When Yuin man Bruce Pascoe took over his farm at Mallacoota where he planned to grow Aboriginal foods, he found the previous owner had left something behind.
A calf had evaded the roundup and was left abandoned on the property and began spending time around Pascoe’s dog, chooks and the horses.
“I had this little menagerie, but we're cropping here, we're not running animals and I had to find ways of looking after them and the little black calf was really lonely and didn't really appreciate the company of the horses,” he recalls.
A neighbour’s cows kept breaking the fences and while Bruce didn’t want the cows trampling the crops, after the second time they broke in he opened up the paddock.
“I thought, ‘well you might as well join your fellows because you obviously don't think the horses are much company’ and I gave my neighbour a gift of another cow. They didn't realise for six months,” he laughs.
Now, the story of the lonely calf has been turned into children’s book, Found, published by Magabala Books.
While the Dark Emu author has written seven award-winning books, his latest foray - this time into children’s literature- is unsurprising given his years spent as a teacher.
The book is illustrated in gouache by Bundjalung woman, Charmaine Ledden-Lewis, the winner of the Kestin Indigenous Illustrator Award, for which part of the prize was illustrating Found.
With the centre narrative focused on a baby who has been separated from family, clear parallels have been drawn to the Stolen Generations. Pascoe says that is unsurprising, even though that wasn’t necessarily his intention.
“I think anyone's distress is paralleled by the distress of Stolen Generation,” he tells NITV News from his Mallacoota property where he is isolating with his family, including his daughter and three grandchildren.
“The distress and displacement of refugees, is a parallel, our treatment of animals, is a parallel.
“There are numbers of parallels that we could draw.”
Ledden-Lewis says the book could serve as a very gentle way of exploring the topic of the Stolen Generations with kids.
“I think anyone's distress is paralleled by the distress of Stolen Generation.”
“I hope that parents and children take away empathy and compassion because I think from there the next generation will take steps forward in the right direction in understanding Indigenous issues and where we're coming from and why it's important to acknowledge that past.”
And when asked when parents should begin truth-telling with their children, Pascoe doesn’t mince his words.
“Six months of age. Lay it all out there,” he says.
“I never talk down to kids, they’re rugged little individuals and they do get upset by the inequities and misfortune in the world, but I think it's possible to talk to them about it.
“I never talk down to kids, they’re rugged little individuals, and they do get upset by the inequities and misfortune in the world."
“And I don't think you destroy their hopes, or their happiness, by talking about the realities of the world. It's the way you talk about it. That is important.”
Pascoe’s own grandchildren know the true story of the little lost calf and took joy in reading the book when it arrived and for him, the collaboration with an up-and-coming Aboriginal artist.
“I write all the time so there's always something going on, but this is all about Charmaine, and the poor little black calf, and it's a thrill to see someone new come into the industry and get the opportunity to do their art.”