'Wild storms' book helps kids talk about family violence

Posted March 10, 2017 09:30:00

The creators of a storybook about "wild storms" happening inside the home hope that turning its pages will encourage young children to speak up about family violence.

"They don't want to talk about anything," co-creator and artist Christine Burarrwanga said.

"If the family is fighting, they can't talk to anybody else and ask for help. It is very difficult for them."

Originally from the remote Indigenous community of Yirrkala, Ms Burarrwanga five years ago moved to Darwin with her children, in part to escape violence in the home.

"We wanted to start a new life," she said.

Her collaborator and friend Lucy Van Sambeek, a former children's counsellor in Yirrkala, has also seen the impact of family violence first-hand.

"Children don't necessarily have a choice about their reactions to seeing violence," Ms Van Sambeek said.

"Some will get up and run. Some will try and break up the fight. Some will freeze and cower in the corner."

After staying in touch after they both moved to Darwin, Ms Van Sambeek and Ms Burarrwanga last year started collaborating on a children's book to help young people talk about their feelings.

Called The Life Of Tree, the book follows the story of Jack, a young boy who develops a relationship with a sprawling tree.

"The relationship between the boy and tree goes through some tough times. A storm knocks over the tree," Ms Van Sambeek said.

"Then a storm also comes to Jack's house. This could be a metaphor for domestic violence, or others have suggested it's about seeing substance or alcohol abuse or other trauma in the family."

In the index of the book, there are prompting questions for parents, foster carers and counsellors reading the book to children.

"There's questions like: Have you ever seen this kind of wild storm or bad thing in your house or community? What did you do to protect yourself?" Ms Van Sambeek explained.

"In my work, I've found using metaphors or speaking in other means, like the third person, helps kid share their experiences."

To illustrate this story Ms Burarrwanga spent many hours in her leafy Darwin backyard with a paintbrush and large pieces of stiff paper.

The Yolngu painter's creations include a sparse forked tree to depict the storm's aftermath, as well as sunnier depictions of Indigenous ceremony and dancing.

"It's teaching kids how they can follow the root of the tree," Ms Burarrwanga said.

While the self-funded book was initially intended primarily for Yolngu children in Yirrkala, Ms Van Sambeek now has crowdfunding aspirations to supply the book to women's shelters and counselling rooms across the Top End.

The duo is also seeking a Yolngu Matha translator to take the English text into more people's first language.

"I hope parents and family members can start to see through their children's eyes," Ms Van Sambeek said.

Topics:domestic-violence, books-literature, painting, children, child-abuse, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, human-interest, darwin-0800

Read more http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-10/domestic-violence-storybook-for-children-the-life-of-tree/8339042