Yakanarra Song Book provides a glimpse into the life of an isolated Indigenous community
According to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF), in remote parts of Australia, only one in ten Indigenous students meet national minimum standards for reading and writing.
But he wants to reverse these figures, and as part of the Native Literacy Day They Have launched four books depicting stories from over 15 remote communities, providing insight into their lives.
One of these books is the Yakanarra Song Book, illustrating life in the remote community of Western Australia.
In collaboration with well-known author and illustrator Ms. Lester, the book was written and illustrated by community school students and Yakanarra alumni.
What makes this book so special is that it is made up of songs in both English and the traditional language.
She said she was excited to work with communities to help them publish language books.
âI think for the children it’s very difficultâ¦ to learn to read in a language that is not your mother tongue,â Ms. Lester said.
“But if you can learn to read in your own language, that will be much better.”
She said the book will also give white middle-class Australian children a glimpse into life in the Yakanarra community, as well as learning a few Indigenous words.
Ms. Lester described Yakanarra as a “beautiful little isolated community” located 60 kilometers southwest of Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley region of WA.
“It’s a very beautiful country, a wild desert, a huge sky,” she said.
Elders’ mission to save the language
Ms Lester had already helped produce a number of books with the community when she heard about songs created by Elders in the 1980s and 1990s.
Two elders, Mary Purnjurr Vanbee and Jessie Wamarla Moora, had worked with the community to create the songs in the main Walmajarri language, to ensure that the children kept their language.
“Because they were being taught in English at school and feared losing their language,” Ms Lester said.
Ms. Lester and musician Chris Aitken recorded some of the songs, and Ms. Lester then worked with the students to illustrate each song in the book.
âWhen they got down to work, they created these beautiful, fresh, vibrant watercolors that illustrated the book,â she said.
Yakanarra’s eldest Ms Vanbee helped translate the book and said the songs covered topics such as where animals sleep, what they eat, as well as swimming and fishing songs.
Ms Vanbee, Ms Moora and students from Yakanarra School came from their community to perform songs from the book on the Sydney Opera House stage.
Aboriginal Literacy Foundation Ambassadors Josh Pyke and Aitken performed alongside the students.
“Learning English helps to open doors”
Karen Williams, executive director of the ILF, said their vision is to give every child living in remote communities the same opportunities and access to literacy resources.
She said the current statistics for Indigenous literacy levels are appalling, with little change in the numbers over the past 10 years.
“If anyone looks at the NAPLAN results of the past 10 years, it is appalling that a wealthy country like Australia has such shocking statistics,” she said.
“We’re not saying English should be the most important part of their education, they should learn to read and write in their own language.
“But they have to learn to communicate effectively in English in order to continue their education and find a job – so that they can read a medical script, or their medicine bottle, just to participate in the world around us.”