Wednesday 29 April 2015

Knockabout cricket: A story of sporting legend – Johnny Mullagh

Knockabout cricket: A story of sporting legend – Johnny Mullagh by Neridah McMullin, Illustrated by Ainsley Walters (One Day Hill Publishing)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780992439736

Reviewed by J Wishart

This charming and informative picture book is aimed at middle primary school readers. It tells the story of a young Aboriginal man, Unaarrimin, also known as Johnny Mullagh, who became a famous cricket all-rounder in the 1860s.

The narrative begins with a schoolboy, James, at home on Pine Hills sheep station for the holidays. Cricket was popular and James often played with the shearers at the end of their working day. When Johnny Mullagh emerges from the bush and is introduced to the game by James, the author describes a fictional – but entirely possible – version of the first match Mullagh ever played.

The author has used lively and evocative language to capture the game, with the ‘thwack’ of the bat and balls ‘fizzing’ through grass. Throughout the main story there are also fact-boxes tracing the life of Johnny Mullagh, his trademark batting style, and the development of cricket as a game. At the end, Johnny’s story is summarised again to acknowledge his great talent and eventful life, including a tour of England in 1868, and the difficulties he faced as an Aboriginal player.

The illustrator has employed a painting style reminiscent of artists like Pro Hart to effectively depict the open spaces and broad skies of the Australian outback. The passage of time during Johnny’s re-imagined first match is shown through deepening sunset colours and eventual dusk that descends over the players and ends their beloved game for the day.

The result is a blend of fictional story, facts and artwork, with broad appeal and loads of potential to engage readers.

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