Review: ‘Black Cockatoo’ by Carl Merrison & Hakea Hustler, by Shelley Timms

Title: Black Cockatoo
Authors: Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler
Genre: Middle grade fiction
Favourite part: The inclusion of words from the Jaru language throughout the book – very educational and it added to the authenticity of the story.
Favourite quote: “You have his mark, Mia, between your shoulderblades. The dirrarn is your totem. Your jarriny totem.”

Chock full of cultural imagery and traditional Jaru language, Black Cockatoo is a story to teach children and adults alike a perspective of Australia that we don’t often see in mainstream literature.

Authors Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler have created a beautifully poignant children’s story that stresses the importance of family, assertiveness, and cultural ties. We follow Mia, a 13-year-old girl living in a remote community in the Kimberly, as she struggles to comprehend certain changes she is experiencing within her family, all the while nursing an injured black cockatoo back to health. Her brother, Jy, is going through a series of emotional growing pains that come with adolescence, impacting the family dynamic and causing rifts among family members. We meet the family in the middle of this, and Jy is the reason the dirrarn is injured; he has been using a slingshot to shoot down birds from the trees. As the story progresses, we see Mia find similarities between herself and the bird in captivity.

Black Cockatoo touches on themes that are important to address in children’s literature, as well as including elements of Australian culture that perhaps some younger readers aren’t aware of. There is mention of the Stolen Generation from the perspective of Mia’s elderly grandparents, and the story also touches on racism and prejudice. The story is well rounded, with importance being placed on Jaru culture, including language and the character’s relationship with the land on which they are living.

I believe it is an important piece of literature that will give the next generation an opportunity to learn about specific areas of Indigenous culture, in this case the Kimberly region in Western Australia. I learned a lot from reading Black Cockatoo, and the inclusion of Jaru words made it even more enjoyable.

The way in which the story is told makes it an excellent candidate for use in classrooms, and I can certainly see it used in a school setting to address the themes throughout the story. It has the potential to teach young girls to stand up for what they believe in, and appreciate where they come from and their family roots.

Overall, a strong debut from Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler, and a book I will be holding onto to give to my future children.

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