by James Vance Marshall, introduction by Lee Siegel
A plane crashes in the vast Northern Territory of Australia, and the only survivors are two children from Charleston, South Carolina, on their way to visit their uncle in Adelaide. Mary and her younger brother, Peter, set out on foot, lost in the vast, hot Australian outback. They are saved by a chance meeting with an unnamed Aboriginal boy on walkabout. He looks after the two strange white children and shows them how to find food and water in the wilderness, and yet, for all that, Mary is filled with distrust.
On the surface Walkabout is an adventure story, but darker themes lie beneath. Peter’s innocent friendship with the boy met in the desert throws into relief Mary’s half-adult anxieties, and the book as a whole raises questions about what is lost—and may be saved—when different worlds meet. And in reading Marshall’s extraordinary evocations of the beautiful yet forbidding landscape of the Australian desert, perhaps the most striking presence of all in this small, perfect book, we realize that this tale—a deep yet disturbing story in the spirit of Adalbert Stifter’s Rock Crystal and Richard Hughes’s A High Wind in Jamaica—is also a reckoning with the mysteriously regenerative powers of death.
A haunting little idyl in the same vein as A High Wind in Jamaica and Green Mansions tells of two children, a boy and a girl, sole survivors of a plane crash in the Australian bush. Their fragile veneer of modern culture clashes with the primitive soul of a black bush boy who is making his tribal "walkabout" –a half-year’s solitary journey in the wilderness to test his fitness to be a member of his tribe.
Walkabout is to Australians what Robinson Crusoe is to the English.
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
Walkabout is pared down to its bare bones, like the ancient life in the desert, but if it is simple, it is not oversimplified, and it does not hesitate to face, honestly and unsentimentally, the questions it raises.... There will be many who not only enjoy it, but long remember it.
—Elizabeth Janeway, The New York Times
A much-acclaimed novel set in the Australian Outback.
This is a choice little tale which will have devoted admirers. It discloses a rare beauty of human relationship among three children in a strange predicament on the crust of the earth.
An Australian-outback classic.
Very tender, very touching, and sketched out with no sign of strain. The descriptions of the Australian bush are first-rate.
—New Statesman (London)
A deeply-felt book, filled with information about desert flora and fauna.
—Times Literary Supplement (London)
A sensitive and restrained tale which implies some pointed truths about the values of our civilization...
Marshall is one of Australia’s greatest unsung, unread, and unappreciated writers. He wrote all his life in an innocent, simple, colloquial style. His stories were fables straight from the Australian earth.