How to Talk to a Frill-Neck Lizard, by James Moloney

Bern saw the lizard first, but it was Cody who named him Tarantula.
‘Tarantula! That’s a kind of spider,’ said Bern.
‘Yeah, I know. A really scary spider,’ said Cody.

Bern and Cody live in the Australian bush on a cattle station. They find and tame a frill-neck lizard, ‘feeding him insects on the back verandah’. Bern’s an action man, but Cody is more reflective, and sure he can understand what Tarantula is thinking. Uncle Mo comes to stay and notices how fast Tarantula can run. He sees the chance to enter the lizard in a race and make some fast money. Despite the boy’s objections Mo takes Tarantula to the race. They follow and soon are caught up in pre-race excitement. Only the lizards seem unaffected. Bern discovers a surefire way to get the lizards running and they do. Bern and Cody are both sure they are responsible for their pet winning the race. However, Uncle Mo doesn’t get to keep the prize-money for very long. There are colour illustrations on every opening.

How to Talk to a Frill-Neck Lizard is a new offering from Omnibus in their ‘Mates’ series. Each is a tall tale, uniquely Australian. Bern and Cody rub along, gently bickering, but caring for their new pet. Each has their own talents. In rocks their chancer uncle, Mo, keen to eat Mum’s cooking and make a few quick quid. In How to Talk to a Frill-Neck Lizard the humour is almost slap-stick, chapters are short, the illustrations are bright and humourous. Perfect! Added extras are the chook and the lizard in the header/footer. One chook slowly makes the journey through the pages to visit the second chook. A lizard moves in the opposite direction. These extra little ‘stories’ are for young readers to notice and enjoy, the way they enjoy the visual narrative as well as the words in a picture book. Recommended for newly independent readers making the transition from picture books to novels.

How to Talk to a Frill-Neck Lizard (Mates)

How to Talk to a Frill-Neck Lizard (Mates), James Maloney ill Simone Linehan
Omnibus Books 2010
ISBN: 9781862918146

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Dougy, Gracey and Angela, by James Moloney

Dougy doesn’t say much, and people think that means he’s slow. Sometimes it’s if they don’t even know he’s there. But Dougy sees and feels plenty, and when his town is torn apart by a bubbling up of racial tension, it is Dougy who digs deep to save the lives of his older sister, Gracey, and brother, Raymond.

Dougy is the viewpoint character in the first book of this marvellous trilogy which starts with the dramatic unfolding of events in Dougy before shifting to explore sister Gracey’s story as she tries to balance life far away from her home town with being part of an Aboriginal family in the country, and finally to the friendship between Gracey and her schoolmate Angela. This final book explores Gracey’s need to reconnect with her Aboriginal heritage and Angela’s struggle to understand both Gracey’s need and the broader issue of the ‘stolen generation’.

As the series progresses the issues become in some ways more complex, and the characters develop. With Dougy being the sole narrator of the first book, Dougy and Gracey sharing the narration of the second (with a white policeman also being a minor narrator), and Angela narrating the third, readers get not just to get to know each character but also witnesses their growth. Exploring issues including systemic and endemic racism, aboriginal health and mortality, deaths in custody, the stolen generations and more, these important books make thought-provoking reading.


Dougy, by James Moloney, UQP, this edition 2009


Gracey, by James Moloney, UQP, this edition 2009


Angela, by James Moloney, UQP, this edition 2009

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A Bridge to Wiseman's Cove, by James Moloney

Carl was afraid to breathe. The weight of the bird and its piercing gaze was enough to freeze him there forever. ‘Now, Carl. Set it free.’

When Carl’s mum abandons him, his brother and sister, he isn’t too worried. Mum has gone off before, but she always comes back. But time goes past, and Mum doesn’t return. Then Carls’ sister decides she needs a break – and sends Carl and his brother Harley away. Deep down, Carl knows his sister isn’t coming back, either.

Now Harley is all that Carl has got – and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep him. Even when it means dropping out of school and looking for work. A low paying job on the barge to Wiseman’s Cove doesn’t seem much, but soon that barge is almost as important to Carl as Harley is.

