May O'Brien talks about Aboriginal storytelling, 2008

Transcript of interview

Talking in language was the main way of, you know, giving out information, telling stories and such like because, you know, we weren't writers and we had no, you know, no way of writing or - even in the sand.

In regards to, you know, putting it in written form, it's all right for me now because I know the phonic system and I know how to go about putting the words together, and things of that nature. But when we first went from the bush life, just talking or drawing, and making signs and things in the sand, from then went to school and we were taught to read and write under the education system of relaying messages and that. We saw it with, you know, paper and pen, or slate in those days, we did as little kids.

And getting it across to paper, yes, you have to, you know, think and be careful about the words that you use, because sometimes people write stories about Aboriginal legends or Aboriginal stories and the way they write it, they just don't seem to get the true gist and meaning of what, you know, we're saying in our story, because English-speaking people - those who know how to read and write - understand that, but those of us who come from a bush background, as English is our second language or third language, it was difficult for us to understand what the non-Aboriginal people were saying. So it's important for our kids of today to know how to read and write, so that they can get the true meaning of what our stories - or what people are saying - from, you know, from our perspective.

I put language in my book because I wanted the children, all children from all the different nations, reading my stories will hear the language, and see the language of my people. The kids love it, especially the Barn-Barn Barlala story, the bush trickster, about the bellbird, and the sound that the bellbird makes. The kids love to hear Barn-Barn Barlala. So they go round after I've read them the story or told them the story, they go round saying 'Barn-Barn Barlala'. You know, they like to hear.

The Aboriginal children feel pride in themselves, and say: 'Hey, look, this is our stories. And, look, listen to our language too!' And even though they may speak another dialect, but they're still very proud of it and they go home and tell their parents, say: 'Hey, that woman came to ...' - or 'Aunty May', as they would say - '... Aunty May came to school and she told us the story of whatever it was and she spoke in language, her language'. And the parents say: 'Oh, that's good, you know, we want you to learn your language as well'. And so the kids take an interest in it, not only the Aboriginal kids, but the non-Aboriginal kids as well.