BOISDALE-based budgie Mr Beaky has an important message about culture, First Nations Australians, and his fellow native birds in his new picture book.

Co-authored by Cassie Leatham and Sue Lawson, An Important Message from Mr Beaky is an accessible and respectful introduction to Aboriginal culture and identity. Mr Beaky’s photos in the book were taken by Boisdale couple Velta and Ian Fellowes from The EVENTurers.

Ms Leatham is a multidisciplinary artist of the Taungurung and Dja Dja Wurrung people, and her artwork is featured throughout the book.

An Important Message from Mr Beaky is out now.

Ms Leatham is also a cultural educator, and told the Gippsland Times she wanted a better way to help kids understand the richness of First Nations culture and to answer their questions.

“The kids would say to me, ‘hey Auntie Cass, how come you’re Aboriginal but you have fair skin?’ So I tell them I’ve got an Aboriginal dad who has dark skin, and a white Australian mum,” Ms Leatham said.

But the kids still didn’t understand, so Ms Leatham turned to Mr Beaky.

Even though Mr Beaky is blue and white, not green and yellow like most budgies, he is still a native bird.

“As Mr Beaky says, ‘just because I’m not green, doesn’t mean I can’t be seen’, and that clicked,” Ms Leatham said.

Budgies seen in the wild usually have yellow and green feathers. Pet budgies like Mr Beaky can have many shades of yellow, green, blue or white feathers.

“Doesn’t matter if they’re blue, they’re still native budgies,” Ms Leatham said.

“And it’s the same with me. I’m a fair-skinned Aboriginal, but it’s still in my DNA. I don’t say I’m fair-skinned, I say I am Aboriginal. But I acknowledge both of my ancestors.

“Some of the kids I taught were Aboriginal, but they didn’t really know the heritage or the culture, so Mr Beaky was teaching them to be proud.

“One kid asked how he fits because he’s not Aboriginal, and I told him you do fit, we’re all human at the end of the day.”

Mr Beaky has lived up to his name. Photo: Stefan Bradley

Ms Leatham’s fateful meeting with Mr Beaky was two years ago.

“I went for a bike ride at the back of Briagolong and an eastern rosella flew over my head and landed on my handlebar. I moved it off and it landed back on my handlebar, and I rode with it for 20 kilometres,” Ms Leatham said.

“As it flew off, it left a beautiful bright blue tailfeather. I recorded it on my GoPro and put it on YouTube. People didn’t believe it was real.”

The next day, Ms Leatham found herself in a pet store in Sale, where there was a blue budgie in its cage who tried to get close to Ms Leatham.

“This budgie is reaching out to me, I had to buy him. On the way home, he was beaking about in his cage, so I chose to call him Mr Beaky,” Ms Leatham said.

“A couple of days later, he said ‘my name is Mr Beaky’. I got it all recorded.

“He said ‘my name’s Mr Beaky. I’m mummy’s bird. I’m a baby bird. I’m a sweet baby bird’.”

During COVID, Ms Leatham spent a lot of time on Zoom meetings instead of going out into the community.

Mr Beaky was a frequent presence on these calls and loved saying hello and keeping everyone company. The multilingual budgie also picked up the Aboriginal language that Ms Leatham speaks at home, Taungurung.

“Mr Beaky knows about 380 different phrases and words. He’s only two years old, so he has a lot to go. He’s learning more everyday,” Ms Leatham said.

Maryann Ballantyne from Wild Dog Books had originally wanted to do a book about Ms Leatham’s educational resources and her bushtucker.

But once Ms Ballantyne heard Mr Beaky talk, the project turned into a children’s picture book about connection, caring for country and Mr Beaky spreading his positivity.

And as a bonus, readers will learn Aboriginal words that Mr Beaky likes to say, and fun facts about budgies!

“This gorgeous blue little budgie has brought so much love and joy, and he’s got his own special murrup,” Ms Leatham said.

‘Murrup’ refers to soul and spirit – more than heart.

An Important Message from Mr Beaky, published by Wild Dog Books, is available now from all good book sellers.

Mr Beaky’s very own book launch will be at Federation Square on Saturday, August 20 at 2pm.

Cassie Leatham and Mr Beaky. Photo: Stefan Bradley