The Fire Wombat
24pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99
A curl of smoke appears on the horizon, gradually getting bigger, blacker and more ominous as it comes closer. The parched earth burns and day becomes night as the ash-thick air envelops all before it and beneath it.
Nowhere above the ground is safe for anything with two legs or four, but this is not the animals’ first fire and Wombat knows where to go and what to do. And when it is finally safe to emerge, the landscape is unlike the one they had left… grey, charred, burnt, devoid of both food and water. But a primeval instinct drives Wombat and she pushes on and on, seeking the liquid that would mean life…
Written about a little wombat that stumbled onto her Araluen Valley property and then collapsed, this is Jackie French’s own story of resilience and hope amidst the horror that was the summer of 2019-2020 when she and those she loves were surrounded by four fires and the future looked bleak, if not dire. It is a story about how when things seem to be at their worst, basic human nature, kindness and goodness prevails and we look out for those who are in worse circumstances, including our precious but often helpless wildlife. Even though what is done initially may not solve the problem, it is something that can lead to something else and something else… Like the Fire Wombat, we just need to keep searching until we find what we need.
It is a story that embraces all the age groups – on the surface it is a story for little ones about a little wombat whose basic instinct is preservation and which perseveres to find what it needs; but it is also for older students who can consider the sort of assistance that is required and what they can do; maybe even what they can do to prevent fires of the future. The teachers’ notes which I wrote span all these aspects offering another avenue for our students to heal from that awful summer. Pandemic or not, there are still many wounds to tend to.
No matter at what level you read this beautiful story – along the lines, between them or beyond them – you will acknowledge that Jackie French is indeed a master storyteller, and her words have been enriched and enhanced by Danny Snell’s sensitive artwork.
And the rainbow after the rain, the dawn after the dark? Jackie has just shared that the Fire Wombat now has a baby of her own, “black as charcoal, fat and bouncing” . She glimpsed them in the valley three weeks ago and Fire Wombat is fat and happy too!