Review Details

The Girl from the Great Sandy Desert

The Girl from the Great Sandy Desert

Product Review (submitted on 23 February 2015):
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