Cooee Mittigar: A Story on Darug Songlines
About the book
'Cooee Mittigar', meaning 'Come Here Friend', is an invitation to 'yana' (walk), on Darug Country. In this stunning picture book, Darug creators Jasmine Seymour and Leanne Mulgo Watson tell a story on Darug Songlines, introducing children and adults-alike to Darug 'Nura' (Country) and language.
Greeted by Mulgo, the black swan, readers are welcomed to 'Nura'. Journeying through the seasons, Mulgo describes the land, skyscape, birds, animals and totems. It is a gentle guide to how Darug people read the seasons, knowing when it is time to hunt and time to rest.
About the author
Jasmine Seymour is a Darug woman and descendant of Maria Lock, who was the daughter of Yarramundi, the Boorooberongal elder who had met Governor Phillip on the banks of the Hawkesbury River in 1791. Maria was the first Aboriginal woman to be educated by the Blacktown Native Institute. She was married to carpenter and convict, Robert Lock and their union resulted in thousands of descendants who can all trace their Darug heritage back past Yarramundi. Jasmine is a member of the Darug Custodian Aboriginal Corporation.
About the illustrator
Leanne Mulgo Watson
Leanne Mulgo Watson is a Darug artist-educator and is the daughter of Aunty Edna Watson. She has been a director of the Darug Custodian Aboriginal Corporation for many years. 'Cooee Mittigar' is her first book. She says "I had always wanted to create books to share our knowledge, as education is the key to our culture staying strong".
Whilst it is not in any way new for culture and languages to be introduced to young readers through picture books, 'Cooee Mittigar' by Darug women Jasmine Seymour and Leanne Mulgo Watson, approaches this objective in a style that is at once moving, informative, immersive, welcoming and potentially healing. After traversing the organic and tactile design and muted colours of the cover, the reader is led into a textually and visually rich world which, despite being in English and Darug, is in fact a love song to the natural beauty of wider Australia, and the proud traditions of its original inhabitants.
Unlike most other books featuring words from languages other than English, each page of text in this book includes its own mini-glossary, which offers the reader a more seamless experience of understanding the meaning in the text. This means that a very real sense of rhythm is achieved, which is in keeping with the full title: 'Cooee Mittigar—a Story on Darug Songlines'. However, it is in sharing of this book with the very young reader that the textual magic really happens: within the space of a few pages the child is taking in and understanding lines of text which include Darug words they only heard moments earlier. They are, quite literally, learning language as they read.
But of course 'Cooee Mittigar' is about far more than learning words of a language. It is a work of art that is beautiful and accessible, and with wonder on each new page for children and adults alike. In keeping with the promise contained in the full title, it lifts us on the rhythms of days and seasons, and carries us on a journey across Darug country and far beyond in a respectful, reverent paean to a land which two centuries ago boasted hundreds of distinct languages and dialects, most of which have since become extinct. In addition to the wonderful depictions of flora and fauna, the sky is a constant throughout this book, subtly reminding the reader of the enormity of what we still have, and its beauty that we can ill afford to spurn. It is noteworthy that the human inhabitants of the country are not explicitly depicted—they are simply woven into the text as custodians of and partners with the natural world. They are, in keeping with the invocation to 'tread softly on our lands' on the final page, part of the land without claiming dominion over it.
'Cooee Mittigar' is a book that the author and illustrator, publisher, Indigenous people, and in fact all Australians, should feel proud to acknowledge and share. As any teacher or communicator will readily explain, didacticism alienates one's audience, but story and beauty draw the audience closer, and facilitate understanding and acceptance. Any book which can reach our youngest minds with such gentleness and generosity of spirit should be applauded by all Australians.