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

Family
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

Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson: Respect

Illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

Published by Magabala Books, WA, 2020

A few days ago I was encouraged by my daughter to listen to an On Being podcast hosted by Krista Tippett. In early July, Krista had interviewed Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, and Resmaa Menakem, trauma specialist, not many weeks after George Floyd had been killed. Whilst I had difficulty grasping some of the concepts discussed, I was left with one kernel of truth: the colour of my skin has given me many more advantages and benefits in my own life than I have hitherto been unaware of and, sadly, have failed to recognise and acknowledge.

At the end of her huband’s presidency, Michelle Obama released her book Becoming, and she also does not shy away from the fact that being a person of colour has had an impact upon everything she has achieved and not achieved in her remarkable and inspirational life.

In the light of this, I came across this very special picture book written by Fay Muir and Sue Lawson and illustrated by Lisa Kennedy. Fay is a Boonwurrung Elder and Lisa Kennedy is a descendant of coastal Trawlwoolway people of north-east Tasmania. Sue grew up on a farm in Western Victoria.

Respect is the theme and it encompasses everything: respect for the stories we share, songs we sing, elders from whom we gain insight, ancestors who inform our history, the earth we inhabit, our family, each other and ourselves. The illustrations complement the text and evoke the colours of Australia, as well as showcasing the unique wonder of Aboriginal art and culture. The idea I take away with me from this picture book is that no matter who you are, where you have come from, whatever colour your skin is, whether you are animal or human, respect is the cornerstone of society and harmonious life.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years old and encourage you to look for more titles by Aboriginal authors and illustrators. I have also included Bruce Pascoe’s Young Dark Emu in the list below and recommend it for children 10 years old and above.

Backyard Birds by
Helen Milroy
Little Bird’s Day by
Sally Morgan
Illustrated by
Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr
Why I Love Australia by
Bronwyn Bancroft
Colours of Australia by
Bronwyn Bancroft
Clever Crow by
Nina Lawrence
Illustrated by
Bronwyn Bancroft
By the children of Gununa
with Alison Lester and
Elizabeth Honey
Found by
Bruce Pascoe
Illustrated by
Charmaine Ledden-Lewis
Young Dark Emu:
A Truer History
by Bruce Pascoe
Family by Aunty Fay Muir
and Sue Lawson
Illustrated by
Jasmine Seymour