Growing up Amy McQuire struggled to find herself in picture books about Australia’s history.
When the Darumbal and South Sea Islander mother searched for Indigenous-centred stories to teach her own young children Elara and Leland about January 26, she found none.
With the next generation in mind, the journalist and academic joined illustrator Matt Chun and created Day Break.
The children’s book tells the story of a family making their way back to country on January 26.
“It’s for all children, but it’s particularly for Aboriginal children to be able to see themselves,” McQuire said.
“The next generation growing up, knowing their true history and learning it particularly from an Aboriginal perspective is going to be really important.”
The PhD candidate said the storyline was inspired by her experience of attending dawn services in Melbourne.
“Mob get around just to remember what happened on January 26 but also afterwards in relation to the successive invasions of Aboriginal lands and all of the trauma that came afterwards,” she said.
“Then I started to think, ‘If you’re not in a capital city you can’t attend a protest, what do mob do?’.
“So it became about a family holding their own ceremony on this day and it contrasts it with what non-Indigenous Australians might do in relation to celebration.
“It becomes not just a commemoration of what happened, but a celebration of our own survival and it’s really a show of remembering and remembering as a form of resistance.”
Although McQuire had plenty of writing experience, crafting a children’s book presented a new challenge.
“You’ve got to breakdown what can sometimes be really complicated concepts into really simple form and less words, and it has to go with the pictures and keep kids interested too,” she said.
“I’ve done a lot of writing around Invasion Day previously but I think this is the most important because it’s about what we tell our kids and what they grow up with.
“That’s been part of the problem throughout the decades in relation to kids not learning their true history and the true history of this country.”
Moving forward together
The author said the reaction from parents and children across Australia had been overwhelming.
“I’ve had a lot of people just contacting me on social media and have said they love the book,” she said.
“It’s also been really heartening to see non-Indigenous children read it because I think that children are a lot more accepting of really unacceptable truths.
“When they get older, because they’ve been educated a certain way it becomes harder to ask these questions — but I think all children ask the most important questions.”
For Chelsea Watego, a Munanjahli, Yugambeh and South Sea Islander mother, hearing her children read the book made her emotional.
“I cried as I watched my children read a story of themselves that provided them with the necessary armour for stepping into the classroom for that first week of school where their newfound classmates celebrate Invasion Day year after year,” she said.
“This has been described as a simple story but it’s in fact quite complex and powerfully captures the dispossessing practices of a school curriculum that still insists upon forgetting that we were here and are still here.”
‘It’s important to change the curriculum’
McQuire said starting the conversation with the next generation was the best way for Australia to move forward.
“That’s why I think it’s important to change the Australian curriculum, so all children grow up with an understanding of true history,” she said.
“What really came out of writing it was that transgenerational teaching — that’s what happened with my grandma and I think all black grandmothers.
“They give these lessons to their grandchildren and their children and that’s the way knowledge is passed down.”
She hoped readers could relate to the book’s emphasis on family and passing down knowledge.
“What really came out was the strength of the black family,” McQuire said.
“When you think about it the whole of colonisation was about breaking up Aboriginal and Indigenous families, so I think that was an important thing to stress.
“Just that the big family unit has really survived and it’s something that we try and keep together.”