I have been a bit missing in action again but just doing a quick catch up post on March reading and the Gaia challenge.

Firstly May at Brizzy May’s Books and Bruschetta post on another wonderful children’s read for the challenge; The Adventures of Euca, May wrote about the great idea of giving books instead of chocolate to kids this Easter, always a good idea.

Karen at Living on the Downs wrote a great review and post on the 2020 Miles Franklin winner The Yield by Tara June Winch which she also read for the Gaia challenge. This is another title I am also meaning to read, check out Karen’s insightful post.

Over at A year of Kayaking you can check out a post about Eager The surprising secret life of beavers and why they matter, there are so many species that perform essential and often overlooked functions in the environment the beaver is one of those.

(If you have read anything for the challenge and I have missed it leave me a comment and I will fix that up).

There is so much great nature writing in Great Britain and Europe, even America, with the tradition of Thoreau, but I have found myself less aware of great Australian nature writing. Some I have known about but generally the genre does not have the same level of importance here in Australia, although I believe that is changing, or maybe I am just becoming more aware of the Australian examples of the genre. I have been trying to read as much great Australian nature writing as I can this year. I have also had a particular interest in nature writing for younger readers this year, so I have been making sure I read at least one title for younger readers each month. The March younger read was Wandi by Favel Parrett.

Parrett who has an established reputation as an author of great adult fiction has set out to tell the tale of Wandi the alpine dingo pup who came to fame a couple of years ago after he literally fell from the sky. Wandi was probably picked up by a wedge tail eagle as a potential meal for their own young. Instead of ending up a meal for another, Wandi became a gift to the dingo rescue and breeding program in Victoria. Parrett beautifully tells Wandi’s tale for younger readers. Dingoes have an unfortunately controversial reputation in Australia, they have long been vilified and hunted and yet the reality is they provide an important ecological function, often helping control other introduced species like rabbits, cats and foxes. Learning to appreciate these remarkable wild dogs is something all Australians could do, not just younger readers but us adults as well. Parrett eloquently and sympathetically paints a picture of the alpine dingo as a canine of great nobility and importance to what is a fragile eco system.

I was surprised to learn, just how intelligent Australian dingoes are. They are apparently the most intelligent of all the canids, smarter than our domestic dogs and even smarter than wolves and foxes. Parrett in her concluding chapter about wild dingoes cites the example of one animal living in a sanctuary who would move objects to allow him to open a gate, effectively the animal was a tool user.

Wandi is gorgeous little book, a great early chapter book for a young reader. The sort of book that has the potential to inform and inspire kids to learn more and hopefully grow up to become advocates for our often misunderstood wildlife. Wandi’s story is certainly dramatic and important to the conservation story of the alpine dingo. This book would make a great addition to any kids library. I bought a copy on impulse after seeing the gorgeous cover and I will send my copy down to the Lighthouse to join the other nature books we have donated to the Lighthouse.

Tim Winton’s memoir: Island Home, was also amongst my reads for March. If any Australian writer has been formed by and given expression to our unique environment, it is Tim Winton, although Winton’s experience is a Western Australia one, and different to my eastern Australian experience, there is much that I recognise and identify with. The wild childhood is something we share and a love of the wildness and the sheer beauty of this country is another, as is, a concern for the failure of modern Australia to value and care for this country. Winton documents some of his experience as a reluctant, environmental activist and there is anger, insight and beauty to his writing. There is also understanding and intelligent evaluation of the many different Australians that make up this land and always there is a focus on how landscape forms us and the obligation we owe to the land. He writes with deep respect for our first nation peoples and honesty about our history. But mostly Tim Winton magnificently captures the magic of this country in passages like this:

The cave is the size of a child’s bedroom.Its rear wall is tawny where the ceaseless southerly has reamed it. When I see the roos folded down on their joints in the chalky dirt I give out a little squawk of surprise . But they do not stir. They lie curved against one another, pooled head to haunch in a rest that seems regal, even holy. I pause a few moments, taking it in. Then I step up and squat before them, peering closely. They really do look as if they’re sleeping. But their hides are almost translucent, like the vellum of medieval manuscripts. Tan and grey, shapely even in death, their bodies have been mummified by the high desert air. There’s a musky smell but it’s not the scent of death, for all about them, like signs of tribute, are the scuffs and scatt of the living. Clearly others visit regularly, hunker in the shade beside them and doze through the hottest hours with the breeze rifling through the scalloped chamber. The sun tracks across the cave walls where wasps gave daubed candle niches and gargoyles but the mummies seem to lie in perpetual shade here on their soft beds of talc.

I can’t help but think of these grand creatures, emblems of our strange island, hauling themselves up here to die, sensing it in their bellies like the shapeless ache of hunger, coming as they have always come to rest in their eyrie above reef and plain. Here they are, still beautiful the wind in their faces, higher than the raptors, above the snakes of the spinifex and the turtles in their rookeries on the beaches far below, like an ancient,priestly caste keeping vigil even in death. (pp192-193)

We should all spend time experiencing this magnificent land, try to understand it and what it needs from us, learn to love it and care for it, protect the land that sustains us.

If you are interested in learning more about the Gaia challenge or joining this nature themed challenge click here.

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