Reviewed by Clare Brook
Boori Monty Pryor is a multi-talented performer with experience in film and television as an actor and writer; he has also worked in theatre-in-education. Boori is the author of several award-winning children’s books, including the Prime Minister’s Literary Award winner Shake a Leg. Story Doctors is his latest book, illustrated by Rita Sinclair, written for children ages seven through twelve. It is a large (26.5 x 28 cm) and vividly colourful picture book.
Boori was born in Townsville, his father is from the Juru people of Cape Upstart from the Bowen region, and his mother is a descendant of the Gurubana Moiety group from Kunggandji Nation near Cairns.
Boori wrote Story Doctors during the Melbourne 2020 COVID lockdown. Before this, he had a premonition that Australia was going to suffer a sickness, which he felt was due to unresolved pain of the nation’s shared history.
We as a nation have been unwell for a very long time now, and I felt that what we all needed was a different kind of medicine. It’s right there in those eco echoes – the ones that have traveled through the voices from the oldest continuous living culture in the world … First Nations people shaped from and by the earth.
Story Doctors presents an account of Australia’s real history through a positive, healing narrative. As such it covers personal and social issues, while promoting an attitude of inclusiveness between all Australians.
The first page begins with Boori’s words:
From whence we came
The sum of some
Observed the tracks from where we’d come.
Heel and toe, tread heat and snow.
Impressions left behind
of footprints so maligned.
Boori continues to give a brief account of Indigenous history in rhyme for several pages. The illustrations of Australian native wildlife fill every page. They are wonderful, providing an atmosphere that is undeniably Australian. Flowing swirls through which native animals and landscape can be seen outlines an Indigenous Australian figure. This so cleverly illustrates Indigenous Australians’ inseparable connection to country.
Then introduced animals appear – a hen, sheep and cows.
So … this new way of learning,
Is it really so concerning?
An illustration of a white European hand reaches out to a swirly hand. A sheep and kangaroo drink from the same water hole. And so it goes on. Using English concepts to describe the native way of seeing the same thing.
The pharmacies abound,
Above and underground,
Green shoots so small, to trees so tall.
Helps breathe in all our glories,
The medicines in our stories …
Then Boori suggests that the landscape is a cathedral to him.
As cathedrals echo time,
And footprints’ rhythm steps the rhyme,
Prescriptions so sublime.
Whereas the above is only a brief snapshot of Story Doctors, I hope it inspires parents to include it in their children’s library. It is a gentle but real view of Australian history, and, above all, its intent is toward healing.
By Boori Monty Pryor
Illustrated by Rita Sinclair
Allen & Unwin
$24.99; 32pp [HB]