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Book review: Tracker Tjugingji, by Bob Randall and Kunyi June-Anne McInerney

Posted by Lisa Hill on July 5, 2014


I’m going to kick off Indigenous Literature Week 2014 with a review of a delightful picture book called Tracker Tjugingji, by Bob Randall of the Yankunytjatjara desert people from Central Australia and a listed custodian of Uluru.  The book blurb tells us that the author was taken from his family when he was 8 or 9 years old, and sent from Alice Springs to Minjala (Croker Island) off the north coast of Arnhem Land.  A well-known story-teller and songwriter, he used this childhood experience to write the award-winning song Brown Skin Baby.

Tracker Tjugingji, however, is not a sad story of the Stolen Generations, it is a celebration of traditional Aboriginal family life.   Tjugingji is a little fellow who lives in the desert with his parents, camping in little windbreak shelters and sleeping by the fire.  One day his parents let him know that he’s not to play too late that night because they are moving on in the morning, to a big lake, a long way east of where they were camped.  Of course kids will be kids, and by the time he gets back from playing his parents (and the dogs) are all fast asleep, so he lies down beside his father and goes to sleep.

But…

When Tjugingji’s parents woke up there was a glow in the sky –  the sun was rising.  But Tracker Tjugingji was still fast asleep.  ‘Oh well, let’s leave him,’ they said.  ‘He can catch up later.’

That’s  the Aboriginal way – you don’t wake your children when they are fast asleep.

I expect this will raise a few eyebrows today when so many children are raised to be fearful of stepping outside their own front gate by themselves.  But Tjugingji is not the least little bit alarmed, because he knows he can follow their tracks.  He has his little spear and boomerang with him, and by walking around in a circle he soon picks up his parents’ tracks and sets off.

Before long he picks up other tracks as well: he meets an assortment of wildlife who tell him that yes, they’ve seen his parents, and what’s more, they’ve been chased by the family dog.  The snake, the perentie, the malu (kangaroo), the papa (dingo) and the emu all follow him to make sure that he doesn’t lose his way, and they all end up having an inma (dance to celebrate.  The song they sing is included on a CD at the back of the book.   (There is also a glossary and a pronunciation guide).

The pictures, by Kunyi June-Anne McInerney, of Yankunytjatjara descent are gorgeous.  A stunning sky blue contrasts with the rich red of the desert landscape, and as you can see from the front cover Tjugingji is  a really cute kid with unruly curls and an infectious grin.

In the classroom, I would use this book to talk about how Tjugingji managed to find his parents, eliciting that Aboriginal families in traditional communities teach their children the skills they need to know to manage in a desert or bush environment, in the same way that city children are taught to manage traffic in an urban environment.  I think it would also make a superb stimulus for artwork with pastels or crayons, and art teachers could take the opportunity to talk about the Aboriginal mining of ochre, discussing the traditional routes and the trading that went on.

(I would do this because I think the best way to counter the insulting ignorance of anyone who thinks that Australia wasn’t already ‘settled’ in 1788, is to teach children about the thriving culture that was here in Australian for 40,000 years or more, and survives to this day).

If you have enjoyed a book by an indigenous author this week, please drop in at the ANZ LitLovers reviews page, and either leave a comment or a link to your review on your blog, at Goodreads or at Library Thing.

Update 14/7/14
I’ve been working on including Aboriginal Perspectives (aka the AC Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures priority) in our new Year 1 & 2 unit on Past and Present Family Life (ACHHK030), and have included this title in one of the activities.

ABORIGINAL PERSPECTIVES AusVELS Y1&2 Past&Present Family Li

Author: Bob Randall
Illustrator: Kunyi June-Anne McInerney
Title: Tracker Tjugingji,
Publisher: Jukurrpa Books, an imprint of IAD Press, 2012
ISBN: 9781864651263
Source: Review copy courtesy of Dennis Jones and Associates

Availability

Fishpond: Tracker Tjungingji

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