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Speak their language: Reflecting on the ILF ‘Binjari Buks’ project

In December 2017, a group of Indigenous Literacy Foundation staff, volunteers and publishing industry supporters visited the Katherine region in the Northern Territory to launch ‘Binjari Buk’, a children’s book series written in the Kriol language by 13 women from the Binjari community.

Bloomsbury children’s marketing and publicity manager Sonia Palmisano reports on the ‘unique field trip’.

Can you imagine starting your first day of school with no English, never having owned or read a book? And once you start school, you’re taught by English-speaking teachers, using the standard English-language curriculum? This is the reality for many Indigenous children in remote communities. This affects their literacy levels for all the years that follow, and it is something that the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) is determined change.

One of the biggest projects for ILF in 2017 was to work with local women from the Binjari community in the Northern Territory to publish nine children’s books written by the women in the Kriol language.

In December, I had the privilege of joining the foundation on a unique field trip to launch these nine books, which were a joint publishing project of ILF, HarperCollins and the Australian National University. While I work for Bloomsbury Publishing in my day job, I’ve been a weekly volunteer at ILF for the past three years and felt extremely honoured to be invited on this special trip.

It was a whirlwind trip featuring long travel days (a four-hour flight to Darwin, then a four-hour drive to Katherine); some very interesting characters, such as ‘Jock the Croc’ (stuffed not live, phew!); stunning wet-season scenery; and a heat more intense than I ever could have imagined.

The book launch was held in Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts and Culture Centre in Katherine and, on the morning of the launch, the air conditioning in the centre refused to work! The venue was stifling as we set up the room with the help of Eve Tonelli and Hazel Lam from HarperCollins, who had also worked night and day to edit and design the nine books in time for printing. Thankfully the air conditioning kicked in just before the guests arrived, including the guests of honour: the authors and illustrators from Binjari. The crowd also included local guests and some very excited school children.

I will never forget the looks of delight on the children’s faces when they were read to from the books in Kriolthe language that many of them speak at home.

I didn’t know much about Kriol before this trip, but I learned so much from linguist and long-time Kriol researcher Denise Angelo, who worked closely with the Binjari women and ILF to bring these books to life.

According to Denise, ‘Kriol is a contact language that is nowadays spoken by over 20,000 Aboriginal people as their first and main language. The vast Kriol Kantri (Kriol Country) of northern Australia spans communities and towns across much of the Top End of the Northern Territory and the Kimberleys of Western Australia as well as parts of the Gulf country in Queensland. Recognition for this vibrant contemporary language has grown over the past four decades and it is now seen as a language in its own right, with interpreting and news services and a growing body of literature and song.’

The nine Kriol books include three board books (for ages 0-3), three picture books (ages 4-7) and three chapter books (ages 8-12). The kids at the launch and the schools we visited were enthralled by all of the books, but one particular favourite was Moli Det BigiBigi (Mollie the Pig), the true story of a pig who loves Weet-Bix. The teachers we met throughout the day were thrilled and enthusiastic about sharing the books in their classrooms.

It was wonderful to see this project in action, and it reaffirmed for me the important work that ILF does. After a day of back-to-back events, we were rewarded with a swim at a beautiful watering hole, thanks to the local knowledge of ILF staffer Cindy, who grew up in Katherine. It was a relief to cool off, although I really did not appreciate the croc jokes, guys!

Writing this from back home in Sydney, the trip feels like a beautiful dream. But the work continues as the nine books are now being distributed to remote Indigenous communities across the northern parts of Australia, at no cost to the children, their families or their communities, thanks to donations to the ILF. It’s thanks to the support of publishers, booksellers and the book community that these books are now finding homes in delighted little hands across Australia. And somewhere out there, a child is giggling over Mollie the pig and her Weet-Bix, and beginning a love of books and reading, just like we all did when we were children.

For more info on the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, or to make a donation, click here.

The nine Kriol-language books in the ‘Binjari Buks’ collection are:

Board books

  • Ola namba en kala (Numbers and Colours, Bernadine Booth)
  • Olkainawan kalawan loli (Lollies of Different Colours, Milly Raymond)
  • Yakai! Beibigel! (Oh No! Baby Girl! Maureen Hodgson).

Picture books

  • Moli det bigibigi (Molly the Pig, Karen Manbulloo)
  • Tudei en longtaim (Now and Then, Stella Raymond)
  • Fishing—lenimbat ola biginini (FishingTeaching Children, Marilyn Frith).

Chapter books

  • Roki det kenggurru (Rocky the Kangaroo, Maureen Hodgson)
  • Hanting gada biliken (Hunting with Billycans, Maureen Hodgson)
  • Hanting gada trekta en treila (Hunting with a Tractor and Trailer, Maureen Hodgson).


Category: Features