Saturday 19 April 2014

Along the Road to Gundagai

Along the Road to Gundagai by Jack O’Hagan, illustrated by Andrew McLean (Omnibus Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-86291-979-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Although the words of this song are familiar to me, I had no idea of the wistful story representing young men sent to the first Word War which lies behind the lyrics. This book tells the story of a young soldier in World War I who is injured and hospitalised. Through this he relives memories of home. And it is through the illustrations that we get the emotions which go deeper than the jaunty, happy song seems to suggest on the surface.

Andrew McLean uses charcoal and watercolour to create these pictures, then scans and colours them on an iPad. His powerful images contrast the dark, heavy depictions of war with the lighter, rosier memories of home. There are many such contrasts within the pages. A constant eerie glow hangs over the war scenes while the pictures of home have a sunrise shine to them. There is a fabulous illustration of young soldiers washing in a creek near a bombed out building, then the next page shows children playing freely in the waters of the Murrumbidgee River. And the use of horses is a theme which runs throughout, creating a further divide between war and peace.

O’Hagan, a prolific Australian song writer, wrote Along the Road to Gundagai in 1922 and it was an instant success. Even if you think you know this song well, read the book and see it with a new perspective.

This is an excellent book with beautiful illustrations but keep in mind that, although a picture book with a simple concept, some of the illustrations are powerful and could be frightening for very young children. It is ultimately a story about war and as such depicts scenes from the battlefront.

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