I recently came across a new copy of Walkabout by James Vance Marshall, a popular children’s adventure story set in the wilds of Australia. First published in 1959, it has been a best seller in Australia, even prompting a bad rewrite for the movie Walkabout in 1971. The new edition is poorly illustrated by grainy, dark stills from the movie. The story is simple: an Aborigine boy and a plane wrecked American girl and her younger brother team together to survive a harrowing trip across the Australian desert.
I remembered a similar story first published in America in 1947, Three Without Fear by Robert C. DuSoe and beautifully illustrated by Ralph Ray, Jr. In this story a shipwreck off the tip of Baja California throws an American boy in with a Mexican boy and his younger sister as they travel north the length of the peninsula.
In both stories, sharing knowledge and experience, the children build bonds of respect and friendship, and learn to live in the beauty and reality of a wilderness. Their cultural and racial differences are critical to their successful survival; and the triumph of the stories is that such things can be successfully turned into something good. Those differences were given a much darker tone in Walkabout than in Three Without Fear. The Aborigine is not treated as well in Walkabout as are the Mexican brother and sister in Three Without Fear. Surviving by their own wits, living off the desert in Walkabout, and living on sea and land in Three Without Fear, give the young reader insight and respect of untrammeled nature.
The movie stills in Walkabout are unfortunately a distraction. The drawings by wild life artist and illustrator Ralph Ray, Jr. are wonderful. If you enjoy scouring used book stalls, skip Walkabout and look for Three Without Fear, as it is regretably out of print. Charles Marlin