Wylah The Koorie Warrior writers Richard Pritchard and Jordan Gould took inspiration from their mothers

A bestselling children’s book stars a new breed of heroine – she’s a girl, she’s an Indigenous Australian and she’s a warrior.

Guardians: Wylah the Koorie Warrior is an illustrated chapter book; A fantasy adventure set 40,000 years ago in the land of the Peek Whurrong in south west Victoria.

Australian children are instantly obsessed with Wylah, making the book one of the year’s best-selling children’s novels and topping the charts at booksellers Booktopia and Readings.

And the good news for kids who have already read the book is that the authors have designed a whole world full of new characters and new adventures to ensure the Wylah series can continue for many years to come.

Jordan Gould and Richard Pritchard created the Wylah book series.(Supplied: Allen & Unwin)

Authors inspired by their single mothers

Warrnambool-based co-authors Richard Pritchard and Jordan Gould said the book began with a vision for Wylah – a strong First Nations girl who would embody the kindness and courage Pritchard and Gould found in women, who raised them.

Pritchard grew up in New Zealand as a single parent with three siblings,

He said he saw the sacrifices his mother made for her children.

Faded photograph of a beautiful Samoan woman reading a magazine on an armchair in a yellow collared dress
Richard Pritchard’s mother Margaret Pritchard was his inspiration for the main character.(Delivered: Richard Pritchard)

“I’ve always been in awe and have a very great respect for women and have a very strong wife and daughter,” he said.

Gould is a Peek Whurrong man who was raised in Warrnambool by a young single mother.

He attributed his success to his mother’s strength.

“My mother had me when she was 16 and she did her best to raise me, an autistic child,” Gould said.

He said he has very low functioning autism.

“She just stood by me and did her best – and now I’m here.”

A faded photograph of a beautiful young woman and her young son leaning against her
Jordan as a young boy with his mother Simone Gould.(Includes: Jordan Gould)

Pritchard said their similar childhoods had a massive impact on their creative collaborations.

“Jordan grew up with very strong female role models and so did I,” he said.

“I’ve always thought that if the men don’t get up, then the women will.”

A truly Australian hero

Guardians: Wylah the Koorie Warrior is a fast-paced action-adventure about a young woman whose courage is being tested by an invading force of dragons commanded by greedy humans in search of gold.

Animation sketch of young Koori girl in traditional fur dress with basket
A sketch of Wylah the Koorie warrior.(Delivered: Richard Pritchard)

Wylah must connect to the knowledge and powers of her matriarchal ancestors to find the strength to fight for her captured Peek Whurrong people.

The story takes place between Warrnambool’s natural landmarks, such as the Hopkins River and Moyjil (Point Ritchie), where geographically specific megafauna roam.

A sketch of a cliff and an estuary
Peek Whurrong Village in Wylah reflects the landscape of the Hopkins River.(Delivered: Ritchard Pritchard)

Pritchard said that he and Gould knew from the start that the book was going to be more than just a rollicking story to entertain children, an intention Pritchard made clear in his foreword.

“May Wylah be a vessel for all Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of Australia to start a conversation of love, acceptance, unity and empathy,” he wrote.

Before writing a single word, Pritchard said he wanted “to be consistent with what New Zealand offers in terms of encountering indigenous culture”.

“It’s highly celebrated, it’s on every corner, it’s ingrained in school, in politics, everyone speaks a language, everything is embraced,” he said.

A large billboard for a children's book on a highway reads
A billboard for Wylah appears along the highway to Geelong in Victoria.(Supplied: Allen & Unwin)

“I’ve always wanted that for Australia because I know what they’re missing out on.

Pritchard, an animator who has worked with Hollywood film directors such as George Miller, said he and Gould needed to create a character “that people can hold on to, that all of Australia can hold on to”.

Wylah was inspired by real Peek Whurrong women known as warriors, as well as the women Pritchard grew up with in his Samoan culture.

A cheerful Disney themed girl cartoon character with traditional Australian body paint
Wylah was inspired by women known as warriors.(Supplied: Allen & Unwin)

“I know the history of Samoa, the Maori are warriors, so the image was immediately an indigenous warrior,” he said.

“I’ve never seen this (here) before because I didn’t grow up in that culture (but) I definitely haven’t seen it in public.

A hero created for 40,000 years

Gould only discovered he was Indigenous when his mother identified him as Aboriginal when she enrolled him in a high school.

He was approached to attend a cultural program at Brauer College.

“A group called Clontarf, it’s for Aboriginal boys, they’ve helped me throughout my school years and got me through 12th grade,” he said.

Young man in headphones with electronic boxes behind
Jordan Gould works as an electronics technician in Warrnambool.(ABC South West Victoria: Emily Bissland)

After completing school, Gould made contact with two of Warrnambool’s Peek Whurrong elders, Uncle Robert Lowe and Uncle Locky Eccles, who taught him his culture and language.

The book is culture specific, drawing heavily on the language and culture of the Peek Whurrong people who have lived in South West Victoria for tens of thousands of years.

Pritchard said accuracy is important, having learned from the mistakes that have been made in recent popular animated children’s films.

“You can’t mix cultures and come up with an unnamed culture that offends everyone,” he said.

“It’s like saying ‘You all look the same.’

Two children pretending to be eaten by a Megafauna statue
Max and Sierra Pritchard find a Diprotodon in the caves of Narracoorte.(Delivered: Richard Pritchard)

He said Wylah had to come from a real culture with a language so everyone could celebrate her, rather than mixing cultures to say “here’s a princess for everyone”.

The authors said they drew heavily on the knowledge of local elders, as well as a unique book by James Dawson and his daughter Isabella, written in the 1880s, which compiled detailed notes on Aboriginal language and customs in the Western District of Victoria .

Pritchard believed that a global shift in racial politics had led to Wylah’s success.

Two men look at a computer screen in a room surrounded by indigenous posters and books
Jordan Gould and Richard Pritchard work from their studio in Warrnambool.(ABC South West Victoria: Emily Bissland)

“I think a lot of things have changed in society over the last few years,” Pritchard said.

“You have the Me Too movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, Change the Date, there is still a lot of controversy and conflict with indigenous and non-indigenous people today.

He said this created a massive underlying desire to be reconnected with Indigenous culture.

“And Wylah does it for them, so that’s the strength of it,” he said.

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