Bobtail’s Friend: From the Desert to the Sea is the second book in the Spirit of the Dreaming series written by  Rhonda Collard-Spratt, Yamatji-Noongar artist, storyteller, poet  and Stolen Generations survivor and Jacki Ferro with illustrations by Rhonda-Collard-Spratt and published by Boolarong Press.

In this beautiful, moving and empowering book set in spring time in Yamatji country and includes words from the Wajarri and Nhanda languages of Western Australia embedded throughout the story, a beautiful lesson is shared about the immense power of words and their capacity to hurt or heal. This story celebrates acceptance, the beauty in difference and friendship as well as demonstrates the impact of standing up to bullies. Central to the teachings in this story are the messages to be proud of unique traits, the skin you are in and to stand up against racism and bullying. Practice kindness and reach out to others who are alone or sad. This story highlights that showing compassion and playing a part in standing up to bullies can have a far-reaching ripple effect.

Bobtail’s Friend features a cast of Australian animals whose personalities shine through in the rich text and vibrant artworks. The story begins in the desert with the red earth bursting with glorious colourful wildflowers. Balharda the bobtail, captivated by the stunning flowers makes herself a daisy chain necklace. She feels content and happy enjoying a sunny spot on her favourite rock, her only wish is for companionship. While savouring all of the breath taking beauty that surrounds her, she spots a group of butterflies and asks them if they would like to play. The butterflies respond in an unkind and cruel way making nasty personal attacks about Balharda’s appearance.

Seeking safety, Balharda nestles beside striking river gums. While having a drink from the river she accidentally falls into the water. Thankfully Balharda remains calm and remembers the lessons her family taught her about swimming. Given the strong current Balharda ends up far away from her desert Wajarri Country and in an unfamiliar place with strange sights and sounds. The local animals alert each other that a stranger is in their presence. Balharda feels overwhelmed.

One kind, empathetic and caring animal, a wallaroo, Aunty Shirley, greets Balharda. Aunty Shirley notices Balharda is upset and kindly asks her what is wrong. Balharda explains all that has happened and how she feels unwanted in this new place. Wise Aunty Shirley offers powerful advice and heartfelt words which heal Balharda’s spirit and heart. Aunty Shirley gifts Balharda a Mookaite necklace which contains special properties and allows Balharda to breathe while swimming underwater.

Feeling confident and happier, Balharda is off on another journey and this time she ends up where the desert meets the sea on a beach. Balharda makes her way onto the sand and after a comment by an unkind pelican feels defeated and alone. It is here that Irrabuga the caring dolphin notices Balharda and invites her to play. The words from the butterflies are still lingering in Balharda’s heart and dampen her spirit. However, the dolphin knows just how to lift Balharda’s spirit and helps Balharda to accept the kind and thoughtful invitation. These two animals from different worlds enjoy a wondrous friendship and unbreakable bond.

The butterflies flutter by and notice Irrabuga and Balharda joyfully playing together. They question why the dolphin would play with “ugly Balharda”. Dolphin doesn’t hesitate and instructs the butterflies to “Stop” and intervenes to stand up to them. The dolphin’s actions cause the butterflies to pause and reflect on their unkind behaviours. They apologise and make amends.

Aunty Rhonda’s striking and resplendent illustrations illuminate the double page spreads with each page deftly capturing the vivid colours and feel of the red and orange desert landscape and the bright azure blue water where the desert meets the sea. Aunty Rhonda uses bright, bold and vivid colours so the pages are pulsing with life and energy. Readers will delight in the detail on the Australian desert and sea animals. The illustrations include dot painting, patterns and fascinating eye-catching details to enrich the narrative.

At the end of the story Aunty Rhonda and Jacki have included the words and notes to a catchy song, they wrote, titled Words Can Hurt or Heal which summarises the storyline and themes in the book. There is a glossary of Aboriginal words from Yamatji languages of Western Australia also included, some information about Mookaite, Yamatji Country and languages with an accompanying map of where Bobtail’s Friend is set in Western Australia.

This story is also available as an audiobook. This features Aunty Rhonda reading the story which transports the reader to the desert in the spring time with a cacophony of birds and as the story progresses to the babbling river and then the beach.  Different animal calls can be heard, my favourite being Irrabuga, the dolphin. This magnificent version of the story also allows readers to hear the pronunciation of Aboriginal words from the Wajarri and Nhanda languages of Western Australia that are included in this book. Aunty Rhonda and Jacki also sing their uplifting song, Words Can Hurt or Heal on the audiobook.

The audiobook version can be purchased on the Spirit of the Dreaming website here

Book 1 in the series is Grandfather Emu and How the Kangaroo got her Pouch and the review on the Reading Opens doors blog can be found here.

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