Reviewed by Jennifer Kemph
On Country: Stories of Nyrlotte is a collection of charming tales featuring a young Aboriginal girl and her developing involvement in the women’s business of her mob. Author, Fiona Doyle, integrates traditional words from the moribund Alngith language – spoken on Cape York Peninsula - with familiar contemporary dialogue. The result is an authentic link between traditional speech and popular culture. A glossary at the back of the slim volume ensures Doyle’s language choices can be accessible to all and invites readers to consider the importance of preserving our unique language groups.
Each story focuses on Nyrlotte and the teachings of her Granny as she discovers her unique connection with her land. In a sense the stories convey some of the ideas of the Dreamtime, and Nyrlotte is a vehicle through which young readers can come to hear these stories. Her connection with the landscape is profound and Doyle’s description of Ornyawa (Swamp at Wathaniin) is absolutely magical. There is a sense of spirituality inherently built into each of the stories as Nyrlotte learns the skills and develops a deeper understanding of her culture and her role in society.
The title is pitched at an 8+ audience, but I would argue that these stories could be successfully studied right through to the latter primary level. The concepts of development and growth are coupled with adventure and magic to ensure young reader engagement. Additionally, the stories are complemented by a range of line drawings which are elegant and subtle.
Not only are the stories delightful in their spirited adventure, but they are, in my opinion, essential reading for all Australian children in their responsibility to recognise the stories of our Indigenous peoples. I look forward to more from Fiona Doyle and will share these stories with the small people in my life.