Review: The Barrumbi Kids by Leonie Norrington (AWW Challenge 2013 #1)

the-barrumbi-kidsI picked up The Burrumbi Kids ages ago (at the superb Embiggen Books in Melbourne) but didn’t get to it in time for last year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Naturally, I took it with me on my wee New Year break in the Dandenongs and promptly read it in a day!

The Barrumbi Kids is the story of best friends, Dale and Tomias, who live in the little outback town of Barrumbi in the Northern Territory. Their days are filled with negotiating school, teachers, family, enemies and the two cultures from which they come. They both love the land, even though it can be a dangerous place: fire, snakes, crocodiles and drought all present moments of excitement and challenge.

Norrington, who lived in an outback community herself, paints a vivid picture of the land and the bush community. There are lively, believable relationships and interactions between not only indigenous and white cultures but the clashing cultures of a rural community and big-city folks who struggle to fit in (and cope with all the red dust).

Dale and Tomias are fabulous characters with a strong, believable friendship. They make mistakes and fight sometimes, but they come across as very real, and with a very real connection. They start off by wagging school which leads to the boys being caught in a grass fire and an immediate cross-cultural dilemma, because Dale has compromised his friend. He does what good friends do, though, to make up for his mistake.

Another terrific character is Lizzie, Dale’s smart and resourceful little sister, who gets her own rivetting scene when confronted with a crocodile and has to stare it down, as Auntie Mavis, a local elder, has taught her to.

Norrington does an excellent job of creating and exploring cross-cultural issues with both white/indigenous, bush/city divides. The dilemmas she poses are plausible and nuanced, without being heavy handed, stereotypical or predictable in her approach. The language she uses flows beautifully, but is also vivid and distinctive. Indigenous words are part of her linguistic palette, as they should be in this setting.

The excellence of The Barrumbi Kids was recgonised with shortlistings for the 2003 NSW Premier’s Literary Award Patricia Wrightson Prize and Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards, and more books in the same setting have followed. They’re now on my wish list!

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.