The author of this collection of ten legends from the Yorta-Yorta people of Australia is best known for the novel Walkabout, and something of the harsh beauty of that story, as evoked by Nicholas Roeg’s film version, is present in both the content of the narratives and their depiction in austere but vivid sand painting style by Aboriginal artist Francis Firebrace.
The tales are set in the dreamtime, and provide poignant and picturesque accounts of the origins of animals’ behaviour, human customs and the phenomena of creation, death and renewal. The four stories concerning interactions and transitions between people and the wider natural world are particularly poignant: these accounts of how men and women are transmuted by their own passions into flora and fauna are fascinating, and Marshall’s simple, moving language manages to bestow individuality and vulnerability on these mythological agents acting in a timeless sphere. Firebrace’s full page pictures and detailed marginalia present rich elaborations of Aboriginal motifs, using ochre-tinged acrylics in the four traditional colours of black, white, red and yellow. Each of the stories is followed by clear background notes about culture and natural history, and a glossary and compendium of visual symbols is appended.