Welcome To My Country. By Laklak Burarrwanga and family. Published by Allen & Unwin.
In the Yolngu world, we have a library in the land. You can’t destroy it. If you burn it, it grows again. The land is full of more knowledge than you can imagine.
“We can go anywhere and see a river, hill, tree, rock telling a story,” says Laklak Burarrwanga, an Aboriginal elder in Arnhem Land.
Her Country is centred on a glorious beach with crystal waters full of fish, turtle, crab and stingray, to hunt. The land around it has bush fruits, pandanus for weaving, wood for spears, and countless other resources.
Not only does Bawaka Country sustain a proud and successful Indigenous community, it is also rich with meaning. As a teacher in the local community and the owner (with her family) of a local tourism business, Laklak has spent a lifetime sharing her knowledge.
Welcome To My Country takes her people’s stories to a broader audience. It’s a wonderfully engaging and heartening account of Yolngu life at a physical, artistic, spiritual and political level.
Although Laklak shares her own story, from her long walk across Arnhem Land as a child to her first overseas trip and beyond, the book is very much a collaborative effort involving six Yolngu women and three non-indigenous women who have been working closely with them since 2006.
The publisher has recommended the book for teens aged 14 to 16, but people of all ages will take something away from it. Told in a delightful conversational style, as though you might be sitting down with the family, the stories are warm, inviting and gloriously illustrated with happy snaps of people, artworks and idyllic landscapes.
In a fascinating chapter on bushfoods and natural farming, Laklak says: “When my grandmothers collected food, they saved it in a basket and shared it. Now we are putting our knowledge in the basket and we share it – mother to grandchildren – and now you have to share it with your family.”
The sharing of these stories will build more bridges between Australia’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities than any political movement could ever hope to achieve.
Photos from Welcome To My Country, reprinted with the permission of Allen & Unwin.
Top photo: Sandie Suchet-Pearson. Other three photos: Kate Lloyd.