BACKROOM PRESS is a great little publishing house based in Broome with the slogan “from the Kimberley to the World”. Their first title Jimmy and Pat Meet the Queen appeared in 1997. It is written by Pat Lowe with illustrations by her husband, acclaimed Walmajarri artist Jimmy Pike. This award–winning book deals with Native Title from an Aboriginal perspective and is aimed at younger readers 8 years and older.
The choice of a simple picture book format, usually associated with early stage literacy materials, is perhaps misleading because the text, though limited in amount, manages to both explain the legal processes involved in land rights claims and also to satirise them. And it does this in the most delightful and unexpected way by providing an entertaining and ironic romp of a tale involving an impressive variety of characters — even royal corgis!
The book’s inside jacket cover forewarns us: What follows is a true story — all the characters are real, the places are real, the events, however, have yet to take place. “Jimmy and Pat Meet the Queen” is a kid’s book that grownups will really enjoy and want all their friends to read too.
Since then Backroom Press has published further great titles including two in a series called Kimberley Travellers.
The first is “Jimmy and Pat Go to China” which tells of Jimmy’s adventures whilst visiting that country for a special exhibition of his art alongside that of his friend Chinese Australian artist Zhou Xiaoping. Jimmy Pike died in 2002 and so the publishing of this book was delayed because it would not have been fitting to have shown his work for some time afterwards.
The book comprises his impressions of China, lovingly recorded by his wife Pat Lowe, and is illustrated with his fabulous drawings. There are also wonderful touristy photos taken of them both against iconic Chinese backdrops — the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City. With its limited text and great pictures, this book would make a wonderful introduction for any child to the genre of travel writing.
Jimmy’s responses to a country and culture very different from his own are interesting, instructive, and, above all, rather funny. My own recently turned 10–year–old particularly liked the story about trying to eat a boiled egg with chopsticks. Pat’s fond and wryly humorous reflections on Jimmy’s responses to China give a special insight into this wonderful man, and grownups reading along with their youngsters will smile at the depiction of the gentle marital squabbling which appears from time to time.
The second title in this series is “When Harry Went to India” by Susan Sickert and senior Nyikina lawman Harry Watson. It follows the journey of three friends, the authors and Abdul (Cas) Casley, as they travel through India to Pushkar to see the annual camel fair which is held there.
This little picture book is filled with photos of incredibly exotic locations and stories of the ups and downs of the friends’ travels. Susan Sickert provides no–nonsense, fairly sparse travelogue text which gives structure to the story, and Harry Watson’s reflections, given in italics, tell us about both the strangeness of what he sees and, in some cases, the surprising familiarity.
Harry’s commentary is particularly worthy of note because he compares and contrasts his view of India with the customs of his own people both now and in the old days and through this we are given very interesting information about Aboriginal culture. The book discusses some strong subjects — poverty, hunger and homelessness, to name just a few — but it does so in a very mild way through Harry’s thoughtful deliberations and consequently is quite age appropriate for the younger reader.
In fact, this is a significant feature of these books. They are all rather remarkable in that they deal with some really big issues and manage to make them accessible for a younger audience. They are little books with big themes. Anyone interested in an Aboriginal perspective on the relationship between people and country, on how the use of language frames all our interactions, on respectful observance of foreign religious customs, on the importance of keeping the law, and more will find much to savour and enjoy discussing together with young students, relatives or friends. To add to this, the stories are very funny, at times, hilariously so. This is Aussie kid’s cross cultural content at its absolute best and a great teaching resource for parents and educators.