BOOK REVIEW | WELCOME TO COUNTRY
By Charlotte Pordage
Wominjeka Wurundjeri balluk yearmenn koondee bik. The warmth in these words is immediately felt as Aunty Joy gladly receives the reader into her community.
Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin is the Senior Aboriginal Elder of the Wurundjeri people, and her new children’s book, Welcome to Country, provides an introduction to the customs and symbols of her community, fostering intercultural understanding and communication in an accessible format.
The Wurundjeri people occupy the Birrarung (Yarra River) Valley, its tributaries and the present location of Melbourne, and form part of the Kulin nation, an alliance of five indigenous tribes in south central Victoria. Her words are specific to the Wurundjeri community and she explains that every community has its own way of welcoming to country.
A welcome ceremony is a cultural greeting performed by the Elders of a community, who give permission for visitors to enter their traditional lands. Even neighbouring indigenous communities must seek permission before stepping into land that does not belong to their people.
While most non-indigenous Australians have some experience of a welcome ceremony, through seeing its performance at the opening of special events or official functions, they may not be fully aware of its significance and meaning within indigenous communities.
Active in Aboriginal issues for over thirty years, Aunty Joy has been a member of both the Equal Opportunity Commission of Victoria and the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal. In 2006 she was made an officer of the Order of Australia “for her service to the community, through significant contributions in the fields of social justice, land rights, equal opportunity, art and reconciliation.”
In a tone that is both affectionate and reverent, Aunty Joy explains the connection the Wurundjeri community have to the land, a symbiotic relationship that ensures humans and nature live in harmony. Indigenous people nurture the land and the land, in turn, nurtures them, providing they do not take more than they can give back.
Each page only contains one or two sentences, allowing Lisa Kennedy’s magical illustrations ample room to bring the text to life. Vivid blues, greens and reds highlight the richness and beauty of the land, while Lisa’s style of layering multiple paints on top of one other lends each illustration a tactile quality, which evokes the familiar textures of the earth and creates a stunning depth of colour.
A descendant of the Trawlwoolway people on the north-east coast of Tasmania, Lisa was born in Melbourne and grew up close to the Maribyrnong River. Through a sense of place she feels connected to the Wurundjeri people and all that entails – the water, the land, the animals and the ancestors – and explores the themes of loss and reclamation in her work.
Overall, Welcome to Country is a captivating children’s book that provides a simple and engaging look into indigenous culture and its importance in contemporary Australia.