Learning from Country: Celebrating author Nadia Wheatley and artist Ken Searle

15 May 2017

A new exhibition hosted by the Sydney School of Education and Social and Work and Fisher Library will showcase artwork from a series of multi-award-winning books produced by Nadia Wheatley and Ken Searle.

Painting: Ken Searle
Painting: Ken Searle

A new University of Sydney exhibition is celebrating the years-long partnership of award-winning children's author Nadia Wheatley and artist and illustrator Ken Searle.

The exhibition will run from 15 May to 31 July at the University's Fisher Library and will feature original artwork, drafts and other materials, as well as guided walks, showcasing their books' impact on teachers and students.

Their first book, Papunya School Book of Country and History, was a collaboration between staff and students at the Papunya School in the Northern Territory, developed while Nadia Wheatley and Ken Searle worked there as consultants.

Published in 2001, the book explores the history of Papunya and the Western Desert communities and was awarded the Young People's History Prize at the NSW Premier's History Awards as well as the Award for Excellence in Education Publishing in 2002.

That method of shared storytelling and focus on environment was then explored in a city setting with Going Bush, published in 2007. A collection of stories from school children in Sydney's south-west,the book was awarded the Wilderness Society Environment Award for Children's Literature and was a Commended book in the Children's Book Council of Australia, Picture Book of the Year Award 2008.

Between them they have produced six multi-award winning non-fiction children's books, either as author, illustrator, designer, compiler or mentor.

Painting: Ken Searle
Painting: Ken Searle

On now, Learning from Country: From The Papunya School Book of Country and History to Australians All, will explore how these books were produced, as well as highlighting how each one exemplifies the Papunya Model of Education; a curriculum model developed by the Papunya School that puts learning from the country, from the land itself, at the centre.

"We are delighted at the opportunity to present this retrospective exhibition of the artwork for six books that traverse the continent from Kakadu to Flinders Island and from the Ice Age to the Apology," said illustrator Ken Searle.

"Responses from students and teachers inspired by this body of work has shown us that the Indigenous practice of Learning from Country is just as effective and enjoyable for children whose Country is the city and whose families come from homelands scattered across the world," added author Nadia Wheatley.

Professor Robyn Ewing, a Professor of Teaching Education and the Arts at the Sydney School of Education and Social Work (SSESW) said Nadia and Ken, both Honorary Associates of SSESW, had been members of the University community for quite some time and the School was proud to be co-hosting the event alongside Fisher Library.

"The exhibition features creative educational processes from many different angles: from fieldwork in Papunya to Papunya classrooms, through to the production of fine books which have become definitive resources across the education continuum in school and university classrooms," said Professor Ewing.

"Wheatley and Searle's work will be cited and consulted for generations to come."

Books showcased in Learning from Country:

  • Papunya School Book of Country and History by staff and students Papunya School, in association with Nadia Wheatley and Ken Searle
  • When I was Little, Like You by Mary Malbunka
  • Walking with the Seasons in Kakadu by Diane Lucas and Ken Searle
  • Going Bush by Nadia Wheatley and Ken Searle, in association with students from inner-Sydney schools
  • Playground - Stories from Country and from Inside the Heart compiled by Nadia Wheatley and illustrated by Ken Searle, with Dr Jackie Huggins as consultant.
  • Australians All: A History of Growing Up from the Ice Age to the Apology by Nadia Wheatley and Ken Searle

Event details:

What: Learning from Country: From The Papunya School Book of Country and History to Australians All
When: Monday 15 May to Monday 31 July 2017
Where: Exhibition Space, Level 2, Fisher Library, University of Sydney (map)
Tickets: Free