The Pearl-shell Diver + Tips for Writing Indigenous Stories

Today, I’m pleased to welcome QLD writer, Kay Crabbe, author of the beautiful new novel, The Pearl-shell Diver.

The Pearl-shell Diver is a page turning adventure set in the wild waters of the Torres Strait.

I’ll be reviewing Kay’s book later on, but first she’s kindly agreed to share some tips on writing Indigenous stories.


Kay Crabbe began her writing career with feature articles for newspapers and magazines before moving into educational material for children. Her works include fiction and non-fiction books, comprehension texts, and school magazine articles which link to the Australian school curriculum.

image002KAY’S TIPS

The Pearl-shell Diver was a challenging book to write, straddling cultures and attitudes of colonial times with modern day thinking, but children should know the history, and we can’t change the past.

  1. Indigenous history is handed down orally and cannot always be confirmed. Check facts against as many government sources and trustworthy journals as possible. Ensure your research is sound.
  2. Approach traditions and customs with respect, follow documented protocol and don’t presume you can write freely about all aspects of a group. Re-telling of stories by outsiders may be considered culturally offensive.
  3. Memoirs and study literature may not be ‘for loan.’ Prepare to spend hours in libraries to turn up a story nugget. Reference all notes as you go, as you may be asked to produce an interpretation or source. Acknowledge indigenous advisors and their links to country.
  4. Interview questions should be clear and simple. Do your homework, English could be your subject’s second or third language and eye contact may be considered disrespectful.
  5. Have some awareness of sensitive issues, significant events and sacred places. Confirm use of material by seeking consent from elders or advisors. Names and images of deceased people may be offensive to cultural beliefs and require a note of warning.


a1deb6_ea67beefbcc1408b9b41821257d3d874.jpgInspired by historical events of 1898 and 1899, The Pearl-shell Diver tells the story of thirteen year-old swimming diver, Sario who yearns to be a pump diver.

Then he’ll have the money he needs to support family. His father has been coerced into joining a white trader on his pearl-lugger, and his mother is seriously ill and needs expensive medical attention.

It’s up to Sario to support his family now, but white traders are just waiting to take advantage of a young boy like Sario. And Hiroshi, a young Japanese diver is determined to see him fail.

Kay Crabbe sets this scene so well. I felt like I was there in the turbulent waters of the Torres Strait.

Sario is a determined and plucky young boy who endears himself to the reader because of his qualities but also because of his human foibles.

I really felt for Sario and the children exploited by ruthless and greedy adults in positions of power.

Yet for all the hardship in The Pearl-shell Diver there are some strong friendships and fun times, and hope for the future.

This historical novel for children aged 9+ would invite important discussions in the classroom or home about family, history, indigenous culture and relationships.

The Pearl-shell Diver is published by Allen & Unwin. Teachers notes are available here.