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‘The Girl From the Great Sandy Desert’ reveals what was in the bush Review by Girl from the Great Sandy Desert
On the 14th November 2014 the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott was giving a speech at an international business breakfast in Sydney during which he commented:

“As we look around this glorious city, as we see the extraordinary development, it’s hard to think that back in 1788 it was nothing but bush and that the Marines, and the convicts and the sailors that struggled off those 12 ships just a few hundred yards from where we are… must have thought they’d come almost to the Moon.
“Everything would have been so strange. Everything would have seemed so extraordinarily basic and raw..." (

In amongst all that bush were complex, sophisticated societies meeting the needs of their members. Jukuna Mona Chuguna and Pat Lowe have collaborated to help readers understand how life was for desert people before European settlement.

Jukuna grew up in the Great Sandy Desert in the 1940s and 1950s and though her childhood was barely touched by European settlement, it was nothing like life on the moon. It was a rich and fulfilling life amongst the love and support of her extended family. Life was not without its dangers and sadness but there was a lot of fun and satisfaction as well. Jukuna took pride in the skills she learnt as she matured and took her place alongside the other women.

Jukuna eventually accompanied her husband to a cattle station where they worked. They later met linguists in Fitzroy Crossing and helped them develop a written form of their native Walmajarri language and Jukuna was then able to write her own language. Jukuna became a committed Christian and in later life she blossomed into an artist of some renown. She travelled overseas and saw the wider world. Jukuna was a modern woman who grew up in a sophisticated modern society in the Great Sandy Desert. She was proud of her heritage.

Australians don’t have to think back to 1788 to imagine life before European settlement they can read Jukuna and Pat’s book. It is a brief, fascinating, very readable window into Walmajarri Australia before European contact.

The book fits perfectly into the National Curriculum in History and English. Mervyn Street’s illustrations bring the stories to life. Textually the book is suitable for Middle to Upper Primary but given that many of the themes are quite mature, Secondary students will also gain a lot from a study of the book. This feature makes the book particularly suitable for secondary age students who are still in the earlier stages of reading development. In fact, Australians of any age will be fascinated and impressed with the characters in this book.

Carmel Leahy
Kimberley teacher/linguist

‘The Girl From the Great Sandy Desert’ is published by Magabala
(Posted on 23/02/2015)
Valuable resource ... highly recommended for school library shelves Review by Sue Warren
This is a quite different book very suitable for Upper Primary/Middle School with firsthand accounts of traditional indigenous desert life told through the eyes of a young Walmajarri girl, Mana.

Pat Lowe is an Englishwoman who moved to Broome in 1979, fulfilling a lifelong dream to live in Western Australia. In the 80s she went to stay in a desert camp for a period of time and while there came to know Jukuna and her family. Later when both Jukuna and Pat were living in Broome, they began to record Jukuna’s stories, Pat having realised what a rich source of valuable cultural information these were.

A decision was made to couch the stories in a semi-biographical book renaming characters as many of them were no longer living and it would have been inappropriate to name them. Unfortunately Jukuna died in 2011 but her vibrant story telling now lives on via this wonderful book.

Interspersed with the stories are small chunks of cultural information which give background to aspects of particular stories e.g. Mana’s story about dogs is followed up by an information panel about the importance of dogs to the desert people. The beautiful charcoal style black-and-white illustrations are a perfect accompaniment.

This is an interesting read on any level and will be particularly useful in teaching situations as there is no need to read the entirety but it can be dipped into at need or to suit aspects of the classroom work. Since at present the cross-curriculum priorities of exploring ATSI culture and history remain in place, works such as this will prove valuable resources.

Through Mana’s stories we can all glimpse the life of a desert child before European settlement changed the Walmajarri people’s lives forever.

Highly recommended for your library shelves – year 5 and upwards to around Year 7-8.

This review first appeared on the Just So Stories blog

(Posted on 18/02/2015)

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The Girl from the Great Sandy Desert

Jukuna Mona Chuguna, Pat Lowe

The Girl from the Great Sandy Desert