A Naturalist's Life, by Rica Erickson

Western Australia’s unique flora and fauna have long been a source of interest to a range of naturalists, locals and visitors alike. One of the most notable naturalists to live and work in Western Australia is Rica Erickson who was born in Boulder in 1908 and has spent most of her life studying and writing about her state’s orchids, plants, insects and birds.

In A Naturalist’s Life she shares a first person account of those studies, carried out both in her own backyard – a farming property in rural Bolgart – and around the rest of Australia, though her true passion was for Western Australian animals and plants.

Not really an autobiography, the focus is on Erickson’s work as a naturalist, against the background of her life as teacher, mother and wife. Several of the chapters are reprints of Erickson’s previous work – including articles from newspapers and journals, and brochures.

For anyone with an interest in Erickson’s work, this is an enlightening insight. It will also appeal to those with an interest in wildflowers and wildlife, or in Western Australian history. For this reviewer, a family link to the Bolgart district made the text especially relevant.

A Naturalist’s Life, by Rica Erickson
UWA Press for the Charles and Joy Staples South West Regions Publication Fund, 2005

The Castaway Convict, by Wendy MacDonald

“Help! Help!” he shouted and gagged on a mouthful of salt. Waves broke over him, filling his mouth and nose with water. He could not stand. He could not swim. Then he could not feel the bottom any more and he knew with real terror that he had been swept out to sea.

Josh Martin doesn’t know why he is in Point Puer, the boys’ division of the Port Arthur convict prison. He doesn’t remember how he got to Van Diemen’s Land, nor where his family is. In fact, all he knows is that his name is Josh Martin, not Tom Parish, which is what everyone else calls him.

When Josh is pushed into the sea by a bully, he is swept away in a terrifying ride to freedom. Soon he has made some new friends and found safety – but the past which saw him land in Point Puer continues to haunt him. As his memory starts to return, the truth of the terrible chain of events that led him here emerges – and new threats to his safety emerge.

Castaway Convict is a gripping historical novel, which weaves a vivid picture of life in colonial Tasmania, and has plenty of action and mystery to keep readers turning pages. Josh and his friends are believable, endearing characters and there is enough in the plot to absorb readers aged up to about 14.

A good solid read.

The Castaway Conflict, by Wendy MacDonald
UWA Press, 2005

Naked Bunyip Dancing, by Steven Herrick

We all stare at Mr Carey,
who turns off the music,
bows, smiles,
and says,
‘Thank you, children.
One day, I hope we’ll sing together.
After lunch,
we’ll read poetry.’
This going to be
one very interesting year!

Mr Carey wears t-shirts with slogans, has long hair and sings along to Bob Dylan songs. He is also Class 6C’s new teacher. They are not impressed.

But as the year progresses, Mr Carey and his class begin to discover their talents. Class 6C have all sorts of talents – and come from all sorts of backgrounds, each with problems and insecurities of their own. This crazy class share their unpredictable year through free verse poetry, using the first-person voices of the students.

This is Steven Herrick’s eighth novel in verse, and again he shows his genius with the form. The use of verse allows an intimate viewpoint of events, with multiple perspectives, loads of humour and a brevity which young readers will love. This would be especially good for a read-aloud to classes of upper-primary students.


Naked Bunyip Dancing, by Steven Herrick
Allen & Unwin, 2005

1988, by Andrew McGahan

It seemed fitting. We’d drive, we’d traverse the continent. Not that we could go all the way by car. Wayne didn’t know exactly where the lighthouse was, but he did know that it was somewhere remote, not accessible by road. The only way in was by plane or boat. And it seemed that once we’d arrived, we’d be stuck there until the six months were up. There was no transport for holidays or weekends off. Only, maybe, for emergencies. Critical injuries, heart attacks, death.

It is 1988, the year Australia celebrates the Bicentenary of European settlement and Brisbane hosts the Expo. But Gordon, failed writer and part time bottleshop attendant, is heading out of Brisbane to spend most of the year manning a weather station thousands of miles from home, and isolated from the rest of the world. His partner in this journey is Wayne, a mere acquaintance and artist. The two hope that their isolation will help with their respective crafts.

