Simon Brent’s life is ripped away from him when his parents die in a car crash. After a few weeks spent in a home for orphans he goes to live in Wongadilla with his Edie and Charlie, distant cousins, on their 5000 acre sheep station. They are patient with him and kind and understand he needs time toh eal so while the three of them adjust to each other Simon spends his days wandering the huge farm. One day, Simon encounters the Potkoorok, a strange creature that lives in a swamp nearby and plays tricks on him, but all in fun, and the Turongs that live in the trees nearby. This livens Simon up and all is fine until the Nargun comes along. The Nargun is made of stone and it is old, older than everything, and it has been disturbed by the machines that come to log and dig. The Nargun has become enraged, could even kill, and it becomes a danger to Edie, Charlie and Simon. But the Nargun cannot be killed, and so the three of them have to trust one another and work together if they are to come up with a way of driving the Nargun away.
This is a lovely children’s fantasy book, taking time to build and grow and giving the reader a real sense of the space and quiet of the Australian outback setting. It’s short, less than 200 pages, but gently pulls the reader in and keeps them guessing till the end. For what is essentially a three-hander the main characters are beautifully drawn, each with a compelling and unique voice and Wrightson’s prose style is excellent, at once complex and descriptive, simple and to-the-point covering quite difficult themes of identity and self with broader issues of conservation and the environment in a way that doesn’t shout but quietly seep into the story.
As I said at the outset I had no knowledge of the book so I was surprised to find out a couple of things; the author Patricia Wrightson was born in 1921 and that it was written in 1974 and was the winner of the Australian Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award. The award is not surprising really, it’s that good, but it wasn’t until later that I realised their was a complete absence of internet, mobile phones, video games, the usual detritus of modern children’s lives. It’s to the book’s credit that none of this registered as I read, I was just drawn into a terrific story, and you will be too.