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.
About the Author
James Vance Marshall is the pseudonym of Donald Payne (b. 1924). Only half a dozen Marshall novels have appeared in the last fifty years but they have sold several million copies and been translated into seventeen languages. Two, including Walkabout, have been made into films.
Walkabout is a work of collaboration between Donald Payne and the Australian James Vance Marshall (1887–1964). Marshall spent much of his life in the outback of Australia—a part of the world he knew intimately and loved deeply. He wrote a series of articles about the people, flora, and fauna of the outback, and with his permission, Payne used these articles as background for their novel Walkabout.
Subsequently, and with the consent of Marshall’s son, Payne continued to publish under the pseudonym Marshall; his most recent book is Stories from the Billabong (2008), a collection of Aboriginal legends retold as stories for children.
Lee Siegel is the author of four books, including Against the Machine: How the Web Is Reshaping Culture and Commerce—and Why It Matters and Are You Serious: How to Be True and Get Real in the Age of Silly. He has written essays and reviews for many publications, including Harper’s Magazine, The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Times. In 2002, he received the National Magazine Award for Reviews and Criticism.