Review Blog

Sep 25 2014

Paruku the desert brumby by Jesse Blackadder

cover image

ABC Books/HarperCollins, 2014. ISBN 9780733331794.
(Age: Year 3+) Way out in the Kimberley, on the edges of the Great Sandy and Tanami Deserts lies Paruku Indigenous Protected Area, some 430,000 hectares of undulating red sand plains, salt pans and occasional dunes with stunted eucalyptus, acacias and spinifex, surrounding Lake Gregory, the only reliable source of fresh water for the tens of thousands of birds and other creatures that inhabit the area. These include mobs of wild brumbies, descendants of Arabian and thoroughbred horses introduced into the East Kimberley in the 50s and 60s to improve the quality of the stockhorses of what was then, the Lake Gregory Pastoral Station.
Into this landscape come twelve-year-old Rachel and her vet father Mike on a mission to capture twelve of these brumbies for an Arab sheik looking to improve his stock of endurance race horses in Dubai. Inspired by reading Elyne Mitchell's The silver brumby, Rachel has a somewhat romantic view of the brumbies being wild and free to roam, but working with the Aboriginal people of the area, she learns they have a different view of the brumbies because of the damage they cause to the environment. But right at the beginning of her adventure she comes into contact with a stallion and his mare and while she soon learns to work with the team to drive the animals so they can be hit with a tranquiliser dart then transported back to the stockyards, her connection with this pair is her focus with a result that drives the rest of the story from Lake Gregory to Glen Innes in New South Wales and then to Dubai itself.
Intertwined with Rachel's story is that of Paruku, the stallion she so admires and named for the area he comes from, told from Paruku's perspective and adding an intriguing insight that helps explain the course of events that follow.
What gives the whole thing extra interest and weight though, is that much of it is true. In 2008, an Australian vet was commissioned to capture wild brumbies from this area, working with the local Mulan people to take them back to Dubai, but first taking them to Glen Innes to prepare them for the journey ahead. While Rachel's family is fictional, the other characters and events are true - even the names of the horses have been kept.
If I had a dollar for every time a young girl asked me for 'a story about horses' my wealth might rival Clive Palmer's! This book is a very worthy addition to that cohort - even though I'm not a 'horsey person', it kept me engaged through to the end, an ending that is not necessarily the saccharine happily-ever-after that many such books dish up. But apart from feeding that need to have a strong collection of books on the subject, it is also a worthwhile addition to studies about feral animals and their place, or otherwise, in the landscape as well as the Australian psyche.
Now to seek out Jesse Blackadder's other titles, Chasing the light, a fictional recounting of the little-known true story of the first woman to ever set foot on Antarctica (my own mother was the first female journalist to go south) and Stay: the last dog in Antarctica. Quality fare for the independent reader not yet ready for the challenges of contemporary realistic fiction.
Barbara Braxton

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