 10am.

by STEVE GRANT

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