Azaria: A True History
Maree Coote
Publisher: Melbournestyle Books
ISBN: 9780648568407
Awards Year: 2021
Category: Eve Pownall Award
The author says...

I truly believe Azaria's story is a founding and iconic tale in Australia's history. A cautionary tale of mob thinking, and the rush to judgement. Of distrust of the "other", and ignorance of our natural history and of the knowledge of First Nations peoples. These are big things to house in a children's story, and it's not a simple task. But sometimes I think the simplicity of a children's viewpoint is the best way to wrestle down some of these big ideas, and see them more clearly. 

Yes, it's a story of a single sad event. But it becomes the story of what happened next. It becomes our story - it's our history, and I believe as a nation, we need to confront it, we need to own it and learn from it -- in the interest of a fairer, safer, wiser Australia. 

What happens when the truth gets lost, and how did it all go so wrong? 

I think that today's kids can surely only benefit from understanding these themes. Sweet nonsense will always have its place in childrens' book life. But I think that children can understand these bigger ideas. Kids understand when things are not fair. In fact, "that's not fair!" is one of the first protestations we all make. It's deeply ingrained in us, from the earliest age. 

This book is a quite matter-of-fact retelling of a series of events. Children can see clearly how and where things went wrong. And I hope they will understand the importance of championing another's cause. After all, it could have been any one of us. 

I hope that the book will invite discussion in classrooms, and at the very least I hope that it will impart the idea that an open mind is an essential accessory in this world.

The author says...

Share with us what being Shortlisted for the 2020 CBCA Book of the Year Awards means to you?

It was such an encouragement to be shortlisted for the 2020 CBCA award because this was a very difficult book make and required a leap of faith to actually get this one published.This is such an important Australian story, and a true history. The lessons from Azaria are still just as important today.  It is a cautionary tale, in the style of many European fairy tales, and tells of the pitfalls of human nature and of the environment. It also speaks of innocence and ignorance in all their forms. The shortlist nomination really adds support to the book and its message, and extends its reach, so I am very grateful indeed.

What inspired you to write your shortlisted book?

The story had stayed with me since the first news reports on 1980. I had also made artworks on the theme over the years since, and in 2018 the idea occurred to me that this was the seminal Australian archetypal fairy tale: wolf/forest/king/mother&child/angry townsfolk… it was all there in the dingo/desert/police/mother&child/media. 

The thing was, it was going to be a difficult story to tell, but with dingo attacks still continuing and the fundamental injustice of this story being forgotten by many people (and completely unknown to newer Australians), I felt it needed to be told.

I created a draft, wrote to Lindy and flew to Brisbane a few times to chat during the course of making the book. She was very generous and helpful, but never directed the story. She left me to follow my path.

It was important for me to do this with her blessing, because it’s a very big thing to tell someone’s story.

The book is about innocence, ignorance and injustice. Lindy, Azaria and the dingo are all innocents. The nation was ignorant to this dingo problem, and ignorant in its judgement of Lindy. And for me, it’s about standing up for others too, and I hope children can see that the book is doing just that.

Which is your favourite character and why?

The dingo/child entity is the image I love, because these two are inextricably linked at the centre of the storm, both behaving and being exactly as they should, and both are completely innocent.

Tell us a bit about your creative process?

I make the images as I’m writing, and the whole thing comes together, words change and therefore change the pictures, pictures change modifying words. The book is an entity right from the beginning, with page design and format settled in sync with the image s and the words. It all works together as one. I print our drafts and mock them into a book. 

There was masses of research and reading to be done. Hours in the library, hours on the phone, hours reading.

There was simply so much legal and media info to understand and then assimilate and distill in order to present it all in a way that was legally true and correct, yet also intelligible for a young reader.

The CBCA judges say...

This book is beautifully designed and eloquently written. It keeps readers transfixed by provoking them to re-evaluate the historical Chamberlain case, as well as question expectations of justice, truth and scientific evidence. The main character, Lindy Chamberlain, is developed through multiple perspectives; as a police suspect, a character in the media and, eventually, as a human. Carefully selected words and phrases create impact in making sure mistakes of the past are recognised but not repeated and that a heavy topic is made accessible. The sophistication of the illustrations and design are striking and match the tone of the text with the colour palette reflecting the Uluru setting.

The Reading Time reviewers say...
Click here to read the Reading Time review.
Teaching Notes for this book...

The publisher has generously made teaching notes available for this book. Click on the icon below to view these resources.