When Margaret Cossey first met the
Aboriginal elders, they gave her a hard time. "There's
nothing scarier than a mob of Indigenous aunties," she said
They wanted to know why another
middle-age, middle-class white woman was interested in their
stories. What was she up to? What did she know about them? Why
should they help her? What could she do for them?
After the grilling, Aunty Joyce
Ingram, one of the elders, asked Mrs Cossey: "How do you
feel now, girl?"
"How do you bloody think I feel?" Mrs Cossey replied.
"Oh come here girl," Joyce Ingram said. "I'll
give you a cuddle."
Mrs Cossey told the story at
the launch in the NSW Art Gallery of
Readers, the first
contemporary Aboriginal school textbooks, designed to promote
literacy and a wider understanding of Indigenous issues.
The Governor of NSW, Marie
Bashir, calling the 11 books published so far 'a treasure
trove", predicted they would become collectors' items.
Their publication was an occasion with the potential to turn
around the lives of many readers, she said.
The broadcaster and actor Rhoda
Roberts said the idea had first been put to her as a
"Assimilation, integration, reconciliation, here we go again," Ms Roberts had thought.
However, she said, the books had empowered the Aborigines who had written and illustrated them. "You cannot beat a sense of empowerment. We are oral storytellers. It's been a big process for our people to put our stories down.“
The idea for the books came from Mrs Cossey, a special needs teacher in Cootamundra, the town perhaps best known as Don Bradman's birthplace and for the Cootamundra Girls' Home.
Ms Roberts had always associated "Coota" with the home, used to accommodate Aboriginal girls separated from their families. Now the town has a new meaning.
Mrs Cossey had realised that many children's stories did not interest the children to whom she read. She wrote some of her own before consulting Paul Williams, a literacy lecturer at Charles Sturt University, who said: "There are enough books written by middle-aged, middle-class white women. Go out to the communities and ask them for their own stories.“
The first books, for the primary classroom, are the result. Some are written by authors such as Dr Anita
Heiss; others by school students. More are planned, including books by Ms Roberts, the actor-singer Leah Purcell and the sporstmen Michael O'Loughlin and Anthony
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