First published in 1996, and winner of the CBCA Book of the Year, A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove is a wonderfully moving tale of an unlikely hero. Carl is a self-confessed big boy, who isn’t particularly strong, or particularly clever. He struggles to connect with people, yet in the course of this story manages to make some unlikely connections which will change his life.

It is wonderful to see this back in print.

A Bridge to Wiseman's Cove

A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove, by James Moloney
UQP 1996, 2007

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond

Touch Me, by James Moloney

‘When can I hold you then?’ he whispered. ‘I want to. I…’ He was going to say I love you – but what did that mean?

Rugby is the only thing that matters to Xavier. He’s in year 12 and wants desperately to make the school’s first fifteen side, and play with his mates to win the premiership for the first time in twenty years. His world starts to change, though, when he meets Nuala Magee. He’s never met a girl anything like her. She dresses like a boy, acting out a role which incenses boys and amuses other girls. She’s hard to get to know, but Xavier is determined to do just that.

Touch Me is a gripping read about rugby, first love and growing up. Xavier is a likeable main character, and the reader also sees important scenes from Nuala’s perspective, so that an understanding of both characters and the difficulties of their relationship is developed. A third important character is Xavier’s new friend, Alex, who is recovering from leukaemia and has had to face his mortality.

First published in 2000 by UQP, it has been republished by UQP along with others of James Moloney’s works, a wonderful opportunity to discover or rediscover his works, for individual readers, collectors and for libraries.

A wonderful, thought-provoking read.

Touch Me

Touch me, by James Moloney
UQP, 200, 2007Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Crossfire, by James Moloney

Luke could almost count the pig’s strides as it closed in…His father lay frantic in the dust, scarcely able to raise his head…The pig would kill him.

Luke doesn’t live with his dad, but he still idolises him. Dad is a hunter, a hard man who knows everything about guns. When Luke is suspended from school for hiding a gun in his locker, Luke’s mum is horrified, but Luke thinks she’s over reacting. He needed the gun to practise his shooting in the bush after school.

When Mum is unexpectedly hospitalised, Luke finds himself unexpectedly able to accompany his father on a pig-shooting expedition. He’s the only kid with a group of men – men who will, it seems, shoot at anything that moves. Luke starts to see the other side of shooting and killing. And when the expedition turns dangerous, he wonders whether all this is worth the thrill of the chase.

First published in 1992, a CBCA Notable Book in 1993, Crossfire has been reprinted along with other works by James Moloney, so that they can be enjoyed by a new group of teens. The story remains authentic fifteen years after first publication, with the high action text and timeless conflicts not being outdated.

This is an exciting and thought-provoking read, especially suitable for teenage boys.


Crossfire, by James Moloney
UQP, 1992, 2007

This book is available online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The House on River Terrace, by James Moloney

Ben doesn’t even know that his family owns Gwendolan House, an empty building on River Terrace. But his father, conservative politician Rob Fielding, is making a documentary about his family’s story, and wants to use the old family home as a backdrop. Ben starts to uncover the old stories of the house and of his family.

At the same time he develops an unlikely friendship with Jess, a street kid who is squatting in the house next door to Gwendolan House. Ben’s father wants the squatters out and frowns on the growing friendship, but Ben decides some things are more important than following his father’s rules.

The House on River Terrace is realistic fiction set in Brisbane, and deals with contemporary issues such as the plight of street kids, as well as more timeless issues such as family loyalty and father/son relationships. Ben Fielding is a boy nearing manhood who must learn to stand up for his beliefs and make his own decisions, as well as to be aware of the impact of his actions.

First published in 1995 and subsequently shortlisted for the Children’s Book of the Year Awards, it has been re-released by UQP, and remains both topical and an absorbing read.

The House on River Terrace, by James Moloney
UQP, first published 1995, this edition 2007

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link helps to support Aussiereviews.

