Less than two years ago, Siena Stubbs was a 14-year-old schoolgirl and casual admirer of the birds in her hometown of Yirrkala.
Now, despite still living about a 700 kilometre drive from the nearest bookstore, she is a published author with a photography book to her name.
Our Birds, which has also been published under the Yolngu Matha title Ŋilimurruŋgu Wäyin Malaynha, draws inspiration from the rich bird life with which north-east Arnhem Land is teeming.
Growing up in the area, Siena would observe the birds on early morning walks with her father and learn about them on weekends crossing Yolngu country in a troopie.
“When we go out hunting and we see a bird and an animal or a fish or a tree, my mum likes to tell us the name and we all pronounce it and we sound it out and we try to remember it.
“The next time we go hunting we’ll remember that type of specific animal or plant.”
She eventually took to photographing the birds with a borrowed iPad, and when an aunty in Sydney later gifted her with a DSLR camera, she was able to capture Yirrkala birdlife in its full, rich colours.
“One year later, my aunty gave me a voucher for a photo book and I decided to create a book,” Siena said
She sent copies of the photo book to family, and when her brother posted about it on Facebook, interest exploded, with people wanting copies for themselves, schools and libraries.
The only issue: Siena only had five copies.
Proud to share culture with Australia, world
When Ms Trevaskis made a call-out for potential publishers of Siena’s book on the ABC Darwin Facebook page, it reached the desk of Magabala Books, an independent publishing house in Broome.
They reached out to Siena, and a book deal was hatched.
The teenager said she could not believe it when a prototype of Our Birds finally made its way to her hands last week, before being stocked in bookstores later this month.
Each page, filled with the vibrant birds, neon sunsets and untouched landscapes, contains brief descriptions of their relationship to Siena’s upbringing in Arnhem Land.
“When I observe the beautiful colours of Bilitjpilitj for a while, it makes me appreciate how stunning nature is,” she writes of the red-winged parrot.
The author has also listed both the bird’s common English name alongside its Yolngu one and their moiety.
In Yolngu culture, she explained, birds name themselves by the sounds they make.
“So the blue-winged kookaburra, up here, we have the blue-winged kookaburra instead of the laughing kookaburra,” she said.
“She makes the sound ‘garru garru’, so you see the name its given is garrukal.”
In Yolngu culture, everything from life forms to landmarks is assigned one of two moieties — Dhuwa and Yirritja — through which all of life is classified and connected.
It is a concept Siena acknowledged her readership may not be familiar with.
But she is pleased to share it.
“I have always loved sharing my culture,” she said.
“Whenever people come and visit, I’m always keen to teach them, and just to know that people will have access to information like this makes me so happy.”