'A plane crashes in the vast Northern Territory of Australia, and the only survivors are two children from Charleston, South Carolina, on their way to visit their uncle in Adelaide. Mary and her younger brother, Peter, set out on foot, lost in the vast, hot Australian outback. They are saved by a chance meeting with an unnamed Aboriginal boy on walkabout. He looks after the two strange white children and shows them how to find food and water in the wilderness, and yet, for all that, Mary is filled with distrust.
On the surface Walkabout is an adventure story, but darker themes lie beneath. Peter's innocent friendship with the boy met in the desert throws into relief Mary's half-adult anxieties, and the book as a whole raises questions about what is lost—and may be saved—when different worlds meet. And in reading Marshall's extraordinary evocations of the beautiful yet forbidding landscape of the Australian desert, perhaps the most striking presence of all in this small, perfect book, we realize that this tale—a deep yet disturbing story in the spirit of Adalbert Stifter's Rock Crystal and Richard Hughes's A High Wind in Jamaica—is also a reckoning with the mysteriously regenerative powers of death' (publisher blurb, NYRB Classics).
Adapted from James Vance Marshall's novel The Children, Walkabout begins with a father-of-two driving his fourteen-year-old daughter and six-year-old son into the desert. Overwhelmed by the pressure on his life, he plans to kill them and then commit suicide, but his plan goes wrong. The siblings wander the desert aimlessly until they meet a young Aboriginal boy who is on a solitary walkabout as part of his tribal initiation into manhood. The three become travelling companions. Gradually, sexual tension develops between the girl and the Aboriginal boy. When they approach white civilisation, the Aboriginal boy dances a night-long courtship dance, but the girl is ignorant of its meaning. When she and her brother awake in the morning, they find the boy dead, hanging from a tree. The brother and sister make their way to the nearby mining town, where they receive a cool welcome from the townsfolk.