Free Diving by Lorrae Coffin and Bronwyn Houston

This historical based picture book is founded on a song written by the author. (words and sheet music included.) You can watch the beautiful book / song collaboration here:


I have decided to transcribe Magabala’s information about this book and will then say what I think :

” ‘Free Diving’ is a poignant tribute to the Indigenous men and women who worked in Western Australia’s pearling industry as ‘free divers’ in the late nineteenth century.  In a practice known as ‘blackbirding’ (forced unpaid labour), European pearl lugger owners used Indigenous people to dive for pearl shell.  With no protective suits, the divers faced threats such as decompression sickness known as the ‘bends’, shark attack or of being swept away by huge tides.  At sea for weeks at a time, there was also the risk of the luggers being shipwrecked in cyclones that formed off the coast. ”

Firstly, the story and illustrations carry a deep darkness and sadness throughout – how could they not! However I feel that although extremely well done that this story is not well suited to the picture book form.  I struggle to find who the audience might be and longed for more depth whilst reading it.  I would prefer to see this story extended, to delve deeper into the issues and emotions presented, to let the audience really know and feel the protagonist, his family, his struggles and his comparative interactions with the Japanese and Malay men who were also involved in this greedy, money hungry exploit.

Bronwyn Houston must be commended for her evocative illustrations.  This is a style I have not seen her do before and the depth of maturity in her work resonates well with the subject matter.

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