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On this day…. 26 January – Australia Day/Invasion Day/Survival Day…

January 26, 2011

Call it what you will, the 26th January is a public holiday in Australia, to commemorate the landing of the First Fleet in Botany Bay, New South Wales on 26 January 1788.

I have some issues with this holiday.  Firstly, New South Wales was a colony in it’s own right in 1788 and Australia as such did not exist until 1 January 1901, with Federation of the colonies into one country.  So by all means New South Wales can commemorate away to their hearts content on 26 January if thats what they are into.  But Western Australia where I was born and have lived all but three months of my life, did not even exist as a colony in 1788.  Here in Western Australia we commemorate the foundation of the Swan River Colony (with the felling of a tree, which is somehow poetic and prophetic) on 1 June 1829, with a public holiday on the nearest Monday to 1 June each year.

My pedantism aside, there are other issues.  The continent we live on, that we now call Australia existed long before 26 January 1788, and if someone ‘discovered’ it, they did so many, many thousands of years ago.  For the Aboriginal peoples of this continent, and those of New South Wales in particular, I assume, 26 January 1788 represents the end of one era and the beginning of another – but not one that merits much celebration.

So I wondered what to post on this auspicious day.

My Place by Nadia Wheatley 20th Anniversary Editioin

Published by Walker Books Australia and New Zealand

And then I remembered My Place by Nadia Wheatley, published by Walker Books Australia and New Zealand.  The edition pictured is the 20th Anniversary Edition.  The one I originally bought (for my two year old daughter) was the original edition, published in 1988, the year ‘Australia’ celebrated it’s ‘bi-centenary’ based on the same logic as the Australia Day logic – that Australia was founded when New South Wales was founded.

This is more a genealogy of place than of people, but it also traces some families over several generations and highlights that even old people were young people once, and not so different to young people today.  I like that about it.

It makes me think of my grandmother and imagine her as the young girl who wrote in the 1920’s birthday book that is now in my possession.  I’m posting the entries in that birthday book on the day they appear, as a series.  If you haven’t been reading them you can get to them via the ‘Manny’s birthday book’ category link on the right.

I look at that book sometimes, as I have done throughout my life.   It has school girl writing in it, recording the birthdays of cousins and school friends, and then it has young woman’s writing, recording the birthdays of friends and boyfriends/future husband, and then it has young mother’s writing, recording the birthdates of children as they are born, and then it has grandmother’s writing, recording the birthdays of daughters and sons in law and the birthdays of grandchildren.  It has other people’s handwriting too.  A few of my aunties have had a go at recording things in there.  It looks like Manny used to ask people to enter their own birthdays in her book.  I particularly love the one that says ‘Mother’ in my great grandmother’s distinctive and familiar (and missed) handwriting.

It is falling apart through many, many years of regular use.  I used to wonder how my grandmother always remembered everyone’s birthdays.  Although she didn’t need the book – if you asked her, she could rattle them off without hesitation and while she was at it tell you what that person’s favourite breakfast cereal was and other essential grandmotherly facts.

I have a thing for picture books, and this one is one of the finest ever produced, in my opinion.  I haven’t seen the new edition, but the original one tracks back in time from a  young Aboriginal girl who lives in a particular terrace house in Sydney in 1988.  She introduces herself and says ‘… and this is my place’.

On each double page opening you meet a different child, about 10-12 years old, who lived in that house ten years before the previous one.  Sometimes it is an older sibling, or an older family member, sometimes it is someone new altogether.  Each page opening includes a map drawn as the child presenting on that page would have drawn it, to show the significant places for that child, at that time, in the neighbourhood.  Featuring in every map is a big Moreton Bay Fig Tree.  If you read the book from back to front, there are more buildings where there used to be open space, the creek becomes more polluted by industry upstream and so on.  Some of the things the children are interested in are different.  Some of them are not so different.

The book ends with another Aboriginal girl, sitting by the big tree in 1788, saying ‘this is my place’.  In the intervening years the house, or where the house would be in the future, is inhabited by German immigrants, British immigrants, Greek immigrants and in the recent television series, which goes through to 2008, a family of Vietnamese immigrants.  The illustrations are stunning, and the attention to detail can keep children and adults studying the book endlessly and finding new things each time.  My daughter is 24 years old now, and she still loves the My Place, and knows the details of each decade’s family intimately.  The publishing house has a section on class-room ideas, which I have linked to.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 26, 2011 8:20 am

    We share a love of picture books (see mine at and this is a favourite. Thanks for reminding me – must make sure it is in the grandchildrens’ libraries.

    • snpdragon permalink*
      January 26, 2011 11:58 am

      It’s one of my daughter’s favourites too. I was very glad they updated it further, and also the tv series was wonderful.

  2. January 26, 2011 4:19 pm

    I was curious when channel surfing, having come across My Place, but thought I’d simply found an adaptation of Sally Morgan’s book by the same name. You’ve convinced me however that it would be a wonderful gift for my children.

    Thanks for sharing a thoughtful, entertaining and informative piece of your mind.

    • snpdragon permalink*
      January 26, 2011 8:39 pm

      Hi John and thank you for commenting. It’s always nice to know who’s reading. The same title thing is a pity – I remember thinking the same thing at first. The picture book is still one of my 24 year old daughter’s favourites – and she’s still finding details she never noticed before – for example just today (having read my post) she realised that both the Aboriginal girls (at the beginning and the end of the book) have pet dingos.
      Did you also notice I nominated you for an Ancestor Approved award?

    • Michelle permalink*
      January 28, 2011 6:54 pm

      Hi again John
      My daughter Amanda, who I bought ‘My Place’ for in the first place, writes a much better review than I do. It’s here if you’d like to have a look:

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