Review: Taj and the great camel trek

Cover of "Taj and the great camel trek"

Book review:

Rosanne Hawke: Taj and the great camel trek.

Published in 2011 by University of Queensland Press.

Two weeks ago I was privileged to attend the Adelaide launch of Rosanne Hawke’s latest novel. I am becoming addicted to launches of her books; this is the fourth one I’ve attended in three years. As anticipated it was a joyous time of celebration because I know how hard she has struggled with this story over the last 4 years.

The main character, twelve year old Taj, lived in Beltana in outback South Australia in the 1870s. His father is a cameleer and Taj has his own camel Mustara, a character in its own right. In fact, Taj and Mustara have featured in another Hawke book, the picture book Mustara.

Cover of "Mustara"

Taj and Mustara are invited to join explorer Ernest Giles on his second expedition  across Australia from Beltana to Port Augusta and then on to Perth in Western Australia. It is not a journey to be undertaken lightly because much of the territory they planned to cover is desert, for most part uninhabited even by local Aboriginal people. The team accompanying Giles struggle with coming to terms with the isolation, their own feelings of fear,  the harsh environmental conditions and the almost total lack of water. At times, they traversed many hundreds of miles without finding a drop of water. The whole journey has them on the very edge of disaster throughout, giving the reader a sense of the extreme hardships they endured.

While this is a novel, written as fiction and from Taj’s point of view, many of the incidents and characters are based on real events and real people taken from Giles’ own journal and the records in newspapers of the day. Taj himself is a fictitious character which points to the real strength of this book. Rosanne revealed at the launch that this book was originally conceived as non-fiction, but early on in her research and early drafts discovered that fiction was a far more powerful vehicle to tell the story. In this way the author has brought history to life for the reader, a delicate balancing act at the best of times. She has handled the transition with great skill. We see and feel the anxiety of the party through the eyes and emotions of Taj.

Highly recommended reading.

Links:

Disclosure: Rosanne was my supervising lecturer when I completed my Master of Arts (Creative Writing) course recently. Apart from being a great friend and an amazing mentor, I gain nothing from promoting her books and the merchandise associated with it. Reviewing her books is just my way of saying ‘thank you, Rosanne.’

Rosanne Hawke and a friend

 

 

5 Responses to “Review: Taj and the great camel trek”

  1. Ken Rolph says:

    With that last photo, is the caption the wrong way round?

    Or not. Just asking.

    • Trevor says:

      Good one Ken – and you’d better read Rosanne’s comments too. I’d forgotten that the camel in question is called “Trevor” and is a female!!!

      I laughed when I first heard that. On reflection… well… oh what the… I’m still laughing.

  2. Hi Trevor, what a great review. It is encouraging to hear that you liked the book, as in the four years it took me to write it I often wondered if the balance of history and fiction would be right: interesting enough to capture a reader’s attention and true enough to satisfy history buffs. Of course, the things that Taj learns, even though he is fictitious, are still true for us all.
    Ken you are so funny. You’ll all love to hear that the ‘friend’ in the photo is called Trevor and she is a girl. It was gratifying after bravely believing everything Ernest Giles said about the camels to find these ones do really kiss like he said. Trevor and Whitey are from Jim Talbot’s farm in Tarlee.

    • Trevor says:

      Thank you for visiting, Rosanne, and for leaving your comments.

      I believe that you have achieved a fine balance between fact and fiction. To illustrate the point: I knew the ending but I was compelled to keep reading, always a good sign. (The movies “Apollo 13” and “Titanic” achieved the same outcome, but that’s probably not a fair comparison!)

      • Trevor says:

        By the way, Rosanne, Corinne is currently half way through “Taj” and is really enjoying it. And at the launch I bought the mug which I use every day – it reminds me of all your wonderful teaching and encouragement. (I’m thinking I also need an “Ameera” mug too.)

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