The Barrumbi Kids by Leonie Norrington, paperback novel, 196 pages, first published by Omnibus Books in 2002, this edition published by Omnibus Books in 2014.
Dale and Tomias are best friends living in a remote village in the Northern Territory of Australia. Long Hole and surrounds is Tomias’ ancestral land, and Dale’s ancestors were the first white family to settle in the area. They are part of the land, as the land is part of them, though they are still learning to use and respect it, and all the creatures within it. The boys attend the only school in town, along with their siblings and cousins. The boys spend their last year of schooling in Long Hole learning about themselves, their cultures, overcoming the school bully and getting into plenty of scrapes along the way.
The Barrumbi Kids is a story of friendship and cultural interaction between aborigines and white people. It is also an insightful view of remote communities, and the people that live there. The realities of bush fires and crocodiles, snakes and floods, rural schooling and harsh weather conditions is a constant theme through the story, which also explores the theme of growing up in, what is, for many, a very different environment to their own.
The speech of the characters and the construction of their sentences has been written to imitate the actual language of the area. I found the small glossary of Mayali language and commonly used words at the back of the book useful, though most of it was explained within the story itself. This use of language definitely gave the story a more authentic and unique feel.
An interesting and different read, The Barrumbi Kids is well written, and suitable for middle to upper primary school children and older. The story was funny at times, especially when the kids explored the chook shed, though also slightly scary when Lizzie was being chased by a crocodile, a highlight of the daily dangers faced by the kids in remote Australia. I liked the relationships between the characters, especially that between Tomias and Dale, who are so different, yet so similar. The elders were portrayed well, and I quite liked old Caroleena. I could picture Mrs Armstrong’s sour face so clearly, and her fit of terror over the snake. That had me laughing too.
I’m happy for my second grader to read this book. I expect plenty of questions as she reads it, since the lives of the children in the story are quite different to her experiences. It is good to read something outside our own little sense of the world, I think reading The Barrumbi Kids will encourage her to want to know more about the outback of Australia and about the first settlers to this beautiful land.
* The Barrumbi Kids was an honours books for the 2003 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in the Younger Readers category.