Rockhopping written and illustrated by Trace Balla (Allen & Unwin) HB RRP$24.99 ISBN 9781760112349
Reviewed by Dianne Bates
From its front cover and then onto its fly pages and title page with numerous illustrations of Australian flora and fauna, it’s obvious this graphic picture book is about venturing into our country’s bush. First, though, Balla acknowledges the cooperation of a number of Aboriginal organisations which gave her permission to include cultural references. Indeed, throughout the book Balla has chosen to use Jardawadjali/Djab Wurrung place names followed by English names in brackets. The story is set in Gariwerd (the Grampians) and acknowledges those clans whose country it is.
The first page starts with a boy and a man lolling in a boat wondering where the (Glenelg) river water comes from and the man responding, ‘How about we go and find out something, kid?’ Thus it is that Uncle Egg and ten year old Clancy spend some time organising for a long walk and then the beginning their trek. The story is told in comic book style with lots of small and detailed illustrations showing things such a spread of what they take with them and later the vast wilderness. On the trek, which Clancy often finds strenuous and tiring, there are many adventures and some misadventures, such as when he falls off a rock onto an outcrop.
Throughout the story the reader checks out the many plants and animals along the way, all of which are labelled. Clancy communes with nature up close and from afar and learns much from being still and observant. On day five, he and Uncle Egg come upon the river which has Clancy wondering about the history of the place – of gold-miners, Chinese gardeners, squatters, bushrangers, and of course, natives who lived off the land.
There is a lot of writing in this book which isn’t story text; Balla thanks many people who collaborated with her to create the book, including numerous Indigenous peoples. It would take days to read every single word and examine all of the illustrations. The drawings in this book are wonderful and will reward the patient reader with many hours of discovery and learning. No doubt Clancy and his uncle’s adventure will resonate with children who enjoy bushwalking with their families, and might even inspire them to take an extended walk.
This is Balla’s second book, the first, Rivertime, winning the Readings’ Children’s Book Prize, the Wilderness Society’s Environment Award and short-listings in three other state and national book awards. This one, too, is sure to win awards. Suitable for readers 6+ years.