Set in Western Australia, the story follows the pre-pubescent Harry as he hikes the Bibbulmun Track with his mum, her friend Ana, and Ana‘s daughter Deepika. Off the Track is an excellent novel for children in order to give them a fun education on understanding not only the dangers of nature but the history of the land and the land’s owners: the Noongar people. Burne tastefully incorporates Noongar terminology and history into her narrative without making it overbearing or dense; however, it could be equally argued that more information is required given those living outside of Australia might struggle to understand, but the brief explanations used could encourage curious readers to conduct their own research into Noongar culture.
Burne scatters facts about the land through her characters’ eyes and dialogue, facts like how to identify a wandoo tree –it has flaky bark, and I honestly cannot wait to use this titbit of information – to the animals you will discover on the track. Burne captures the importance of severing yourself from technology in order to appreciate not only the beauty of nature but to appreciate those around you. Burne’s take on everyone being technology-obsessed is refreshing; the blame is not solely placed on the children being consumed by technology and unable to put their phones down, but shines an equally damning light on adults. Harry himself changes his attitude towards nature and hiking with people he does not know very well from initially thinking, “Scrub. Sand. Sky. Done.” to immersing himself in nature by noticing the way the trees move with the breeze, the call of the birds above him, and forming a friendship with Deepika.
Off the Track evoked a keen sense of nostalgia within me. When Harry and Deepika strolled through the track chatting for hours on end and making whistles out of sapling gums, it reminded me of a time I would walk with friends through the bush in the sweltering heat of summer and not notice the time slip by. Perhaps I am biased in my favour of this book given its setting of Western Australia, or perhaps it is because of the memories Off the Track stirred up. A great introduction on appreciating Western Australian nature for children 5 and up!
This book was provided free of charge to Underground Writers by Fremantle Press for the purposes of reviewing.