A story of Country, community, culture and childhood, award-winning author Kirli Saunders’ highly anticipated verse novel Bindi hits bookstores on Sunday.

Saunders is a proud Gunai woman, who was raised on Gundungurra Country. Through her grandmother and grandfather, Saunders has ties to east coast communities from Biripi Country in the north to Yuin and Gunai Country in the south.

A writer of picture books, poetry and plays, Saunders’ new release tells the story of 11-year-old Bindi.

“It is a verse novel exploring a young girl Bindi, she is 11, who lives on Gundungurra Country, her adventures with her friends and her lessons from the Elders in her community who teach her about the She-oak and this beautiful spirit bird, the glossy Black Cockatoo,” Saunders said.

“It is my intention through the story to bring community and bring young people into that role of being custodians and caring for the earth.”

“In the last [two] weeks we have seen so much turmoil over caring for our sacred sites and communities and the responsibilities for us to really take care of mother, now and always.”

Bindi, which intertwines English and Gundungurra language, was recreated to reflect upon the bushfires that blazed during its creation.

“I had originally written the manuscript and based it around the interest Bindi had in caring for the earth. Then Dad called me and there was ash falling from the sky on Gundungurra lands and the bushfires had hit the back of Green Valley,” said Saunders.

“I just watched family and friends lose their properties, so much of our bushland be affected, so many communities especially our First Nations communities … be just desecrated by these bushfires.

“I felt I had a responsibility to talk about the impact of fires not only on community but on caring for Country and culture.”

Originally created as a picture book called Mother Speaks, Bindi won the 2019 Daisy Utemorrah Award. The award gifted Saunders with a $15,000 prize and a publishing contract with Magabala Books. Alongside Magabala, Saunders took the seed of Mother Speaks and grew it into Bindi.

“Kirli is an incredible creator, and we are blessed to be able to publish her first work of junior fiction,” said Magabala Publisher Rachel Bin Salleh.

“We love Bindi so much we’ve asked Kirli to write a series.”

Bindi is the 2019 Winner of the Daisy Utemorrah Award. Photo supplied by Magabala Books.

Bindi features the illustrations of Bigambul man, Dub Leffler. An illustrator and author, Leffler’s artwork and Saunders’ writing weave together a book with a whole lot of heart.

At its cored, Bindi voices a call for community to protect Country and highlights the role of young ones in that care, now and into the future.

“In the western world there is such a separation of people and the land. It’s like we look at the land as something to provide resources or provide shelter rather than our mother. Rather than something we are interwoven with,” said Saunders.

“It is my hope that through books like Bindi or through conversations like this that our young people understand more and more that role of caring for the earth.

“I think our kids already get it, I think we just have to trust them and equip them.”

Bindi will be available to purchase online and in stores Sunday November 15.

By Rachael Knowles