Our lost past: Australian life before everything changed

THE frontier wars in the east and south of this continent cost Australia dearly. Language, culture and important knowledge were lost as the Australians were displaced, killed or subsumed by waves of Europeans.

In the deserts of the north and west, knowledge spanning tens of thousands of years was preserved much longer - in some places, Australians didn't encounter the immigrants with "reddish skins" until the 1950s.

So people like writer and painter Jukuna, who died in 2011, were able to tell the stories from their childhood of a desert life that had changed little for millennia.

Jukuna, from the Walmajarri language group in the Great Sandy Desert, told these stories to psychologist Pat Lowe.

It is a fascinating collection of family anecdotes, with simple added explanations of words, culture, desert plants and survival techniques.

The book is aimed at upper primary and middle school children, but I could not put it down.

You'll learn about how hunting dogs fitted into a family, how fire was made and protected, how reliable water sources were found in a desert, and about first contact with the strange kartiya - the "big red people" with camels, which no doubt were stranger still.

Family squabbles and humour sit side by side with tragedy in this unforgiving environment.

You can even learn the finer points of hunting feral cats - a side-effect of European settlement that preceded the kartiya into the desert.

The Girl from the Great Sandy Desert by Jukuna Mona Chuguna and Pat Lowe. Publisher: Magabala Books. RRP: Paperback $16.95. Also available as an e-book.

Topics:  book review childrens books

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