Wurrtoo by Tylissa Elisara

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

This is the first novel by Tylissa Elisara, a children’s social worker. Her aboriginal and Irish heritage has given her a long legacy of storytelling. This hard covered 20 x 13cm book has been described as an indigenous Blinky Bill meets Winnie the Pooh. In her adventure story Wurrtoo the author has drawn from classic children’s books as well as stories from her own heritage.

Accompanying the story are black and white sketches by Australian born graphic designer and artist, Dylan Finney, also a descendent of Aboriginal clans with English and Irish links. His work, like that of the author, explores identity and culture.

The central figure in this story is a hairy nosed wombat who believes he is in love with the sky and is determined to marry her. To do so he must travel across Kangaroo Island and then over water to the mainland, enter the Forest of Dreaming and climb the tallest tree. But Wurrtoo was a very nervous creature who spent most of his life avoiding people while enlarging his burrow.

He begins to feel more courage after meeting Kuula the koala, who is fearless and loves adventure. They eventually set out to fulfill his wish, along the way encountering both good and bad experiences.

Like many books for children, the animals in the story take on human features, can talk, and their dress choices become an interesting feature. The wombat wears high waisted shorts dotted in red, yellow and black that he pulls over his voluptuous rump while the koala wears a bright ochre pinafore and large woven dangle earrings.

Throughout the book there is much about the meaning of the word ‘country’, how ‘it is for everyone though it doesn’t belong to anyone’ (40). The author describes country as a giant community garden. I found her writing style very personal as if she was talking just to me – What’s that? You don’t know what ‘endemic’ means? Well, ask your adults. (I’m a narrator, not a teacher!) (6) and ‘As you can probably imagine, this was a rather big moment for our friend’ (22).

I loved the way alliteration is used in the presentation of this story. Some examples are – the exhausted wombat wobbled to his feet (9), Wurrtoo sucked in a big brave breath (11) and his stomach turned into a boggy billabong (10). Words like this added another dimension to the story. Some of her descriptions were humorous and linked very much to Australia – His eyes looked like two great big pavlovas on Christmas morning (12).  Her aboriginal heritage shines through in her writing such as when the duo followed the movements of a short-beaked echidna like they were watching a Barty and Goolagong-Cawley tennis match (111). There are many references to children’s stories and fairy tales that young readers would be familiar with.

The author has beautifully matched physical features of Kangaroo Island with the adventures of this intrepid pair. At Hog’s Bay they encounter hogs. The sketch at this part of the book highlights the description given in the story with the king of the hogs sitting on a ‘squalid throne made from an old car seat, holding a rusty wrench like a sceptre, and wearing a busted washing basket as a crown’ (117). Wurrtoo arrives at the Bay of Shoals which does in reality, have shallow sand flats before crossing Investigator Strait to get to the mainland. The author warns the reader of the dangers that these sand flats can hold by telling them to always ensure that they include adults in any adventures they wish to undertake themselves.

I discovered that the names given to the two main characters in this story are in fact the indigenous names for those creatures and that this story was written to address the fact that none of the treasured children’s books in Australia contain any representation of first nation’s culture.

Wurrtoo: The Wombat Who Fell in Love with the Sky


by Tylissa Elisara

Lothian Children’s Books

ISBN: 978-0-7344-2198-2

$19.99; 196pp

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