But, while the pair expect their job to be challenging, the challenges they face are not necessarily those they expected, and Gordon finds himself living in a blur of alcohol and marijuana , counting down the days till his departure.

1988 is a prequel to author McGahan’s first novel, Praise, both re-released this year along with his other novels to date. Whilst not the recipient of the same awards and kudos that some of his other novels have earned (McGahan has won the Miles Franklin, a Ned Kelly and the Vogel award), 1988 is another example of both his masterful writing and his versatility. Gordon is a flawed character, yet the reader is taken on an intimate journey through his messed-up life and finds some level of understanding.

A satisfying read.

1988, by Andrew McGahan
Allen & Unwin 1995, this edition 2005

The Anniversary Legends Series, Books 1-7, by Michael Panckridge

“So what’s in store for us this year, Travis?” asked Bryce.
“Well, it’s about toughness. Being strong. Having guts. Determination. It’s going to be right out of your league, Flavel. And yours too,” he said, looking at Rat. I was waiting for his predictions for me and Bubba.

Last year’s Legends competition was close – with Mitchell Grady winning narrowly over school bully Travis Fisk. But this year things are going to be even tougher. It’s the seventieth year of the Legends competition, and with different sports and special golden trophies at stake, the competition is really going to be fierce. Mitchell wants desperately to win back to back championships, but Travis is determined that it is his turn to win. And with his Dad on his side, changing the rules at every step, it might just be achievable.

The Anniversary Legends series follows on from where The Legends left off, with Mitchell and his friends and foes back for another year at Sandhurst School. Whilst the formula for the books is similar, there is enough difference here to prevent the series becoming repetitive. A new character, Karla, is introduced and two of the books are narrated by Luci, giving a girls’ perspective. There are also some new sports – with Rugby and a Wilderness skills contest, as well as Netball each being the subject of a Legends contest, and snow sports and skateboarding both featuring alongside other sports.

Whilst an adult reader may be a little frustrated at the apparent lack of caring or awareness of injustices and even cheating, child readers seem to overlook and even accept it – making this reviewer wonder if it as unrealistic as she first thought.

This is an excellent series for sports-mad 9 to 12 year olds, and is likely to be an assets in engaging reluctant readers.

Race at the Rock, Offside Upfront, Goal Attack and Pack Down, all 2004
Out of Bounds, In the Zone and Go the Distance, all 2005

By Michael Panckridge, published by Black Dog Books

Double Cross, by Greg Pyers

Things were bad. The gravel was racing by in a blur only centimetres under my backside, while the wheels blasted me with sand and grit. The tractor was bouncing on its suspension, and me with it, like it was actually trying to shake me off. A big enough bump and I’d hit the road. I didn’t care who was driving. I just wanted to stop!

For Carly, a world where thylacines once again roam free and cows can produce strawberry milk is normal. It is, after all, 2032 and genetic manipulation is used to produce whatever people want. But when Carly meets Ace, a teenage fugitive, she quickly sees the other, darker side of this new world. Soon, Carly and Ace are on the run, running from something Carly cannot begin to understand.

Double Cross is a chillingly dark adventure set in a not so distant future and exploring a possible future created by advances in genetic technology. Award-winning author Greg Pyers presents twists and turns which have the reader guessing and being surprised right to the final page.

Suitable for readers aged 12 and over.

Double Cross, by Greg Pyers
ABC Books, 2005

Last Drinks, by Andrew McGahan

Identify somebody? Did he mean identify some actual body? That didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t that people didn’t die in Highwood, but I wasn’t a local, not even after ten years of living there. I was nobody’s relative and nobody’s next of kin. Why would I be called?

Ten years after the Fitzgerald Inquiry in Queensland, disgraced journalist George Verney thinks he has put those times behind him. He’s living in quiet Highwood, close to the NSW border, has given up drinking and is working a steady job as the sole reporter on the local paper. Thinks are ticking along with his love interest, Emily, and he has managed to forget the great love interest of his life, Maybellene and her husband Charlie, once his best mate and partner in illicit business.

