Wylah isn’t a warrior. Not yet, anyway.
She’s a strong-willed and independent Peek Whurrong girl from the Maar Nation, and she loves animals. But when her family is suddenly taken away, her life is forever changed as she sets out on a journey to save them.
This is the starting point for Wylah: The Last Koorie Warrior, a children’s book set to be released next year by creative duo Jordan Gould and Richard Pritchard.
The pair met when Pritchard, a visual effects artist who has worked on Mad Max: Fury Road and The Great Gatsby, was teaching animation in Warrnambool. Gould was his star pupil.
“We just bonded over talking about stories,” says Pritchard.
Pritchard grew up in New Zealand and has a Samoan background, while Gould is a proud Peek Whurrong man. They both work on all facets of Wylah – from the writing to the visuals – which takes elements from the real world and sets them against a high fantasy backdrop.
“Wylah is not a traditional Indigenous story, it’s not like something that kids would have read about in class,” says Pritchard. “Her family has been taken by the Dragon Empire and she must go on a journey to reunite the guardians and save her people.”
“The idea is that most of the animals will be speaking in the native language,” Gould adds. “We want to integrate a lot of our culture into this book, especially language.”
Until she’s called to action, Wylah spends her time fishing, painting on cave walls, gathering fruit, and hanging out with native megafauna. “One of the biggest fantasy elements – besides the dragons – is that all the animals are huge,” Gould says.
The pair hopes Wylah will capture imaginations, get a younger generation interested in history, and spark vital conversations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians of all ages.
“Education is a real big thing for us – to educate the younger generation about Indigenous culture,” says Pritchard. “We’ve got the local elders and chief backing the book, and a lot of young people wanting to come in and consult.”
The hero character’s name, pronounced wee-lah, is a play on the word Wilan, the Peek Whurrong word for the yellow-tailed black cockatoo.
“We thought it would be very fitting having the heroine of the story being somewhat named after the totem of the tribe she’s in,” Gould says.
To get the project off the ground, the pair launched a Kickstarter campaign in June. It met its goal within two and a half days, and has since more than doubled the amount needed. They’re now hoping to eventually turn the story into an animated series.
“We want it to be a conversation starter,” says Pritchard. “I’ve never seen an Indigenous character represented as a heroine in this way, as a warrior heroine in the media.
“I want younger people to go, ‘This is as legit as watching any other movie that I’ve seen or any other book.’ We want her to be up there with the rest of the characters that [children] grow up with.”
Wylah is available to pre-order for $29, and is set for release in August 2021.