Njunjul the Sun

by Meme McDonald & Boori Monty Bryor

Published by Allen and Unwin

161 pages, 2003

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Here Comes the Sun

Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski


Njunjul the Sun is the third in a trilogy that began with My Girragundji and continued with The Binna-Binna Man. Both previous novels have won several awards and the first was the Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year, deservedly so. It is longer than the first two books and aimed at an older audience, perhaps children who have grown up with the others. In any case, it is a full-length, though still easily-readable, young adult novel.

In the first novel, My Girragundji, the young hero found a frog that he believed was sent by the ancestors to help him. It died, but its spirit still advises him. The Binna-Binna Man told of the family's journey to the funeral of a relative who had died in the white man's lock-up. In only a few thousand words, it expressed the sorrows of the Aboriginal community and the rite-of-passage of a 14-year-old boy, who makes his own journey, as a child on the verge of young adulthood, and in terms of his cultural identity. It was warm, sad and funny all at once.

The unnamed boy who narrated the first two in the style and "slanguage" of Aboriginal speakers, is now 16. His family's home was bulldozed and the older children had to go and live with their Aunt Milly because there was no room for them in their mother's new, tiny apartment. After a run-in with brutal police whose excuse for bashing him is not wearing a bicycle helmet, he drops out of school and looks like becoming another Aboriginal statistic until his relatives get together and pool their money for a bus ticket to Sydney, where he can stay with his well-off Uncle Garth and Garth's white schoolteacher partner, Emma. Uncle Garth visits schools, where he explains about Aboriginal culture, plays and dances, much like Boori Pryor himself. (In fact, the authors admitted at a recent conference that they had fun putting themselves into the stories as Uncle Garth and Auntie Em). But Garth has his own problems and leaves his nephew to himself. The boy is too busy discovering the delights of the attractive older woman downstairs to be bothered doing much else and has shown no interest in returning to school or learning about where he comes from. It is up to Emma to persuade her partner that their nephew needs a little more than just room space if he is to recover from his bad experience and regain confidence in himself.

Like the other two books, this one is touching and warm, with dashes of humor to leaven the serious message. Even the horrific fact that any Aborigine who has an expensive piece of equipment needs to carry a receipt around to keep police from challenging him is lightened in the scene where Uncle Garth is pulled up by the police in his expensive Mercedes, muttering about the unfairness of it -- and merely told he's left a carton of milk on his roof. The beauty of these books is that, despite the sadness of them, there is no bitterness. Understandable anger, yes, but also the feeling that things will get better, when people like Garth have helped the whites to heal and then his own people can heal. In a speech that echoes the authors' philosophy, Garth tells his nephew:

"We can earn whitefullas' gold using the power of blackfullas' stories. ... That culture's like medicine. It can heal you. It can heal all those other fullas ... not knowing where they belong. For healing, we need whitefullas to hear about our culture. We need whitefullas to heal first so we can heal. We gotta keep these stories going if we gonna keep ourselves alive."

If this one doesn't win a swag of awards like its predecessors, there is no justice. | July 2003


Sue Bursztynski is a children's and fantasy writer and librarian based in Australia.