Northern Beaches Mums Group
Northern Beaches Mums Group

Northern Beaches mum Ellie Laing on Somebody’s Land, an invitation for young children to connect with First Nations culture

Somebody’s Land: Welcome to Our Country by Adam Goodes and Ellie Laing, illustrated by David Hardy, is the first in a five-book series designed to connect young children, parents and educators with First Nations history and culture, coming 2 November with Allen & Unwin. 

Ellie Laing, a mother living on the Northern Beaches, shares her thoughts on the exciting process of collaborating on this important work.

Credit: Alex Vaughan

Tell us about yourself: work/family etc and your connection to the northern beaches.

I grew up on the North Shore of Sydney, and so too did my husband Jordan. As a young girl, I would travel almost every day after school and on weekends to the Northern Beaches for gymnastics training, and later, many softball tournaments.

Jordan and I have two boys, Harvey (5) and Lewis (3), and it was when Lewis was on the way that we decided the Northern Beaches was where we wanted to raise our family. Like SO many young homebuyers, I was pregnant, traipsing around the beaches almost every weekend trying to find a place to buy for about a year, and it wasn’t until Lewis had arrived, and Jordan was scrolling real estate in the maternity ward that we found a home we liked the look of. I practically walked out of the hospital to an inspection, and two weeks later we bought it! It’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We absolutely love the lifestyle we’ve created on the beaches, the friends we’ve made and the opportunities on offer for our boys.

Work-wise, I started out as a communications consultant, then went on to spend a decade as a broadcast journalist, starting at the ABC, then later Channel 10, Channel 7 and SBS. I was also teaching journalism for a few years, but after Harvey arrived I moved into state politics, working as Communications Director for the Deputy Premier and later as Deputy Chief of Staff to the Speaker. I’m actually about to start a new job as Director Media and Communications at the Property Council of Australia and was recently elected to the Board of SportNSW.

What drew you to this project?

The Welcome to Our Country series of books all began when my eldest son Harvey came home from preschool one day and as we were sitting at the dining table, out of nowhere, he started reciting an Acknowledgement of Country. Hearing a 3-year-old recite those lengthy phrases stopped me in my tracks, and I was overcome with emotion. I was so moved. Keen to continue a conversation with Harvey about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the culture, and our history, I thought I’d reach out to (Former Australian of the Year and Sydney Swans star) Adam Goodes to pick his brains. I didn’t know Goodesey hugely well, but my husband had worked as the Sydney Swans media manager for many years, and I’d done a few stories as a journalist with Adam, so I gave him a call and asked if he knew of any good kids books that would be great to share with Harvey, and in the same breath, I asked him if he’d ever considered writing one himself. To which he replied, he had indeed been thinking about it! Adam had been approached by publishers in the past, however, the timing had never been quite right, but when I called, Adam was in the thick of reading books to his daughter Adelaide (who was to yet 1 at the time) and like me, loved the idea of crafting an engaging and important book for our kids and future generations.

Was First Nations culture taught when you were at school?

Yes, but I would say in a minimal fashion. For me, I remember studying Aboriginal history for about a term in year 7, and that was back in 1995. Obviously, working as a journalist gave me the privilege of being exposed to more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories than most, but for most people, and especially parents, we feel quite under-educated when it comes to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture. Since starting this project, I’ve actually started a TAFE course in Aboriginal Culture, and it’s been really interesting and worthwhile. It’s the first time I’ve properly studied since my uni days, and I must say, while I’m not great at researching and writing while raising kids and working, when I find the time, I do thoroughly enjoy it. It’s also nice to be studying for pleasure and personal fulfilment.

What excites you most about this project as a mother?

Adam and I have always said that the Welcome To Our Country series, which starts with Somebody’s Land (out now), is about educating parents as much as their kids. It’s about putting a colourful, engaging, bright, active, rhythmic book in the hands of parents and kids, and getting them to have conversations they might not otherwise have had, or had the confidence to have. So many parents just like me desperately want to set our kids up with a better understanding of, and appreciation for Aboriginal culture, but many parents feel they don’t know enough, aren’t educated enough themselves to do just that. What’s so exciting, is the feedback we’re already getting from families and teachers who are so excited to be reading the book with kids, and so thankful to have the resource. Knowing I’m setting my boys up to better understand and appreciate our nation’s history and Aboriginal culture is enormously rewarding – not just for me personally, but for our country.

Somebody’s Land: Welcome to Our Country by Adam Goodes and Ellie Laing, illustrated by David Hardy, RRP $24.99, published by Allen & Unwin, is out now.