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

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Review: Stolen Girl

Early in the 1900s, in rural and remote communities all over Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were stolen from their families. They were taken in the day, in the night, whilst alone, and sometimes ripped from the very arms of their parents. They were taken by government officials and many never saw their families again.

The reason behind this terror was an assimilation policy that believed children of mixed blood should be integrated into the wider white community. Children were placed in welfare institutions all over Australia. Some were placed with families and some never discovered their Indigenous backgrounds until they were adults.

In Stolen Girl, author Trina Saffioti pens a moving tale based on what may have happened to her own grandmother who was taken from her family as a child. It follows the journey of a young girl who lives in a home with other Aboriginal girls who are made to work and exercise, and live in hope (!) that some family may take them and employ them as domestic help.

But the young girl doesn't dream of being 'adopted'. She dreams of her previous life. Of drinking tea and eating damper on the front verandah of her mother’s corrugated iron house. Of fishing in the river and hunting goanna and sitting around a camp fire listening to the Elders talk about the old days. She dreams her mother appears at the front gate of the children’s home in her best dress to collect her daughter, but the people of the home drag her away.

Some nights she softly sings, hoping her voice will carry across the land to her mother. And the scene where she paddles in the creek and wonders how far she could swim before they realise she is gone… is monumentally heart breaking.

I wept solidly through this book and had to stop several times, so make sure you read through it over and over before reading it to children, lest you find yourself a soggy puddle on the floor.

There were so very many lost children during the stolen generation years, which didn’t end until the 1960s. Many of the children never rediscovered their families, but our Stolen Girl just may – this children’s home may not be strong enough to hold her forever.

The unresolved ending of Stolen Girl is indicative of the entire historical debacle in that we will never know an ending to this painful time in Australian history. The book’s emotion is only heightened by the author’s association with the storyline. Saffioti writes from an inherited broken heart, and the text subsequently reflects that.

Striking, richly coloured and dreamlike illustrations by one of Australia’s leading artists, Norma MacDonald, add a haunting visual beauty to this beautiful book.

All I could think as I absorbed this book and took the story into my heart, is how little many of us know about the rich cultural heritage of Indigenous Australians. And that in itself is almost as reprehensible as the Stolen Generation.

An Apology is all good and well. What we need now is Understanding.

Title: Stolen Girl
Illustrator: Norma MacDonald
Publisher: Magabala Books, $19.95
Publication Date: February 2011
ISBN: 9781921248252
Format: Soft cover
For ages: 5 - 10
Type: Picture Book