‘Sea Country’ by Aunty Patsy Cameron, illustrated by Lisa Kennedy and published by Magabala Books transports the reader back to Aunty Cameron’s childhood on Flinders Island in eastern Bass Strait. Her carefree days were spent playing on the beautiful beach teeming with fish and searching for treasure in the form of shells, playing with her sister and cousins in glorious caves as well as in the bush; all while discovering and learning about Country from her family and connecting deeply to it. Aunty Patsy’ people are descendants of Mannalaargenna of the Pairrebeenne/Trawlwoolway clan.
When Aunty Patsy was a child she was taught by her Aunties, Uncles, Grandfather and family about Country. Aunty Patsy learnt about foods to eat and she was involved in the seasonal collection of berries and fruits, including wild cherries, tatas and canyon fruits (each of these are beautifully illustrated). She was taught to watch for signs from Country and how to interpret what Country was telling them about weather and seasonal changes, for example, if there was a ring around the moon it was an indication that inclement weather was on its way to the Island. The migration of the mutton birds occurred at the same time as the boobyallah flowers erupting; these occurrences were observed and highly anticipated each year. Just as the boobyallah flowers bloom with the arrival of the mutton birds, the nautilus shells would appear with their departure. Aunty Patsy learnt about the many different types of fascinating shells as the women collected them and used these to create beautiful intricate necklaces. There were also certain shells that required specific knowledge to source and this knowledge was passed down from one generation to the next.
‘Sea Country’ is a stunning book brimming with vibrant colour, beauty and wonder. Lisa Kennedy’s stunning, evocative layered illustrations often feature scientific details, the connection Aunty Patsy and her family experienced to Country and in some instances their ancestors. The nuance and intricate details in the mesmerising illustrations are breathtaking. This story is a celebration of the ways in which culture intertwined into the day to day life of Aunty Patsy and her people and how knowledge is passed from older family members to the younger generation. Aunty Patsy and Lisa Kennedy have a poignant shared dedication at the beginning of the book to their children’s children and this is at the heart of this story, passing on stories, the connection to Country and knowledge from the past to all children.