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Author(s): Lorrae Coffin
Age range 7 to 10Free Diving is a poignant tribute to the Indigenous men and women who worked in the pearling industry as `free divers' in the late nineteenth century in Western Australia.In a practice known as `blackbirding' (forced unpaid labour), European pearl lugger owners used Indigenous people to dive for pearl shell. With no protective suits, the divers faced threats such as decompression sickness (known as the `bends'), shark attack, or of being swept away by huge tides. At sea for weeks at a time, there was also the risk of the luggers being shipwrecked in cyclones that formed off the coast.The lyrical narrative is based on the celebrated song `Free Diving' by singer-songwriter Lorrae Coffin. It sensitively reflects the emotional journey of a young man who leaves family and country to work on a lugger with Japanese and Malay divers by his side. Bronwyn Houston's illustrations are a deep-sea celebration that illuminate both the glory of the ocean and the extreme dangers encountered by the free divers.Free Diving is a fictionalised story of a young man lost at sea.