Review Blog

Mar 06 2019

Yahoo Creek: an Australian mystery by Tohby Riddle

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2019 ISBN: 9781760631451.
(Age: mid primary) Highly recommended. Themes: Folk tales, Australian stories, Australian bush, Aboriginal themes, Mystery. A compilation of numerous newspaper reports of the Yahoo or Hairyman or Yowie are offered in this unusual picture book from Tohby Riddle. Each double page is covered in images reflecting the colour of the Australian bush with a creature visible in the background. Sometimes it is clutching a tree or moving a log, or staring at a settler, but most of the time it is strolling through the undergrowth, unconcerned with the attention it receives.
Edited sections of newspaper accounts from the nineteenth century are aligned with the images, giving the reader a brief textual context to compare with each of the stunning illustrations. Readers will find that they scan the pages looking for clues about this creature: is it imaginary, is it a real animal, is it human, what are its features and so on, the mystery which baffles the reader paralleling the fears of the early Europeans as well as stories told in the Aboriginal communities.
The predominance of place names with the word Yahoo, intrigues Riddle, and his acknowledgement of the Aboriginal stories of the creature, supported with words by Ngiyampaa Elder, Peter Williams, make this a book in which to immerse readers with the stories of these mountains running 3,500 kilometres along the east coast of Australia. Readers will quickly engage with stories about this animal, comparing it perhaps with other world folk stories concerning the Yeti, or Bigfoot or Abominable Snowman.
In Boori Pryor's wonderful story of a boy's growing up, My Girragundji (republished 2018) the boy is fearful of the hairyman, a creature which lurks in his house at night, and Pryor links this creature with the Quinkin, an ancient Aboriginal spirit which causes mischief.
Readers will love musing the layers of meanings and intrigues offered in this book; Aboriginal culture prior to European settlement, Europeans and their distrust of the bush (still in evidence today with lurid tales of death in the bush), reporting of these sightings in the local newspapers from Geelong to Bega to the Hunter Valley, showing the spread of white settlement and their isolation, and even why the Blue Mountains are blue. Riddle's illustrations born out of many wanderings in the bush reflect the magnificent variety of fauna and flora that exists in these mountains. I love his depiction of the increasing encroachment of Europeans in his illustrations, from a few objets of bedding at the start, then a camp, and finally a town. The Yahoo can only look on with slumped shoulders.
This is a fascinating look at a enduring story from Australia's past sure to rope in those students who love mysteries and pondering possibilities, and with recent sightings reported and a statue of a Yowie erected in Queensland, readers may like to look further.
Fran Knight

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