Books & Literature

Book Review: Sea Country, by Aunty Patsy Cameron & illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

PICTURE BOOK: In this delightful children’s picture book, Aunty Patsy Cameron generously shares the stories and traditions from her family’s seasonal island life in Tasmania.

A glorious depiction of life on Flinders Island through the lens of the culture and traditions of Tasmania’s Pairrebeenne/Trawlwoolway clan.

Flinders Island is one of 52 islands in the Furneaux Group located in Bass Strait, north-east of Tasmania. Magabala Books’ recent publication Sea Country leads young readers on a journey that takes in the shores, skies, and landscapes of this wild, rugged location.

This beautiful book explores the freedom of days spent roaming the bush and beach, practising culture and learning about life on Country. All around are the Aunties and Uncles spending time with the children–watching, teaching, belonging. 

We observe the seasons come and go as the children are encouraged to pay attention to their surroundings. They collect shells on the shoreline at low tide and string them together to make necklaces. While the adults fish in wooden dinghies with nets and long oars, the children search for shellfish, finding whelks, periwinkles, warreners, and limpets to cook and eat. 

Weather changes announce the arrival of the migratory birds that visit the island. Clouds descending over the nearby mountain are a signal that rain and black cockatoos are on the way from the south-east. The blooming of boobyallah flowers heralds the arrival of mutton birds returning in a great wave to reclaim their nests, and the summer sun’s days bring brightly coloured flowers, fruits and berries, and new flavours to explore.

Aunty Patsy Cameron is an Aboriginal Elder, author (Grease and Ochre: The Blending of Two Cultures at the Tasmanian Colonial Sea Frontier), researcher, and cultural historian who is committed to engaging people with Tasmania’s human history. In Sea Country, she weaves her storytelling skills with her family culture and experiences to immerse readers in island life.

Illustrator Lisa Kennedy collaborates with Elders to make accessible the hidden voices of Ancestors and Country. Her previous publications include Welcome to CountryWilam: A Birrarung Story and Respect. Both author and illustrator are descendants of Mannalargenna, warrior and Pairrebeenne/Trawlwoolway clan leader.

There are so many tiny hidden treasures in the illustrations. Lisa Kennedy’s mixed media artwork uses graphite pencil, watercolours, paper collage, and woodblock prints to capture the beauty of the island community living in harmony with their surroundings. Children’s imaginings are depicted in magical, multilayered images that highlight the connection and flow of knowledge between past and present, and the passing of the years. There are also photos and biographical details of the author and illustrator at the end of the book.

Sea Country honours the strength and pride of people living in peaceful balance with the land they are deeply connected to. It delights in the richness of the environment and reminds us to tune in to what’s around us.

Reviewed by Jo Vabolis
Twitter: @JoVabolis

Distributed by: Magabala Books
Released: June 2021
RRP: $24.99

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