'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 26 April 2010

Review: Fair Skin Black Fella

So lovely to witness work in print by a young author, especially one so invested in the indigenous issues facing many young Australians. Renee Fogorty originally wrote the manuscript for Fair Skin Black Fella as a year 12 project and now spends her time painting Aboriginal art and abstract work.

As a descendant of the Wiradjuri people from the Lachlan River region of central New South Wales, Fogorty grew up in Sydney, yet never lost touch with the passion for her indigenous roots and the many challenges that continue to face her people.

I so admire writers with a heartfelt message, particularly those who are very young, and it was a pleasure to enter the mind and heart of Fogorty via her beautiful book.

Light-skinned Mary lives on a dusty cattle station in the outback with her white father and black mother. When she is shunned and teased by the local indigenous children for being half-caste, she becomes lonely and desperate to prove that she, too, is a genuine Koori person. That she, too, belongs and that no matter how she looks on the outside, she is Aboriginal at heart.

Thank goodness for wise old Ned, an Aboriginal elder, who gives the teasing children what for – explaining to them that it doesn’t matter what colour your skin, it’s how you feel in your heart and soul that’s important. He also encourages the children to band together, to celebrate and keep the Aboriginal culture and spirit alive.

It was really interesting for me, as a white Australian, to read this story and witness the difficulties half-caste children can face within the Aboriginal community. As if indigenous Australians don’t have enough ignorance and bigotry to face, it was fascinating to witness this obviously deep-seated issue covered in Fair Skin Black Fella.

I enjoy the language Fogorty uses – fresh and open; highly indicative of a young writer. I adore her illustrations – simple yet highly emotive and the colours and style are unique and precious – somewhat childlike but in a divinely stylized way.

The author’s Mary character is enormously likable and children everywhere will relate and empathise with her plight. They will also barrack for Mary to overcome the intolerance and misunderstanding around her, and delight in her vindication.

I also love how Fogorty uses traditional Wiradjuri language in her book – only a smattering… babeen (father), guuni (mother), bila (river), giwang (moon) and my only complaint here is that she didn’t use more of them. It was fascinating to read them in this story, and the author references the words in the front pages of the book.

Children all over Australia should have exposure to far more Aboriginal literature and Dreamtime tales. I’m thrilled my own children will share in this story and the book’s central message of how vital it is to discover who we are as individuals, to honour that knowledge and so celebrate the beauty of our ancestry, no matter what shade of blood flows in our veins.

I look forward to the next heartfelt and important tale by this young Australian writer.

Author website

Title: Fair Skin Black Fella
Author/Illustrator: Renee Fogorty
Publisher: Magabala Books, A$16.95RRP
Format: Soft cover
ISBN: 978 1 921248 146
For ages: 4+
Type: Picture Book