Teacher brings colour to powerful story
Rita Sinclair was worked as a snack bar attendant, wedding videographer, stained-glass overlay operator, librarian, wedding celebrant and school teacher.
Now the Carinity Education Shalom teacher has illustrated a children’s book written by award-winning Indigenous author, Boori Monty Pryor.
A former Australian Children’s Laureate, Boori is a First Nations storyteller who has shared his words and wisdom with over one million school children. He is also the co-writer and subject of the Emmy-nominated series, The Wrong Kind of Black.
His latest work is Story Doctors, a children’s book illustrated by Rita which takes readers on a poetic journey of Australia’s true history which celebrates the healing powers of nature and culture.
“Story Doctors is about the history of Australia. It is an invitation to all Australians, no matter where their knowledge is at, to find out the true history of our country. Story Doctors invites you to listen and share stories and hopefully in the process, understand each other a little better and start the healing – of yourself, of others, and of our country,” Rita said.
Rita recalls interactions with Boori and his work – at five-year intervals – eventually led to them collaborating on Story Doctors.
“My very first year of teaching, I worked with one of Boori’s early novels My Girrigundji with a Year 8 English class at Ingham High School. Five years later I was working at a primary school and had the amazing experience of watching Boori perform in front of hundreds of children,” Rita said.
“Fast-forward another five years and I was a teacher-librarian. The first thing I did was make sure I had enough money in the budget to get Boori to come to our school. It was during this time that Boori and I became friends.
“He explained to me that he had an idea for a book, so for the next few years, every time he was up north, we would talk about the book and put our ideas together on paper.”
With Rita in North Queensland and Boori in lockdown in Victoria last year, the pair collaborated on Story Doctors by correspondence, sharing and developing ideas via video link.
“I would get Boori to read a line, talk to me about it and what he was thinking about, and while he talked, I would draw. It was very collaborative, and I think our long history of thousands of hours of conversation definitely helped to understand each other,” Rita said.
Rita had previously illustrated the covers of two other books and contributed a picture for J.E. Miller’s book Remember, Lest We Forget, but Story Doctors is the first full book that she has illustrated.
“It has been very well received. There have been lots of really positive reviews from all over Australia and we are already up to our third reprint, even though it was just published in July,” Rita said.
“I like the fact that there is something for all ages in the book and that it can be studied at Prep level, all the way up to university level.”
Aside from creative pursuits which also include painting ukuleles, Rita recently began teaching at Carinity Education Shalom, a school in Townsville whose student cohort is largely Indigenous Australian children.
“I’m really looking forward to being part of the Shalom family and community that is very evident in the way the students, teachers and families talk about the school,” Rita said.
“I hope I can make a difference to the lives of my students and maybe inspire them to find their own form of creativity.”