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 Aboriginal boy on walkabout, who teaches them to find food and water in the wilderness, but whom Mary can’t bring herself to trust.
Though on the surface Walkabout is an adventure story, darker themes lie just beneath. Peter’s innocent friendship with the Aboriginal throws into relief Mary’s no longer childish anxiety, and together raise questions about how Aboriginal and Western culture can meet. And in the vivid descriptions of the natural world, we realize that this story—a deep fairy tale in the spirit of Adalbert Stifter’s Rock Crystal—must also be a story about the closeness of death and the power of nature.
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Walkabout by James Vance Marshall
The aeroplane crashed in the middle of nowhere. There were no roads, no houses and no people. There was only bush, and rocks as far as the eyes could see. Only two children survived the crash.
The aeroplane was on fire. The girl pulled her small brother away from it.
‘Run, Pete,’ she shouted. ‘Quick!’
They ran through the bush as fast as they could. Then they started to climb up through some rocks. Near the top, they stopped and looked down. From the rocks, they watched the fire.
‘Where are we?’ asked Peter.
The girl didn’t answer. She didn’t know. They were lost in the Australian desert. But she couldn’t tell Peter that.
Twenty-five hundred kilometres away, in the big city of Adelaide, Uncle Keith was at the airport. He looked at his watch. Keith’s brother worked in America. He lived in Charleston, South Carolina, with his wife and two children. This was the children’s first visit to Australia. But their aeroplane was late. It was very late. Uncle Keith waited and waited. He talked to other families. They asked about the plane, but nobody at the airport could tell them anything. Then people began to talk about an accident, about a plane crash. There were no survivors.
Now it was dark, and the children were alone. They were cold, so they climbed down between some rocks. They could see nothing, they could hear nothing. They were lost, and they were afraid.
‘It’s all right, Peter,’ said Mary.
His sister’s arms were round him. That felt better. When a boy is only eight, a big sister of thirteen can be wonderful.
They talked quietly, perhaps because there was no other noise. Or perhaps because they were afraid.
‘Mary,’ Peter said, ‘I’m hungry. Have you got any chocolate?’
Mary found the chocolate. She broke it in two, and gave half to him. They sat very quietly in the black night. Then Peter started to move again.
‘My leg hurts,’ he said. Mary looked at it.
‘It’s all right,’ she said. ‘It’ll be better in the morning.’
Peter was quiet again. He fell asleep with Mary’s arms round him. But Mary couldn’t sleep. She watched her young brother. She was sister and mother to him now. She thought about the aeroplane journey and the accident, and she thought about her mother and her father. But her head felt heavy. Then she was asleep too…