Kunyi, an illustrated memoir of Kunyi June Anne McInerney’s childhood, collects snapshot moments and stories of her life, told in her own words and accompanied by her paintings. The lively images, in vibrant, deep, rich colours shaped by bold lines, are at once realist and very stylised—somewhere between early Charles Blackman and what Howard Arkley might have created if he was working in the Australian bush, though more human-focussed than either. They complement McInerney’s words, which read as verbatim reminiscences of a very particular world: the Oodnadatta Children’s Home where she grew up after being taken from her family at four. None of the stories are dramatised or filtered, there is little intrusion of the adult Kunyi’s sensibilities, and the events are neither polished nor manipulated to maximise emotions; rather, the power is in the concrete way her experiences are told. As a child of the Stolen Generations, McInerney was raised by missionaries, denied her language and culture. Yet the pages of this book relate with equal weight the home’s cruel and apparently arbitrary rules and punishments, the childlike coming to terms with isolation and sadness, and the blithe memories of the minutiae of daily life and adventures with the other kids in the home. The stories aren’t complex and would be relatable for children of around six and up, but the text is extensive and an understanding of the social context will be important for a full appreciation of the book, so it is clear why the publishers recommend a 10-plus audience. Kunyi is an enjoyable, honest, compelling and open-hearted read.
Published by Magabala Books, 2021. Hardback, 48 pages.