Wednesday 6 October 2021

Billycan’s Tail of Two Crocodiles

Billycan’s Tail of Two Crocodiles by Alistair Pirie and Aaron Wolf (Shawline Publishing Group) PB RRP $19.95 ISBN 978 1 922594198

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Alistair Pirie acknowledges the traditional owners of the land. His story is based on the Yalukit-Willam people who are members of the Kulin nation. It is a story that opens doors into some of Melbourne’s history that is not really known.

This adventure takes five children back in time. They descend into a tunnel where they discover an underground river system. The children then learn parts of Melbourne’s history. A mysterious stranger, called Peter Billycan, is the children’s guide and he helps them to learn about Aboriginal culture and how things were in the past. This includes how people lived and their connection to the environment. ‘I am going to send you on an adventure to see the land as it was and to learn from the experience.’


The children board a ferry boat that’s captained by an old sea dog and are swept away. They encounter fighting crocodiles, an Aboriginal campsite, and a bungalow house on the seaside. The children return changed with their new knowledge and understanding.


Alistair Pirie, uses his own experiences growing up in bayside Melbourne in this semi-fictional story. The places that are explored were a part of his childhood. ‘We have just left the swamp and are crossing the entrance of Kororoit Creek. The creek goes back into the inland plains for miles and miles.’ This gives the story authenticity and depth. The reader can follow the adventurers by using the enclosed maps.


Pirie’s descriptive text is filled with information that takes the reader on their own journey of discovery. The children are distinct each in their own way and work together as a team. The story gives the feeling that although the children are on their own they are safe. At times, the story gives the feeling of someone older sharing their stories as if talking to you. It is fascinating for children to learn that in early days people didn’t go to the supermarket. Pirie even introduces the man who emptied the dunny cans which to today’s children would seem incredible.


Aaron Wolfe’s bright cover captures the eye with two fighting crocodiles and the maps add information to the reader.

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