Scaly-tailed Possum and Echidna

I found another book review I wrote four years ago! Sorry Magabala Books and the Goonack clan. In 2011 Scaly-Tailed Possum and Echidna by Cathy Goonack, with pictures by Marlene, Myron and Katrina Goonack was a Children’s Book Council of Australia Early Childhood Notable Book. I wrote this review then.

“The story of how Scaly-tailed Possum got his scaly tail and Echidna got his spikes, has been passed down from my grandfather, Wilfred Goonack, and told from generation to generation. It is part of our Dreaming. Wunambal is the same of our people and our language. Kandiwal is the name of our tribe”
– Cathy Goonack

Scaly-Tailed Possum and Echidna is a beautiful little book, telling the Dreaming story of greedy Echidna who stole from Scaly-tailed Possum, the fight that ensued, and Echidna’s fall onto the spiky pandanus leaves. The great spirit, the Wandjina, punished Echidna for stealing, thus there isn’t the usual happy ending found in picture books. But nature in tooth and claw doesn’t have happy endings, whether our world today or that of the Wunambal Dreaming.

pandanus Possum and Echidna on the cover and beginning of the story look very different to how we know them, after their Dreaming trials and punishment. Echidna could climb trees and eat pandanus nuts!? He had quite a fall to the heavy load of spikes he carries today and diet of termites.

The illustrations by Cathy Goonack’s children, Marlene, Myron and Katrina Goonack, are what made this Dreaming story so appealing. Their drawings were transferred onto silk with support and technical assistance from artist Janie Andrews. The colours of the silk dyes are breathtaking. The blue of the sky had me in raptures.

After the story factual details of the two animals, with photographs, make for good educational material. A map of the Kimberly shows the Aboriginal communities and languages as well as the main towns. Also included is Old Man’s (Alfred Goonack’s) memories of his childhood walking through this country with his family, the dislocation of moving to missions, where different tribes had to live side by side for the first time, and his return with his family and grandchildren in the 1980s to Ungolan in the remote Mitchell Plateau region (Ngauwundu), where his people belong.

The book is small (18x16cm) ideal for little hands or sharing with one or two. I gave the book to my nephew for his fourth birthday (he’s now 8). He lived in Darwin then, where Pandanus palms grow. He loved Scaly-Tailed Possum and Echidna, often asking for it to be his bedtime story and other times reading the pictures by himself.

Scaly-Tailed Possum and Echidna is available from Magabala Books and 4-year-old approved.

Find out more about Scaly-tailed Possums on my nature blog.