In this, the first of two books, the reader meets Wurramatyenna, the son of a seal woman and a fisherman. Some say he comes from the other side of the sea. Wurramatyenna has no memory of his origins and believes that birds and sea creatures are his family.
The media used, watercolour and gouache, is ideal for both stories, alternately set in the sea, sky and on land. The magical atmosphere of Wurramatyenna’s stories is strengthened by the colours blending and washing through one another, encouraging the viewer to ponder deeper meanings.
Wurramatyenna is guided by the Albatross that tells the boy that something hidden and sad lies beyond the inlet and needs his help. The Albatross gives the boy a bone which gives him the strength and courage to set out in his bark canoe. Creatures of the sea travel alongside the boy, revealing tales when people walked the land beneath the sea. He arrives at an island where his friend the Seal advises him to dive deeply through the waters. There he will find both sadness, treasure and his family.
Wurramatyenna continues his travels in the canoe to an island where two girls lay. They awake and reveal that their voices have been forgotten when they were taken by men who were killing seals. They long for someone to sing them back home. Wurramatyenna expresses his concern and shows them his necklace which he discovers was made by the girls’ grandmother. They ask him to take the necklace home to his country because then the girls’ spirits will return to the stars. They promise to watch over young Wurramatyenna, as he sings up a river of stars to take the girls home by the milky way. Wurramatyenna listens to their beautiful singing reflected in the illustrations which reveal the sky’s vivid pink colouring. As the boy looks up at the night sky, he is sure that he sees two extra stars.
Lisa Kennedy provides background to this story. She conveys the history of the early days of European settlement and the fur seal trade. She aims to give a voice to the captured Aboriginal Women of Tasmania, some of whom died, abandoned on the remote Bass Strait Islands. This story, written for young people, is not explicit, thus leaving space for considering this background history depending on the audience maturity and interest. The story is interspersed with Palawa Kani words, a Tasmanian Aboriginal language.
Lisa Kennedy was born and grew up in Melbourne, Victoria, and is an artist and poet. Kennedy is a descendant of the Trawl wool way, Plair Ry Mer Reen Ner and Kal Lere Ne Nan Ne Nere people of Tasmania.
Wurramatyenna is a young boy appearing in two related books: ‘Wurramatyenna and the Magic Canoe’ and ‘Wurramatyenna and the Call from the Sea’. ‘Wurramatyenna’ is deemed the Series title. Both books were published in 2004.