20 Mar The Unlikely Story Of Bennalong and Phillip
Unlike the stories I was told about Australian history as a child, this book explores some of the tensions, battles and poignancy of the relationships between the Indigenous people and the British settlers.
When I was a kid, Australia Day meant dressing up in green and yellow, singing the national anthem and having a barbie at school. As the ’80s ticked over into the ’90s and my awareness of the real history of our nation grew, figuring out how to celebrate the day became more of a challenge. By the time I completed a semester of Indigenous studies at uni, I’d switched from calling 26 January ‘Australia Day’ to calling it ‘Survival Day’.
Last year I came across the lovely picture book What’s Your Story?, which provided a great balance of Indigenous and European perspective, along with wonderful illustrations for discussing Australia Day with my kids.
This year the same illustrator, ceramic artist Bern Emmerichs, joined author Michael Sedunary to bring us The Unlikely Story of Bennelong and Phillip. This picture book outlines the friendship between two important men in Australian history – Bennelong, a prominent local man, and Captain Arthur Phillip of the First Fleet. Unlike the stories I was told about Australian history as a child, The Unlikely Story of Bennelong and Phillip explores some of the tensions, battles and poignancy of the relationships between the Indigenous people and the British settlers.
I first read the book to Max and Rose on the eve of the 26th. We were staying in our shack in the bush, surrounded by eucalypts and away from many of the conveniences of contemporary city life. They were captivated by the tale and asked to read it again in the morning. When Max woke he picked up book and said, “Mum, I really like this book. I like how it explains everything well with these really realistic pictures. Yesterday was the perfect day, in the perfect time in the perfect area, because we live in the bush here, and it was the anniversary of (European) people coming.”
“Do you think it’s a happy story or a sad story?” I asked him.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I think it’s a bit of both.”
Review by Bron Bates