‘I ain’t goin’ back! I absolutely ain’t!’
No matter how hard I whipped Old Lop Ears up the dirt road, he wouldn’t go faster. My throat ached for swallowing so many tears. ‘You dang-burned mule! Go home by yourself! I don’t care! I ain’t goin’ back ever!’
I yanked the reins. The mule drove his front hooves into the dirt so hard that I flew between his long ears and landed on the ground, still holding the reins. I leaped up, angry. Throwing my book bag against a gum tree, I flipped the reins over the mule’s ears and slapped his flank. ‘Get to the shed, you dang-burned mule! Tell Ma and Pa I ain’t comin’ home! Not tonight. Not ever!’
It’s the last years of the nineteenth century. Twelve year-old Casey has recently moved with his family from Montana to a farm near Omeo. While they were able to bring one horse and Old Lop Ears the mule, they had to leave behind Casey’s horse Arrowhead. The farm used to belong to Casey’s grandfather, a man regarded with some suspicion around the region. There are whispered stories of cheating, but Casey and his family, even his father, know little about the man who followed gold half-way across the world. These half-known stories are causing Casey all sorts of trouble with the school bullies. After a beating, Casey escapes into the bush and discovers a herd of brumbies, lead by a black stallion he names ‘Moonrunner’. From this moment on, although there is much in his life that continues to challenge him, Casey feels he’s found a friend.
There are many contemporary chapter books and novels about girls and horses but not so many featuring a boy as a main character. Moonrunner, an adventure set in the late 1890s, is full of rich historical and geographical detail, including goldrushes, the High Plains cattlemen and much more. It is told in first person, from the point of view of a boy starting to transition to manhood. It’s a difficult time, in a difficult landscape and there are few mod cons or luxuries. There is, however, much more freedom than is experienced by many of today’s children. Casey discovers he is fortunate in his parents, both supportive of him in ways he comes to appreciate as the novel progresses. Much of Casey’s learning is done outside the classroom – his teachers include the bush, his family, the climate, other farmers and their workers and the brumby, Moonrunner. Recommended for middle-upper primary readers.
Moonrunner, by Mark Thomason