Diane Lucas and Ben Tyler (text) and Emma Long (illustrator), Walking in Gagudju Country: Exploring the Monsoon Forest, Allen & Unwin, June 2021, 32 pp., RRP $29.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781760525958
Readers are invited along for a walk in Gagudju Country (also known as Kakadu) and are introduced to its abundance of flora and fauna as known by the local indigenous people. This book has been shortlisted both in the 2022 CBCA Eve Pownall category (best non-fiction for 0-18 years), and in the New Illustrator category, recognising both its informative and artistic merits.
The narrative evolves naturally, as if you the reader were actually there with the ‘explorers’ on their walk. Together you see and hear a variety of plants and animals and learn their Kundjehmi (a language group of the Bininj people) names. A small picture near the text references the particular animal or plant, with the English name beside it for clarity. There is also a handy reference glossary included that lists all the Indigenous terms covered in the book. But the book is more than just a nature reference. Elders’ teachings and beliefs are also woven into the narrative, introducing the reader to Bininj culture and their relationship to the natural world.
Alongside the text, taking up a good three quarters of a two-page spread, are highly detailed paintings of the scene being referred to within the forest. It is a natural process that as you read you search for the animal or plant that is mentioned within the text in the larger landscape picture. This ‘seek and find’ element further adds to the immersive experience for the reader.
The pictures themselves are wonderfully detailed, with many shades of green that convey the lush nature of the forest. They also display to great effect the many patterns within nature, the repetition of pattern on leaves, the mottled bark on trees, the patchy skin of a snake. The paintings also present a variety of perspectives; underwater, underground, close-ups, magnifications, ground level, tree height, bird height and overhead. This inclusion of a wide range of views ensures a dynamic and interesting book. Finally, a special mention for the endpapers, a tangle of vines and animals offer a captivating visual feast for readers.
Walking in Gagudju Country expertly and seamlessly blends story, illustration, and knowledge to produce a high-quality and engaging non-fiction book. Apart from actually walking in Kakadu National Park with Elders this book offers the next best thing; a sensitive and valuable contributor towards First Nations knowledge.
Reviewed by Julie Bertola