Adam Duncan wrote The Bunyip and the Stars over a decade with help from more than 100 children from the Wiradjuri Preschool and Child Care Centre in Canberra.
The Biripi man, who lives and works in Canberra as an early childhood teacher, said he had no idea that what started as a teaching activity would end up as a published picture book.
“We were doing some pretty conventional early childhood programming around the solar system and, as a way of incorporating my cultural knowledge and understandings of the ways in which Aboriginal people have utilised the stars for thousands of years, we came up with the idea of sitting down and co-constructing a story,” Adam said.
“I told a very basic narrative about how the stars had come into being and the children began questioning and adding to and changing aspects of the story.”
Adam said not only was this an authentic use of the First Nations practice of community-based knowledge sharing, but it also made the story more engaging for young people.
The finished story follows Ngariin (big sister) as she searches for Wumbirr (little brother), who has been captured by the bunyip, an animal from First Nations mythology.
It explores the importance of family bonds, connection to Country and the value of shared knowledge, but Adam said the book was more than its narrative and themes.
“[I hope readers take away] a better understanding of Aboriginal culture as being a lively and living aspect of life in Australia now,” he said.
“It’s not all about what things were like before settlement. The culture is living and it’s changing, and children can be a part of that living culture.”
Adam said as someone who struggled emotionally with the impact of dispossession growing up, writing the story had also been cathartic for him.
“It’s been really beautiful for me to be able to reinvent my own connection with a strong and diverse community of young people,” he said.
“And [to] build a strong future for cultural practice for myself and the children that I’m working with [at Wiradjuri Preschool].”
The Bunyip and the Stars launched at the National Museum of Australia’s Tim and Gina Fairfax Discovery Centre in April alongside some of the young people who worked on the story.
Melbourne-based Soymilk Studio developed the illustrations of the characters and animals in the discovery centre as well as the pictures in Adam’s book.
“The creativity, knowledge and care Adam has shown with this book is to be commended,” National Museum acting director Ruth Wilson said.
“I thank him for his efforts in bringing to life some of the characters central to both First Nations mythology and the Tim and Gina Fairfax Discovery Centre.”
Adam’s picture book is the first in a series of five intended to encourage conversations around First Nations culture, place, identity and Australian history.
The next book in the series, How the Kangaroo Got Its Pouch, by Rebecca Beetson, is scheduled for release later in 2023. The following two books have been scheduled for 2024 and the last for completion in 2025.