Amy McQuire: Day Break

Illustrated by Matt Chun

Published by Little Hare Books, Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing, 2021

I remember sitting at the kitchen table the day before Australia Day this year and asking my daughter how she would be spending that annual holiday. Her response was to go to work as usual and take the holiday any other day but that one. It made me pause for a moment and think again about what I had gained at the expense of what others had lost. When we reflect upon Australia Day from the perspective of those whose land this has belonged to for so many tens of thousands of years, then our response to it must also be challenged.

Day Break confronts this uncomfortable truth and tells the story of how one family from three different generations approaches Australia Day.

At school, a young girl learns that January 26 marks the day “that white men discovered our country.” At home, her father tells her that his ancestors were already here for many thousands of years. And Nan says that they will not be celebrating the day by sleeping in or eating fish and chips or going to the beach, instead they will be going back to Country and remembering those who died and lost everything when British settlers came to this land.  

Amy McQuire is a Darumbal and South Sea Islander mother and journalist from Rockhampton in Queensland and in this picture book she has written a narrative not only for her two young children, but for all Aboriginal children so that they can see themselves and their place in Australian history.

The story is a gentle but forceful reminder of what happened more than 200 years ago, the survival of the Indigenous people and their continuing fight for recognition as custodians and owners of this land in the past, present and future.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4 years and above, and below are more suggestions for picture books which help us to understand Country and what it means to be an Indigenous person in Australia:

My Culture and Me
by Gregg Dreise

I Saw, We Saw
by Yolnu Students of
Nhulunbuy Primary School,
with Ann James and Ann Haddon

Took the Children Away
by Archie Roach
Illustrations by Ruby Hunter

Welcome to Country
by Aunty Joy Murphy
Illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

Sea Country
by Aunty Patsy Cameron
Illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

by Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson Illustrated by Jasmine Seymour

My People by Eddie Betts

Coming Home to Country
by Bronwyn Bancroft

Wilam: a Birrarung Story
by Aunty Joy Murphy
and Andrew Kelly
Illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

Walking in Gagudju Country: exploring the Monsoon Forest
by Diane Lucas and Ben Tyler Illustrated by Emma Long

Baby Business by Jasmine Seymour

Finding Our Heart: a story about the Uluru Statement
for young Australians
by Thomas Mayor
Illustrated by Blak Douglas

Cooee Mittigar:
a story of Darug Songlines
by Jasmine Seymour
Illustrated by
Leanne Mulgo Watson

Sorry Day by Coral Vass
Illustrated by Dub Leffler

My Story by Shirley Purdie

Main Abija: My Grandad
by Karen Rogers

Mark Wilson: Eureka! A Story of the Goldfields

Illustrated by the author

Published by Hachette Australia, 2019

I had a conversation with my daughter this morning about the chance developments of chosen pathways in our lives. She was reflecting on the good fortune of being involved in her current project and having acquired the skills to do it based on all the previous things she had said “yes” to in her life. Being open to new experiences, taking a risk, speaking to a stranger, applying for a new job, moving to a new home, making the most of once-in-a-life-time opportunities all combine to give us a set of skills, a mindset and a will to squeeze the juice out of life and lead us on to paths that we never expected to find ourselves trekking.

Mark Wilson takes us to the goldfields in Ballarat in his latest picture book. I wish I had learnt Australian history this way. It begins with a daughter and father, newly arrived from London, pushing a barrow holding all their meagre belongings, trudging to Ballarat. It had taken 9 months for the ship to make the long journey from England to Australia and now, without wife or mother, they face an uncertain future in a new land. Of course, they are not the first people to arrive and the Ballarat fields stretching out before them are teeming with prospectors, all searching for those elusive nuggets of gold.

A chance encounter with Chen, a young Chinese boy who is about 16 years old, sets the course for their lives. He welcomes them to his camp and offers them their first hot mug of tea. Chen’s bravery is remarkable. He has travelled to Australia on his own to make his fortune so that he can return to China with enough money to bring his family here.

The story goes on to include the racism many Chinese men and women experienced in the 1800s, the hefty fees required to buy mining licences and tools, the police and soldiers harshly enforcing the law, the hardships endured by the prospectors when food and money ran out, and the miners banding together to fight against the licence fees, voting rights and land ownership. History records this as the fight at the Eureka Stockade in 1854, a terrible battle where many more miners died than soldiers and police. It is also the beginning of Peter Lalor’s rise to fame and prominence.

It sounds like a lot to include in a picture book, but Mark Wilson has done it marvellously in words and pictures. The best part is that this story was inspired by the real-life adventures of Catherine Martin and her husband Pan Ah Shin who met on the goldfields of Ballarat. A chance encounter that altered the course of their lives and the lives of those who came after them. There is a wonderful photo of some of their descendants at the back of the book with more information about the Eureka Rebellion.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 5-10 years, and below I have included other picture books which explore the lives of early settlers and their impact upon the land and the indigenous people they encountered:

My Name is Lizzie Flynn:
A Story of the Rajah Quilt
by Claire Saxby
Illustrated by Lizzy Newcomb

Once by Kate Forsyth
Illustrated by Krista Brennan

Meet…Captain Cook by Rae Murdie Illustrated by Chris Nixon

Meet…Banjo Patterson
by Kristin Weidenbach
Illustrated by
James Gulliver Hancock

Meet…Ned Kelly
by Janeen Brian
Illustrated by Matt Adams

Jandamarra by Mark Greenwood Illustrated by Terry Denton

William Bligh: a stormy story of tempestuous times
by Michael Sedunary
Illustrated by Bern Emmerichs

The Unlikely Story of
Bennelong and Phillip
by Michael Sedunary
Illustrated by Ben Emmerichs

Amazing Australian Women: Twelve Women
Who Shaped History
by Pamela Freeman
Illustrated by Sophie Beer