Reading the country: how Traditional Owners and Fremantle Press collaborated on a custom publishing project

When Fremantle Press was approached in 2017 by Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation (DAC) and Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC) with a possible book idea, we knew we had a very special project on our hands.

The project was tentatively titled ‘Images and Meanings’. Its aim was to record the stories of Dambeemangaddee and Wunambal Gaambera Traditional Owners, about their own country, in their own words. For the Traditional Owners, sharing their knowledge of country and culture was an essential part of their commitment to their ancestors as well as their future generations.

The book emerged out of many years of previous work. Traditional Owners had travelled – often by boat, helicopter and extensive walking – to sites on country, often accompanied by Kim Doohan, Anthropologist, who was working with WGAC and DAC, and later became the book’s compiler. On occasion, the younger and more able-bodied Traditional Owners would access sites and bring information back to the senior Traditional Owners to review. This was a huge undertaking, but they were determined to make the knowledge accessible to their communities. Elders Sylvester Mangolamara, Lily Karadada, Janet Oobagooma, Donny Woolagoodja and Jack Karadada dedicated many hours, over several years, to explaining the meaning behind the sites and their significance, and to reviewing the material.


Wunambal Gaambera Traditional Owners Bernadette Waina (left), Dorothy Djanghara (right) and Troy Karadada (behind) returning from visiting an art site.

Once the stories and images had been collated and approved, DAC and WGAC faced the challenging task of converting these materials into a book. That’s when they approached Fremantle Press with a custom publishing commission.


Janet Oobagooma, Kim Doohan and Lily Karadada discussing the project.

Having previously worked with DAC to produce their book Barddabardda Wodjenangorddee: We’re Telling All of You, we were confident we could support the client’s vision. It was decided early on that the book would be highly visual – a nicely sized 240 by 280 mm paperback – featuring images of sites accompanied by captions in the Traditional Owners’ own voices. We understood the client wished to avoid the hierarchical classifications of academic texts, and the way outsiders often frame Traditional Owners’ words as secondary. This book was to be the voices of Traditional Owners. This was their book.


Lily Karadada and her nephew Sylvester reviewing images.

The nature of the content meant we had to think outside the usual book model, which is typically guided by editorial and design hierarchies. The book cover, for example, had to include the title in four languages, rather than the standard title and subtitle combination. The design required ingenuity, which designer Carolyn Brown brought to the table.

We worked closely with the client throughout the production process, guided by DAC’s and WGAC’s feedback on the book’s design, layout and editing. Kim Doohan, as compiler, met with Fremantle Press’s Naama Grey-Smith and Armelle Davies, and conveyed the Traditional Owners’ requests. We were also lucky to have a visit from one of the book’s co-authors, Donny Woolagoodja, a renowned Woddordda artist who in 2005 co-authored Keeping the Wandjinas Fresh.

The end result is an informative, accessible and attractive publication that DAC and WGAC are proud to share with their communities and the wider public. WGAC Chair Catherine Goonack says, ‘When we read this book we know that we are reading the stories from our old people and we feel confident that the stories are the right ones. This book is not whitefellas telling a story but our old people leaving their memory for us to follow so we can be strong in the future and know our country.’

We are very proud of the projects we have worked on with DAC and WGAC. There is a long association between Fremantle Press and a number of Aboriginal communities throughout WA, including of course Mowanjum. This means the communities know they can trust us to understand and respect their vision, and to make it a reality.

Nyara Pari Kala Niragu: Gadawara Ngyaran-gada: Inganinja Gubadjoongana: We Are Coming to See You is published by DAC and WGAC. It was launched on Friday 12 July as part of Mowanjum Arts Festival in Derby, Western Australia.

Jane Fraser, CEO, Fremantle Press

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