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Three Dresses

By Wanda Gibson

Reviewed by Mia Macrossan

This richly illustrated picture book by Nukgal Wurra author–artist Wanda Gibson is a retelling of her joyful childhood beach holidays in Far North Queensland.
Wanda Gibson is a Nukgal Wurra woman of the Guugu Yimithirr people (on her mum’s side) and lives in Hope Vale on the Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. Her dad is a Yuuethawarra man and his country is around Cape Melville. Both of Wanda’s parents were Stolen Generation and were brought to Cape Bedford Mission when they were ten or twelve. Wanda is a master weaver – she weaves baskets, birds and fish from dried grass. She is also a painter and storyteller.
‘Take three dresses … one to wash, one to wear and one spare.’
When Wanda Gibson was a little girl, her mum would tell her this as they packed to go on holidays. The girls were overjoyed to receive these second hand clothes from the Lutheran Church on Christmas Day. It was a long slow journey to the beach, walking for two days and camping overnight. When they got there they made a gunyah to sleep in, lit at night by a kerosene lamp made by her Dad. During the day Mum fished, her Dad speared stingrays, fish or shark and the girls would also fish. There was always plenty to eat. Each evening the girls would get a bucket of water, have a bath and put on a dry dress. Then they’d wash the dirty ones and hang them up to dry beside the fire.
Wanda writes in a very matter of fact style about life as it was then. Everyone enjoyed their two week annual break from farm and school work. This understated style leaves much to the imagination complemented by the naive illustration which are joyful and colourful, showing the family engaged in all their multifarious activies.
Educators will find themes of  celebration of family life, of childhood, identity and belonging and connection to country. The story is an excellent way to introduce young children to aspects of  Australian history and life on Aboriginal missions  but on a more simple level this engaging snapshot of a  family holiday will appeal to readers who enjoy learning about what life was like ‘back in the day’.
Teacher’s Notes
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