Books & Literature

Book Review: Gurawul the Whale, by Max Dulumunmun Harrison, illustrated by Laura La Rosa

NON-FICTION: More than 70 years ago, the ancient legend of Gurawul the whale was passed down to Yuin Elder Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison by his grandfather and uncles. He promised them that one day he would travel to the southern land, Tasmania, and search for the whale dreaming of their Ancestors.

Max Dulumunmun Harrison’s dedication to celebrating the journey of Gurawul is an absorbing dive into the history, science and dreaming of whale migration.

Feature image credit: Magabala books

Max Dulumunmun Harrison (1936–2021), Elder of the Yuin Nation, was committed to bridging cultures and sharing his wisdom and knowledge with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Time spent walking on Country with his grandfather and uncles built great respect for nature and an understanding of the importance of maintaining connection to the land. Alongside his work in a range of social services, Max passed on the “living treasures” of his life, teaching others about culture and identity.

Gurawul the Whale, his second book (My People’s Dreaming was published in 2009), is a tale within a tale. The mighty sea creature’s yearly journey from cold country to warm country holds lessons on “places to be, to rest, to eat, and the places to stay away from.” Equally intriguing is Max Dulumunmun Harrison’s quest to honour the memory of his grandfather and uncles — espected Elders who gave him the Dreaming story and set him on a path to travel the southern land and experience the whale’s teachings for himself.

Gurawul the Whale is arranged in chapters. Foreword, preface, acknowledgements, notes, and creator bios bookend the sections on The Promise — Max’s commitment to confirming and passing on the stories of his Ancestors. It’s a multilayered and richly rewarding read. Lore and science intersect in the retelling of whale migration, bunyip encounters, sacred dance, and song.

Laura La Rosa’s black-and-white illustrations are plentiful and perfectly depict aspects of Gurawul’s journey. La Rosa, who works as a writer, critic, designer and illustrator, is a Dharug and Calabrian woman living on Dharug Country. Gurawul the Whale is her first book illustration project.

Towards the end of the book, colour photographs show Uncle Max and friends at a key site on a mountain outside St Helens, in Tasmania. It is here that Max, just before his 80th birthday, was finally able to confirm all that he’d been told by “the old fellas.” In the ancient rock markings, he’d found what he’d been looking for.

As Uncle Max sadly passed away in 2021, his experiences and stories have been recorded by his grandson, Dwayne Bannon-Harrison. The result is a beautiful publication that leads the reader to unexpected destinations and points of reflection.

Reviewed by Jo Vabolis

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: Magabala Books
Released: May 2023
RRP: $35

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