Ten Terrifying Questions with Jasmine Seymour!

by |July 19, 2022
Jasmine Seymour

Jasmine Seymour is a Dharug woman and descendant of Maria Lock, who was the daughter of Yarramundi, the Boorooberongal elder who had met Governor Phillip on the banks of the Hawkesbury River in 1791. Maria was the first Aboriginal woman to be educated by the Blacktown Native Institute. She was married to carpenter and convict, Robert Lock, and their union resulted in thousands of descendants who can all trace their Dharug heritage back past Yarramundi. Jasmine is a member of the Dharug Custodian Aboriginal Corporation.

To celebrate the release of her new children’s book Open Your Heart to Country, Jasmine takes on our Ten Terrifying Questions! Read on …

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Warami Ngaya giyara Jasmine Seymour. Hello, my name is Jasmine Seymour. I am a Dharug woman. I was born on Dharug Country in Windsor, Sydney NSW. I grew up in Maraylya not far from where my ancestor Yarramundi first met Governor Phillip on the banks of the Hawkesbury River. The beautiful serpentine dyarubin. I went to primary school down the road, and I was never taught anything about the local Aboriginal people who were in Sydney (who were my relatives) when I went to school. I am now a primary school teacher who teaches Dharug language. I am also doing a Master of Research degree focusing on the Dharug language.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve, I wanted to be a photographer. But I didn’t even have a camera. So, I’m not sure why I wanted to do that now. I also wanted to be a hairdresser too. When I was eighteen, I wanted to be a musician. But I was very shy and had trouble performing.

When I was thirty, I wanted to start writing, I also wanted to become a teacher both of which I am now today. I have always loved reading and I did so much of it I thought that I might be good at writing. I went to a women’s group where they had a book club that was really a writing club and I found that I quite liked writing through that experience. So, I decided I wanted to get better at it. I had no idea that I would become a picture book writer. I loved picture books very much but loved them more for their illustrations and song-like prose than the storytelling parts of them.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you don’t have now?

I have trouble remembering, but I think I thought being an adult would be easy. It is not.

4. What are three works of art – this could be a book, painting, piece of music, film, etc – that influenced your development as a writer?

Tracks by Robin Davidson is one of my all-time favourite books. She was so independent and fearless. That really spoke to me as a teenager. I have as an adult never had the urge or courage to do anything like that, but I hope that I could if I really wanted to.

I read quite a lot of science fiction too as a teenager and books by Michael Moorcock and Kurt Vonnegut Jr especially Behold the Man, Cats Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five really changed the way I looked at the world. I was very into my dad’s record collection and grew up on Joni Mitchel, Neil Young, Nina Simone, Billy Holiday, and lots of blues music. The folk singers are such incredible storytellers. They taught me how to write too. I loved and still love the art of Brett Whitley, Picasso, Matisse, Miro, Sidney Nolan and Tracey Moffatt.

5. Considering the many artistic forms out there, what appeals to you about writing a children’s book?

I love beautiful short prose. It is song-like. Some of my favourite books are very short like Siddhartha and Tooth and Claw. My favourite picture books are by Bob Graham. They more than anything inspire my illustrations. I want my families to look as daggy and homey as his do. I want Aboriginal kids to see their own families in my illustrations full of everyday beauty.

6. Please tell us about your latest book!

Jasmine Seymour’s book – Open Your Heart to Country

The story is about language revitalisation. I had just finished doing a Masters of Indigenous Languages Education at Sydney University. I started to teach community Dharug language lessons and I was filled with a sense of belonging and home. I was also profoundly affected by how meaningful it was to those learners to be taught their own language. This story is about the joy of learning your own language. 

What does it mean to lose a word and what does it take to get words and sentences back? For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people this is a huge and complex issue. The government, churches and schools silenced our languages. This story is tinged with sadness but full of hope. This book is for all the language learners who are making their way home.

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7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I hope that people support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in their language journeys. I hope that it teaches people about this issue. I hope that it shows that languages are never lost. That they are always here, in Country, in its peoples and stories.

8. Who do you most admire in the writing world and why?

Margrett Attwood, and Lea Purcell both write incredible feminist stories about traditionally male-dominated narratives. They are both incredible and their storytelling is truth-telling. I also love Hilary Mantel. Her prose is just gorgeous. I also loved The yield by Tara June Winch. The way that Winch writes about language makes the hair on my arms stick up. Beautiful!

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I have lots of ideas… but choosing a good one takes time. My goal now is to create more literature for Dharug language learners. I also love animation and would love to start developing and creating more mixed media types of storytelling.

But my first and true love is children’s books… just waiting on a new idea.

10. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

To be human is to be a storyteller. If there is a story in your heart tell it. You never know what might happen. 

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Open Your Heart to Country by Jasmine Seymour (Magabala Books) is out now!

Open Your Heart to Countryby Jasmine Seymour

Open Your Heart to Country

by Jasmine Seymour

Get to know the author of Open Your Heart to Country.

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