The Christmas-themed stories, originally written so the authors could practice English and Indigenous languages like Pitjantjatjara and Kriol, form a small part of a large archive containing thousands of recently discovered books and digitally preserved materials.
These stories provide readers with an insight into language and attempts to preserve Indigenous culture through storytelling, decades ago throughout Australia.
An Indigenous Christmas story: 'Something special'
"Three shepherds, me and my two mates, were minding our sheep. I want to tell you this special thing that happened to me.
Well, one night, I was sitting on the ground minding my sheep, and yarning with my two mates. Later on, a big bright star shone on us. We were really frightened and sat quietly. And the angel of God said to us, "Don't be afraid of me, I bring good news. Baby Jesus has been born in Bethlehem."
Me and my two mates said to each other, "Let's go and see the baby Jesus in Bethlehem." So I started to travel a long way to that place Bethlehem with my two mates.
When I got to Bethlehem, I went into the stable with my two mates and we found Mary and Joseph. And baby Jesus was wrapped up in a blanket and sleeping in a manger. And I was really happy and so were my two mates.
So then we went back and told everybody that baby Jesus was born."
This piece tells the Christmas story from the shepherd's perspective. Words by Judy Galmur. Pictures drawn by Lily Bennett. Printed by Barunga Press.
Although the piece above is based on a religious calendar event – Christmas – the literacy school was not a religious school. Only a few stories within the thousands of materials discovered relate to Christmas.
ACCESS OTHER CHRISTMAS STORIES FROM THE ARCHIVE
Going back to the original storytellers and illustrators
Charles Darwin University researcher and project manager of the LAAL, Cathy Bow, explained that the stories were created by Indigenous children involved in a bilingual literacy program throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
“The kids learned to read and write in their own language, Kriol, and then translate it into English,” said Ms Bow.
“But over time, a lot of these places closed down and the books they wrote their stories in were thrown out or damaged. So there was a concern that these materials were lost forever.”
In 2012 and 2014, the LAAL won funding to revive the materials from the projects and keep a digital record of the stories, which were handed down, told and written down.
“We’ve collected over 4,000 books from across the Northern Territory. There’s about 2,500 on the website.”
The gap in the figures, explained Ms Bow, represents the books that staff are currently seeking permission to publish.
"There was a concern that these materials were lost forever.”
“We wanted to go back and find the original storytellers and illustrators because when these stories were first created, they were created for the classroom. But now, putting them on the internet, they can be seen by the whole world.”
Ms Bow added that some of the authors are unknown.
“And some of these books come from classroom activities so the authors would probably be adults now. Some of the older people who wrote the stories have passed away so we are currently looking for family members if the author has passed away.”
The stories - like the one included below- depict classroom life and storytelling 30 years ago. “These collections are a bilingual legacy of a past ear where stories and illustrations were documented and because they are not being used anymore, they are at risk of being lost.
“This body of knowledge about Indigenous language, culture and science will now be available for the world to look at on the internet.
"Teachers can now look online and find the ways that stories used to be translated and how the Kriol language was created.”