Walking in Gagudju Country: Exploring the Monsoon Forest
Diane Lucas & Ben Tyler
Allen & Unwin, 2021
32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99
When a walk through the forest becomes an opportunity to learn about the secrets of what grows and lives there, and to tell and hear the stories of its past peoples, you never know how long you will be, what you will hear or what you will see. For this forest in Kakadu in the Northern Territory contains more riches than a pirate’s treasure trove with its plant life, insects, birds and creatures, their inter-connections and the stories they bring with them. Old man Kapirigi says, “You gotta watch those birds”, (the djuwe or northern bower bird} “they’ll steal your bones out of the cave when you die.”
Combining their knowledge of and passion for the land and its stories, the authors have created a text that carries the reader along with its narrative while being laden with the most remarkable information, embedding the Kundjeyhml language in so naturally that the English equivalents seem so bland and boring in comparison. And Emma Long’s line and watercolour drawings that span full page spreads down to tiny vignettes are just sublime, highlighting just how busy even a tiny leaf can be if we take the time to look and listen. Rather than using conventional speech indicators, an avatar depicts the speaker as they point out something or tell a story and the whole just becomes an engaging read and learning experience that makes you want to go out to really embrace and inhale the nearest bit of garden you can find. Just because we can’t get to Kakadu right now doesn’t mean we can’t learn the lessons of observation, appreciation and conservation that this book offers. There is so much more than we usually see to discover – a new world that fits in perfectly with this year’s CBCA Book Week theme.
Lucas’s first book, Walking with the Seasons in Kakadu, published over 15 years ago led the way to opening up this land to our young readers so they could begin to understand its ancient stories and those who shared them and this stunning book continues the tradition. Look for it in the CBCA 2022 Eve Pownall Notables because it certainly deserves a place there.