Walking the Boundaries (1993 Harper Collins)
All Martin has to do is walk around the boundaries and he'll own the farm and be rich. But as he walks he discovers that boundaries aren't just lines on a map. He meets Meg from last century, Wullamudulla from 40,000 years ago following the path of his born snake ancestor, Dracula - a diprotonditid from 1,000,000 years ago - a bit like a prehistoric wombat but the size of a mini bus - and they all have very difernt ideas of what owning land means.
A book about time, culture and the land . . .
I think ‘Walking the Boundaries’ is one of the books closest to my heart. The boundaries in the books are very much the boundaries of our farm, along with some of the nature reserve above us and Wullamudulla's language is that of the local tribe, as far as I have been able to reconstruct it - the last tribal member died in 1892 and is buried just below our boundary.
It took me a long time to research, as the language is no longer spoken, and I had to go back to diaries and letters written last century. I wanted to use the language that was spoken here, not another that was recorded in some other place . . . but it was very difficult to find some of the words I wanted to use.
I'm not sure where the idea of the book came from - I was walking up the gorge one day (in a sarong and bare feet) and suddenly thought: I could be walking up here 1,000 years ago... or 1,000 years in the future and it would be much the same. And if anyone from the past or future saw me down here, it would be hard for them to tell what era I came from too - and suddenly the story arrived without my thinking about it, almost as though the gorge was whispering it.
‘Walking the Boundaries’ is different from my other books - the story almost seemed to write itself and only a few words were changed after the first draft - usually most of my books are reworked much more than that.
Dracula, of course, is based on the wombats around the house here - and most of the other elements in the story, like the history of Meg's family and Ted's house (which isn't ours) are based on things around here too.
When the the editor who worked on the book came down to our place for the first time, her husband was astounded how she knew the way and recognised exactly where she was - but as she said, she knew the valley from reading the book.
There are now several 'outdoor' courses based on ‘Walking the Boundaries’ - all based on the one developed at Birrigai Outdoor Centre in the ACT. The kids follow the paths of Martin and Meg and Wullamudulla over two days (or three in one course) - and they really do get to eat spotted dick and possum. The Wilderness School in Adelaide runs one of them.
The wombat in residence while I was writing W the B was Rikki the Wrestler - very obstreperous and loved to leap out and bite your knee caps or bowl you over - then he'd leap back and wait for you to pounce on him. The present wombat is Pudge - very dainty and cuddly - she'll delicately scratch on the door rather than try to gnaw through it. (We had to reinforce all the doors for Rikki - and even then he ate through two layers of reinforcing.). Luckily the rest of the house is made of stone.
Walking the Boundaries was shortlisted for the 1994 Royal Blind Society Award, shortlisted 1994 Human Rights Award, shortlisted 1994 WA Children's Book of the Year, Cool Awards, CBC Notable Book, a few others I can't remember.