For tens of thousands of years, the Butchulla people have been travelling between Queensland’s K’Gari (Fraser Island) and Rainbow Beach; catching winter mullet in stone fish traps set along Hervey Bay and trading with the mob up around the Bunya Mountains.

“Butchulla people – we never left,” said local elder Uncle Glen Miller. “We were always here.”

And for all this time, children have heard the stories of Moonie Jarl, a series of traditional tales that describe the origins of the land, the animals and their people. So it’s fitting that The Legends of Moonie Jarl would become the very first children’s book created by Aboriginal people. 

Humble start to huge success

Written by Wilf Reeves and illustrated by Olga Miller (Uncle Glen’s uncle and mother respectively), the book was a hit when it was released in 1964. Though he was only 15 at the time, Uncle Glen remembers the time well. 

“I can remember Mum doing the illustrations, and Uncle Wilfy doing the stories, and the two of them sitting down and proofreading it,” he recalled. “Mum typed up the drafts on a little portable typewriter she had. There were no word processors. The artworks had to be perfect; she did it all with Indian ink and watercolour.”

Though a massive success at the time, The Legends of Moonie Jarl fell out of print. However, with the help of Fraser Coast regional councillor George Seymour, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation has just released a long-overdue second edition of the book, to be officially launched on March 4, 2015.

George said he was immediately struck by the book’s beauty. “The stories are funny, heartwarming, and just highly original,” he said. “It’s a special book for the region and, I think, the whole country.”

Cultural importance

To George’s mind, it was important that this significant piece of cultural history be preserved – for all Australians. “You always fear that when elders pass away, they haven’t passed on all their knowledge to the next generation,” said George. “This ensures that these stories are there, in a physical form.”

Uncle Glen, who has long been involved with identifying local Aboriginal archaeological sites on the Fraser Coast, agrees that it’s critical to uncover, document and preserve Australian history. “A lot of people think that just because you’re Aboriginal, you know everything about your history,” he said. “Well, 99 per cent of us don’t.”

Tina Raye, Program Manager at the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, believes it’s incredibly important for all kids – both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – to have access to traditional tales.

“Literacy by way of storytelling and art forms is a huge part of Indigenous culture and history,” she said.

“Our Foundation was honoured to publish the new edition of The Legends of Moonie Jarl. Having these stories written down and published keeps the stories alive, and means everyone can have the opportunity to be part of, learn from and enjoy this long living culture.”

Literacy and languages

The Legends of Moonie Jarl has already proved there’s an appetite for Aboriginal storytelling: the book’s a bestseller on the Fraser Coast. “The local bookstore has had to order in more books a couple of times,” laughed Uncle Glen. “So that’s pretty good.”

The Book Supply program will be gifting the book to more than 200 remote communities. Click here for more information or to purchase the book.