Malig Tumora, by James Moloney

Berrin winced at the harsh grip of claws around his wrists. He looked up at the creatures that held him captive. They were Gadges. Huge and powerful beasts, half man, half wolf, their repulsive heads reaching well over two metres from the ground when they stood on their hind legs.

Berrin is in trouble. With the tunnels flooded he is now in the grips of the Gadges, who want to make him their next meal. But the evil Malig Tumora has other plans for Berrin. With Berrin imprisoned in his menagerie, he has plans for Berrin – and for all humanity – that will change everything. Berrin has been in scrapes before, but this time he can’t see any hope of escape. .

Malig Tumora is the third book in the Doomsday Rats series and fans of the first two books wil lnot be disappointed with this newest instalment. There is plenty of excitement and intrigue, and a nice mix of heroes and baddies, all set in a fantasy world where all the adult humans have been drugged to work as slaves of the evil scientist Malig Tumora. Readers new to the series will find this offering self-contained enough to pick up the story line and enjoy the adventure.

Gripping stuff for fantasy fans aged 10 to 12.

Malig Tumora, by James Moloney
Angus & Robertson, 2005

The Scorpion's Tail, by James Moloney

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe


The action starts on the first page and keeps up a relentless pace as Berrin escapes from the dreaded Gadges into the tunnels underneath the city. Unfortunately, in doing so he reveals the hiding place of the Doomsday Rats – a group of children consisting of Dorian, Olanda, Ruben, Wendell, Quinn and their adult founder, Ferdinand.

With their secret uncovered the Rats prepare to defend themselves in the tunnels. This time though, the Gadges have a secret weapon – the creature created by Malig Tumora. This created being, known as a ‘probe’, can hear the whispered words and even their heartbeats to detect the presence of the Rats. It seems the days of the Rats are numbered.

If the Rats are eliminated there will be no-one left to fight the Malig Tumora, who keeps the adults of the city compliant and drugged by the fragrance of flowers carried through pipes into all homes in the city. In the course of trying to stop the Malig Tumora’s evil rule and defend their lives in the tunnels, the Rats encounter the Firedrake and a robotic scorpion.

This book is part of a series about the Doomsday Rats. Even those who have not read the first book The Tunnels of Ferdinand, will soon be drawn into the plight of these young survivors and their fight against the evil Malig Tumora and the Gadges. Author James Moloney has won the Australian Children Book of the Year twice, with Swashbuckler in 1996 and Bridge to Wisemans Cove in 1997. His comic novel Black Taxi was shortlisted for the 2004 CBC book for older readers and the Adelaide Festival Children’s Literature award.

The Scorpion’s Tail, by James Moloney
Angus&Robertson- an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers Paperback, 2005
RRP $14.95, ISBN 0 2071 9666 4

Intergalactic Heroes, by James Moloney

Joe Spencer is crazy about Space Movies, and spends his days playing space games, especially when his friends Damien and Lizzie come to play. They have a space ship built out of carboard boxes and painted with silver spray paint, and unreal space costumes and together they fight to save the universe from imaginary space creatures. Of course, they never expect to meet any real aliens.

When they find a set of old walkie talkies they try to fix them up to use in their games. But when they jiggle the wires to try to get the walkie talkies working, something strange happens. Suddenly, they can hear voices talking to them. Voices belonging to aliens. Is this some clever trick being played on them or are there really aliens out there needing to be saved and wanting to destroy Earth? Together they must work to save their new alien friends and to save the Earth.

Intergalactic Heroes
, by James Moloney, with illustrations by Craig Smith, is a Quick Reads title from Word Weaver Press. Quick Reads are aimed at young reluctant readers, and especially at boys. Intergalatic Heroes meets this brief with face paced action, plenty of humour and enough illustrations to comfort the young reader making the transition from picture books to longer works. Intergalactic Heroes is a fun read for kids aged eight to ten.

Intergalactic Heroes, by James Moloney, illustrated by Craig Smith
A Quick Read from Word Weavers Press, 2002
ISBN 1-877073-01 6