Review Blog

Feb 14 2012

The mark of the Wagarl by Lorna Little

cover image

Ill. by Janice Lundon. Magabala Books, 2012. ISBN 978 1 921248 41 2.
(Ages 5+) Recommended. Aboriginal People - Dreaming. Illustrator Janice Lundon has used pastel to create a colourful backdrop to this retelling of an Aboriginal story. A cautionary tale, telling younger children to obey their elders, the story of the Wagarl, with bright bold colours trapping the eye on every page, teaches far more than respect for your elders. The lad, Baardi, of the Nyoongar people of north west Western Australia, did not believe the stories the old people told of the snake that slept in the waterhole. He did not believe that to pass, he needed to throw dust onto the water so that the snake would not see him, nor did he believe that it was a dangerous place to swim. Wagarl, the king snake came to inspect his territory, and after a big feed of fish went to sleep in that waterhole. When Baardi and his friends passed by, the boys threw dust on the water and ran past as they had been instructed, but Baardi dived in, going down deep to see if the story was true. He felt something touch his leg, and turning around, looked into the eyes of the Wagarl. He begged not to be eaten, and promised that in return for his life, he would be mute, and be a protector of all snakes. The snake left his mark on Baardi's leg and this mark is passed down, showing that this person watches over the snakes and has the snake as their totem.
This story tells so much. Not only respect for elders, but information about the area. Listeners will learn about their environment, the water hole, the snake shaped river, the flood seasons and the fish. They will hear about the snake and its part in the beliefs of their country, learn to respect the snakes in their area, and learn that people who disobey the elders, are punished. They will learn that some people have special powers and are marked for that job at birth with a mark.
This long told tale is a detailed teaching story, and will be read now by a much wider audience, teaching and passing on the same ideas that have been passed on for generations.
Fran Knight

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