Review Blog

May 17 2011

Taj and the great camel trek by Rosanne Hawke

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UQP, 2011. ISBN 9780702238772.
Highly recommended. Historical. When Taj rides his camel, Mustara hard against Tommy, the boy from the coast, in a camel race at Beltana, he longs to win to show the men that he and his camel are ready to join their expedition across the Australian continent to Perth. But it is not to be, Mr Giles chooses his camels from the experienced and older animals, but later, after Mustara brings Taj and Emmeline back after a dust storm has obliterated their tracks, he changes his mind. So begins the journey that will change things for Taj and his father, as well as the finding of a land route to Perth in the new colonies.
Taj, raised by his father in the Afghan tradition, initially struggles to find his place in the land of his birth. He must work out what lies beyond the smiles and the words of the 7 other men on the expedition, and accepting friendship when it is offered from people vastly different from himself. He learns the forbearance of his father in coming to a new country for work, only to have his wife die and who, through songs and stories of his homeland, passes on the attitudes of his culture needed by Taj as he matures.
Forget the dry dusty lessons about Australia's early explorers, this story of Ernest Giles' expedition across the continent is mesmerising, as Hawke uses Giles' journals and accounts meticulously. In her capable hands the story, embellished only by the inclusion of the 13 year old boy to make the tale accessible to a younger audience, comes to life. A new generation of readers will learn of Giles' expedition as they dive into the story of Taj and his camel, Mustara crossing Australia's desert from Port Augusta to Perth in 1875. And what a journey they will have!
An historical novel that stands out, Taj and the great camel trek, informs as well as entertains. No long descriptions or afterwords are necessary as Hawke includes all the detail the reader needs to know as part of the story. We learn of the days without water, the search for waterholes, the brushes with indigenous groups, and above all the camels, the group becoming almost a character within the story. The reader soaks up the facts, woven subtly into the fabric of the story, making the whole fascinating and involving.
Fran Knight

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