Wild Bush Days
Midnight Sun, 2022
32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99
There’s a whisper among these ghosts, these craggy shadows on the hill.
The song of a forgotten past, it tells of wild bush days, of rough and hungry times, a fierce woman tearing through the scrub…
Jessie Hickman was Australia’s bold, but little-known, Lady Bushranger. Raised in the circus during the early 1900s, she later turned to a life of crime and cattle hustling. Also referred to as the “Wild Woman of Wollemi” because she roamed the upper Blue Mountains and Lower Hunter in what is now the Wollemi National Park she used her skills as a rough-rider and tightrope walker to elude police (echoed in the illustrations in the final pages) and often hiding in a cave, deep in the mountains.
In this lyrical and superbly illustrated new picture book, two young, modern-day adventurers go looking for that cave, accompanied by the whispers of the past calling them further on through the rough terrain, deeper and deeper into history until…
The concept of telling Hickman’s story through the eyes of the girls, the exquisite choice of language and layout and the illustrations which interpret the text bringing it to life and beyond, combine to not only introduce young readers to a little-known character in Australia’s bushranger story but also show how history can be told in a way that straddles both information and imagination, bringing it to life in a way that facts and figures don’t. Certainly, I was off on a rabbit-hole chase to find out more…
At the same time, there is also the joy of having the freedom to explore the bush, to echo Hickman’s circus skills as the girls scramble through the undergrowth, climb rocks, traverse creeks over slippery branches, unperturbed about scratches or dirt or “danger”, inspiring a desire in the reader to just get out into the fresh air of the outdoors and explore.
A contender for next year’s CBCA awards for sure.