But an early morning phone call from the local police sergeant shatters not just his night’s sleep, but his whole existence. Charlie has been found dead, brutally murdered close to Highwood.

In the days that follow, George must face up to the demons of his past. Charlie has died a homeless drunk and it is up to George to organise a funeral, at the same time trying to piece together just why Charlie has been killed. Returning to Brisbane for the funeral, George seeks out the other partners in the business venture which saw them all named and shamed in the Inquiry. He’s desperate to find out the truth but as it unravels he finds that the truth is sometimes unpalatable.

Last Drinks is a thrilling crime novel with highs and lows; laugh out loud moments teamed with deep, dark depths; and masterful rendering of character and place. The events of George’s life have a parallel with the political life of the whole state, an analogy which author Andrew McGahan develops subtly, yet skilfully.

Winner of a Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Novel, Last Drinks was first published in 2000 and has been re-released along with McGahan’s other novels.

Last Drinks, by Andrew McGahan
Allen & Unwin, 2000, this edition 2005

Pearlie in the Park, by Wendy Harmer

Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan

Everyone who loves fairies is going to love Pearlie. She lives in the fountain in Jubilee Park in the middle of the city. Every day, Pearlie looks after the park, making sure that animals are doing what they are supposed to do and that the park is clean and tidy.

Then one day, things don’t go as Pearlie plans. The spiders are floating on the lily pads, ducks are swinging by their wings in the trees, possums are swimming in the pond and frogs are spinning spider’s webs.

Pearlie sets out to find out who is behind this and we join her as she discovers what went wrong. We meet the culprits, Mr Flea and Scrag, two mischievous rats who also live in Jubilee Park. They enjoy causing just a little bit of trouble for Pearlie and her friends. But Pearlie soon teaches them that being mischievous may not get them exactly what they want.

Pearlie looks just like you imagine a city fairy would look like. She has long blond hair, pearls around her neck and a great big happy grin. Mr Flea and Scrag are opposites, one fat and the other thin, but they look like they are up to something. The pictures are bright and colourful and make you want to go and enjoy a day with Pearlie and her park friends.

Recommended for lower primary school aged children or those who enjoy listening to a fun story.

Pearlie in the Park, by Wendy harmer, illustrated by Mike Zarb
Random House, 2003

Rhino Neil, by Mini Goss

Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan

Living in a zoo filled with exotic animals doesn’t always mean that you have friends. Rhino Neil is big, and because the other animals in the zoo find him scary, he is lonely. Then, one day a new animal arrives and Neil is no longer the biggest animal at the zoo. The arrival of Tuscany means the arrival of a new friend for Neil.

This is a wonderful story inspired by one of Mini Goss’s children and a visit to Werribee Zoo. We meet a fantastic range of African animals; giraffes, zebra’s, ostriches and antelope’s as we learn why they fear Rhino Neil. The book is an excellent way to promote discussion about fear, likes and dislikes.

The illustrations are beautiful, bright and emotive. Mini Goss’s ability as an illustrator is highlighted through her wonderful use of perspective and showing Neil as he appears to the animals. Using symmetry and shape well, the animals fill the pages, showing their emotions through their facial expressions and in particular their eyes.

This is a well written, enjoyable story that does not waste words. The language is suitable for early readers and it is easy for younger children to follow and listen to. The illustrations will delight everyone. A highly recommended read for everyone who enjoys picture books.

Rhino Neil, by Mini Goss
New Frontier, 2005

The Final Lap, by Michael Panckridge

settled into some backstroke myself, working at a friendly pace. I liked swimming laps. With my goggles on and in the blue world of the water, I could enter another dimension and forget the worries of the day. And today, for me, that was a good thing.

It’s time for the final sport in the Sandhurst School’s annual sporting Legends series. Mitchell Grady is well-placed to win the overall series, after his rival, school bully Travis Fisk, was disqualified from the last event. But Travis and his father have some surprises up their sleeves. And they aren’t Mitchell’s only problems.

This is the eighth and final instalment in The Legends series , a series sure to be a hit with readers in upper primary years, especially sport mad boys. This instalment brings the ongoing story to a satisfying conclusion.

The Final Lap, by Michael Panckridge
Black Dog, 2003