Walkabout Book Essay Scholarships

“A haunting little idyl in the same vein as A High Wind in Jamaica and Green Mansions tells of two children, a boy and a girl, sole survivors of a plane crash in the Australian bush. Their fragile veneer of modern culture clashes with the primitive soul of a black bush boy who is making his tribal ‘walkabout’ –a half-year’s solitary journey in the wilderness to test his fitness to be a member of his tribe.” —Time

“A small classic, pared down to the bare bones. Many will not only enjoy it, but long remember it.” —New York Times

“[Walkabout] is to Australians what Robinson Crusoe is to the English.” —The Philadelphia Enquirer
“[Walkabout] is pared down to its bare bones, like the ancient life in the desert, but if it is simple, it is not oversimplified, and it does not hesitate to face, honestly and unsentimentally, the questions it raises. . . . There will be many who not only enjoy it, but long remember it.”
—Elizabeth Janeway, The New York Times

A “much-acclaimed novel set in the Australian Outback” —Publishers Weekly
“This is a choice little tale which will have devoted admirers. It discloses a rare beauty of human relationship among three children in a strange predicament on the crust of the earth.” —Newsweek
An “Australian-outback classic” —Booklist
“Very tender, very touching, and sketched out with no sign of strain. The descriptions of the Australian bush are first-rate.” —New Statesman (London)
“A deeply-felt book, filled with information about desert flora and fauna.” —Times Literary Supplement (London)
“A sensitive and restrained tale which implies some pointed truths about the values of our civilization . . .” —The Critic
“Marshall is one of Australia’s greatest unsung, unread, and unappreciated writers. He wrote all his life in an innocent, simple, colloquial style. His stories were fables straight from the Australian earth.” —Herald

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First hardcover edition (1959, Doubleday & Co.)

AuthorJames Vance Marshall
Original titleThe Children
PublishedLondon: Michael Joseph, 1959 (as "The Children")
Media typeBook

Walkabout is a novel written by James Vance Marshall, first published in 1959 as The Children.[1] It is about two children who get lost in the Australian Outback and are helped by an Aborigine on his walkabout. A film based on the book, with the same title came out in 1971, but deviated from the original plot.

Plot summary[edit]

The book opens with two American siblings, Peter and Mary, in a gully in the Australian outback. They are lost as a result of a plane crash. Peter says they should seek out their uncle, who lives in Adelaide; Mary agrees and they begin walking across the desert, but they don't know that it is across the other side.

The next day they keep walking and searching for food but their efforts are in vain. Suddenly, an Aborigine appears and startles them, mostly due to his nudity. Hoping to make him leave, Mary glares at him. This proves ineffective. Hoping to find out about the strangers, he inspects both of them but finds nothing of interest, so he leaves.

Peter and Mary, shocked at losing their only hope for survival, follow him. Peter attempts to communicate with him through gestures of eating and drinking and the Aborigine comprehends their situation. He indicates that they should follow him, which they do. He arrives at a waterhole where the children drink their fill. Then, the Aborigine prepares food for the hungry children. After this, he begins to lead the children to the next waterhole.

The problems of the lack of communication shows clearly in this book. The Aborigine misreads Mary's look of disgust at his nakedness and thinks she has seen the spirit of death and is about to die soon and falls into a mental euthanasia.

When the trio arrived at the next waterhole, the symptoms of the flu Peter has unwittingly passed on to him start to show in the Aborigine. He begins to worry and decides he must tell the children he needs a burial platform to keep bad spirits from his body and to keep the snakes from "molesting his body" after his death. Peter is gathering firewood so to avoid interrupting a man at work, the Aborigine seeks Mary who is bathing. The Aborigine doesn't see a bath as something private; he arrives at the pool and Mary is terrified; she begins to threaten the Aborigine with snarls and a rock. He is confused and becomes depressed, believing that he will not have his burial platform.

Mary goes to Peter and tells him to leave with her but Peter is concerned about the Aborigine so Mary is forced to stay. Peter tells her that the Aborigine is very sick; he realizes that the Aborigine could die while Mary refuses to believe that the flu could be fatal, not understanding the native boy's fear of the Spirit of Death he believes she saw in him. Soon, Mary goes to investigate. Finally, she acknowledges that he is actually dying and forgives him. She lays his head in her lap and he touches her hair. Mary realizes that they are not so different, despite his appearance and language. He dies later in the night. They bury him and leave for the food and water-filled valley Peter was told about by the Aborigine before he died.

They stop at a pool where they eat some yabbies, observe platypus and leave. In a valley rich in water, food, and wildlife, they survive for many days with the skills learned from the Aborigine. They also discover some wet clay which they use to draw pictures: Peter draws nature while Mary draws stylish women and her dream house. Eventually, the children see smoke and see Aboriginal swimmers. One of the swimmers, a man, sees the drawings. His son owns a "warrigal", or pet dog, which serves as a link between the boy and Peter. The father sees Mary's dream house and realizes Mary and Peter seek civilization. In a wide variety of gestures and drawings, he tells the children that there is a house like that across the hills and demonstrates how to reach there. The overjoyed children begin their trek back to civilization.


It is by far Vance's most popular work,[2] due in large part to the success of the related film. Reviewers have praised Walkabout for its detailed and accurate descriptions of the Australian environment.[3]

External links[edit]


  1. ^"The Children". OCLC Worldcat. Retrieved 1 April 2014. 
  2. ^"White Out (Book Review)". Publisher's Weekly. 247 (43): 57. 2000-10-23. 
  3. ^"Walkabout". Atlantic Monthly. 309 (3): 94. April 2012. 

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