Walkabout (novel)

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Walkabout, James Vance Marshall, Peacock 1963 cover.jpg
1963 Peacock ed (first paperback ed)
Author James Vance Marshall
Original title The Children
Country Australia
Published London: Michael Joseph, 1959 (as "The Children")
Media type Book
Pages 125
OCLC 11073830

Walkabout is a novel written by James Vance Marshall, first published in 1959 as The Children.[1] It is about two children who get lost in the Australian Outback and are helped by an Aborigine on his walkabout. A film based on the book came out in 1971, but deviated from the original plot.

Plot summary[edit]

The book opens with two American siblings named Peter and Mary, in a gully. They are lost as a result of a plane crash and after swimming, and the last of their food, a small piece of candy. Peter says they should seek out their uncle, who is married to an Australian woman and lives in Adelaide, and Mary agrees and they begin walking. Unbeknownst to either child, Adelaide is on the other side of the continent.

They leave and start walking across the desert. They climb some hills and Peter sees what he thinks is the ocean. Mary looks and realizes it is nothing more than salt pans. To keep this knowledge from Peter, she tells him that is a mirage and they will rest below the hill.

The next day they keep walking and searching for food. Their efforts are in vain and they don't find food. They keep walking even more and Peter thinks he notices someone. Suddenly out of nowhere an Aborigine seems to appear and startles Mary and Peter, mostly due to his nudity. Hoping to make him leave out of shame, Mary glares at him. Eventually Peter sneezes and the Aborigine laughs. Hoping to find out about the strangers, he inspects both of them and finds nothing, so he leaves.

Peter and Mary, shocked that their only hope for survival had just left, soon follow. Peter attempts to communicate with him through gestures of eating and drinking and the Aborigine comprehends their situation. He indicates that they should follow him, and the children do. He arrives at a waterhole where the children drink their fill. Then, the Aborigine finds a plant which he prepares as food. After this, he begins to lead the children to the next waterhole.

On the way, Mary has an idea. She removes her pants from under her dress and gives them to the Aborigine in hopes of clothing him. Peter assists in the attempt and the Aborigine puts on the pants. Just then, Peter notices that they are girl's pants and starts jumping around mocking the Aborigine. The Aborigine suddenly thinks that the pants are decorations for a dance that Peter had just started and starts dancing himself. His movements depict two men fighting as a victory dance. At the end of the dance the pants snap and fall off. Mary is shocked and the Aborigine looks at her face. He is terrified for he thinks that Mary's shock is because she had seen the Spirit of Death in him.

That night when the children are asleep, the Aborigine withdraws to a hill to consider the situation. He is in the middle of his rite of passage for manhood. In accordance with tribal law, he is not to be with other people when he is on his walkabout. However, the children he has found need his help or they will surely perish in this unforgiving terrain; this then places the boy in an ethical and moral quandary.

The trio arrive at the next waterhole where the symptoms of the flu start to show in the Aborigine due to the fact Peter had the disease and had passed it on to him. He begins to worry and decides to tell the children he needs a burial platform to keep bad spirits from his body after he dies. Peter is gathering firewood so to avoid interrupting a man at work, the Aborigine seeks Mary who is bathing. The Aborigine doesn't see a bath as something that private in his culture so there is nothing to stop him. He arrives at the pool and Mary is terrified and begins to threaten the Aborigine with snarls and a rock. He is confused why this is happening and becomes depressed, believing that he will not get his burial platform as Mary had seen the Spirit of Death in him again and he would die very soon.

Mary goes to Peter and tells him to leave with her. Peter wonders about the Aborigine though, and a hesitant Mary is forced to stay. Peter goes back to Mary and tells her that the Aborigine is very sick. Peter begins to realize that the Aborigine will die while Mary refuses to believe that can happen from the flu. Soon, Mary goes to investigate. Finally, she acknowledges that he is actually dying and forgives him. She lays his head in her lap and he touches her hair, during this moment Mary realizes that they are not so different, despite his appearance and language. He dies later in the night. They bury him and leave for the food and water-filled valley Peter was told about by the Aborigine before he died.

They stop at a pool where they eat some yabbies and observe platypus and leave. After crossing many hills they come across the valley. They discover some wet clay which they use to draw pictures with. Peter draws nature while Mary draws stylish women and her dream house. Eventually the children see smoke and see Aboriginal swimmers. They arrive at the Aboriginal settlement where one of the swimmers, a man, sees the drawings. His son owns a "warrigal", or pet dog, which serves as a link between the boy and Peter. The father sees Mary's dream house and realizes who Mary and Peter are. In a wide variety of gestures and drawings, he tells the children that there is a house like that across the hills and demonstrates how to get there. The overjoyed children begin their trek back to their civilization.


It is by far Vance's most popular work,[2] due in large part to the success of the related film. Reviewers have praised Walkabout for its detailed and accurate descriptions of the Australian environment.[3]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "The Children". OCLC Worldcat. Retrieved 1 April 2014. 
  2. ^ "White Out (Book Review)". Publisher's Weekly 247 (43): 57. 2000-10-23. 
  3. ^ "Walkabout". Atlantic Monthly 309 (3): 94. April 2012.