A statement regarding the Indigenous content of “The Gardeneers”.

When I set out writing “The Gardeneers” book series my intent was to help introduce children to the principles of permaculture through story-telling and showing examples of how these principles apply both in the garden and in our daily lives and interactions with others.
From the beginning I have wanted to make it clear that, while permaculture is one approach to caring for land and each other, that it’s not the only way, and that here in Australia the first people spent centuries caring for country. As a non-Indigenous person, and immigrant to this country, however, I have not felt it is my place to tell the stories of these cultural practices.
My solution was to include a section at the end of each book that highlighted a different Aboriginal group. Again, not wanting to appropriate culture that is not my own, I began by researching what kind of resources were publicly available. During this research I came across the 50 Words Project:
As noted on the project’s website:
“This project from the Research Unit for Indigenous Language aims to provide fifty words in Indigenous languages of Australia The map is intended to be a useful resource for schools and educational organisations to learn 50 words in their local languages, and for the general public to discover the diversity of languages around Australia…
All words, audio, and video recordings are provided by language speakers and are included here with permission. Australian Indigenous languages have many thousands of words but we are displaying just some on this site, with audio or video.

The 50 Words Project is led by the Research Unit for Indigenous Language at the University of Melbourne, and funded by the Duncan Leary Trust for Australian Indigenous Languages.

This research project has been approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee of the University of Melbourne.”

The site inspired me to include a word from a different language group, relating back to the story. For example, for my first book in which the characters are investigating trees looking for cicadas, I invite readers to learn the word “tree” in the language of the first people of Tasmania. I chose this group because I also noted that the founders of permaculture hailed from Tasmania.

Back in November I emailed the Research Unit for Indigenous Language at the University in Melbourne to explain my project and find out how to obtain permission to use the word and reference the language group. I noted that the book would also include a link to the 50 Words Project website, directing readers to learn more.

The email I received back from the project officer indicated:

“This sounds like a great project and a welcome use of our project’s website! Since the project will be fully cited in the books and a link included to the map, this falls within fair use of the material and therefore needs no further consent from us. Our project consent already allows for research use, so this is covered. The contributors agree to this kind of use of the words when they send us their recordings.”

I had been planning to structure my project so that those who backed the entire set of 12 books would receive a new book each month of 2021 beginning with January. Given the tight timelines I made sure to seek permissions before the Kickstarter launch. So, because I thought I had permission at this point, I proceeded.

I hired an illustrator and created a Kickstarter to help fund the upfront cost of the books. I’ve tried to be very transparent to potential backers about where money their money goes:

  1. Covering the costs of printing shipping (neither of which are cheap in Australia)
  2. Of the remaining profits 50% go to the Illustrator.
  3. Of the remaining 50% I have planned to donate half (so 25% of total profits) to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF). I then pay the illustrator an additional upfront fee for each book.
  4. The remaining profit covers my marketing expenses (website hosting, Facebook ads, directory listings). From a Kickstarter that had only 40 backers there will not be any money going into my pockets.
I has also made contact in December with ILF regarding the project and donation. They had me fill in some paperwork and that was that.
On the 4th of January I sent the relevant book pages to 50 Words and ILF to make sure they were happy with the usage and citations. (NB I also sent pages to the office of David Holmgren, one of the founders of permaculture.) To date I have not received any feedback or changes from 50 Words.
On the 13th of January I received an email from ILF indicating that my citation was fine but that I needed to consult with Aboriginal elders in Tasmania regarding the use of their language.
Immediately I emailed the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre seeking permission (and indicating I’d already been in contact with 50 Words). I received a reply back asking me to allow time for a response due to high demand.
The next day (yesterday, the 14th of January) my Kickstarter campaign ended, successfully funded at 125% of its goal. My backers have had their accounts debited. My original intent was to hit “PRINT” today, the 15th of January so that I could deliver the first book before the end of the month.
In explaining this process to people I have been accused of failing to properly consult with community and profiting off of cultures that are not my own. I thought I had gone about this in a respectful manner and done my due diligence. I thought the permissions I’ve had were clear. I’m devastated to think that I’ve breached protocol and upset anyone in the Aboriginal community. For that I offer my sincere apologies.
Now I find myself at an impasse. Although I have legal permission to publish my books as they are, I recognise that the laws are part of a colonial system. None of the feedback and advice I have been given thus far has come directly from a member of the Aboriginal community. So the way I see it, I have three options:
  1. Print the books with the one word from an Aboriginal language redacted, but with links to resources where readers can do their own research.
  2. Delay printing and delivery of the books until I hear from TAC. This comes with the risk of delays to the entire project as I’ll need to repeat this process 11 more times for each subsequent book. And TAC (or elders from any of the other 11 language groups) may not give permission at all, in which case I’ll need to redact anyway.
  3. Refund backers’ money. Print no books. Pay ILF out of pocket for the money they would have received from the Kickstarter earnings. Pay my illustrator out of pocket for the Kickstarter earnings and the work she would have done for the 11 subsequent books.
So I am putting this out directly to the backers as you have invested in this project. You can choose one of these options:
A. Request a full refund.
B. Request a “first edition” in which one Aboriginal word is redacted but there is still mention of Aboriginal culture.
C. Request a “second edition” in which the one Aboriginal word is included once permission has been given, but accepting that this will come with major delays (or may not come at all, in which case you can request a refund or request a first edition).
Aboriginal cultures have had their land, culture and an entire generation of children stolen from them. While I can say with my whole heart that I put a tremendous amount of thought and effort into producing my books in the most ethical and respectful way possible, I also recognise that intent is not enough. I am so sorry things have turned out this way and for any hurt I have caused.
Written on Dharug and Gundungarra land by Sharon Baldwin, Publisher of Loose Parts Press and Author of “The Gardeneers” series.
You can reach me at for any inquiries or comments on this matter.
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