Suzy Swamphen has never heard of the Life Magic and doesn’t know she is part of a Tribe. But her life is changed forever when Pip the Squirrel Glider and Roo the Kangaroo arrive at Second Lagoon, seeking help to save Pip’s bushland home.
Stories from the Wildworld started out as a narrative, non-fiction book about the forests of south-east Queensland. The research was fascinating, but every time I tried to write a few chapters, I ended up very bored with the result. And if I was already bored writing the thing, who on earth would want to read it?
Gradually, I found myself drawn back to the style of the stories that had enthralled me as a kid. Fantasy worlds, often inhabited by animals who could talk. Fables that explained deeper meanings, or how things worked. Magical possibilities and mysterious prophesies. But all inspired and imbued with the millions of stories from Australian nature, waiting to be told. The Wildworld was born.
Stories from the Wildworld begins with a meeting that takes place at Second Lagoon, a real place in the Brisbane suburb of Sandgate. For 10 years I lived just down the road from this wonderful wetland and walked around it nearly every day. During this time, I became familiar with many different plants and animals, some of whom ended up in the book. I also witnessed bushland destruction and wildlife displacement in our local area. I wondered what it would be like for a wild animal (or plant) to try to survive in an often-hostile urban environment. Neighbours had seen squirrel gliders in their backyards, and I loved the idea that one of these tiny creatures might try to fight back.
Below is an excerpt from the recently published Stories from the Wildworld: a book which will hopefully encourage stronger connections between young readers and the native species and natural places around them.
Chapter One – The Rumour
Suzy emerged from the big clump of flax lilies, beneath the paperbark trees that fringed the lagoon. She paused on the edge of the road between the lagoon and the meeting place, her blue head and large red beak held high. Nobody knew she was going to the Life Council meeting. Her parents would be very cross if they found out. But Suzy wanted to see the squirrel glider for herself, and hear her story. For the rumour had raced around the lagoon that day, like swallows chasing midges across the water, or like the hobby-falcon hunting dragonflies on a sunny summer day. A glider had come to Second Lagoon, wanting to learn the Lore from an Elder. This had not happened in these parts for many, many swamphen-lives.
“Life Magic, that’s what it’s about,” a spoonbill had muttered to Suzy, between sweeps of his spoon-shaped bill through the water.
“What’s that?” asked Suzy, puzzled.
“I dunno,” said the spoonbill as he walked by, sweeping. “I don’t know anyone alive who knows anything about the Life Magic. I thought it was just something made up, in the old myths. Like the one about White-plume the Magnificent, and how she fought the Sea Eagle Army. They say White-plume the spoonbill used the Life Magic to protect her kin. She turned into some kind of monster and scared the army of Sea Eagles away. But I don’t know how she did this, or what the Life Magic is.”
The squirrel glider who had come seeking help was a youngster like Suzy. Suzy could not imagine traveling away from her home and family like this squirrel glider had done. What had driven the glider to do this? Suzy was very curious about everything. And because of this she had learnt lots of things about Second Lagoon, and the plants and animals who lived there.
“Way too curious!” said her mother.
“It’s just not normal for a swamphen,” said her big sister. But Suzy kept poking her red beak into all sorts of things. She badly wanted to go to the Life Council Meeting, but her family would not hear of it.
“We don’t mix with people like that,” said her mum. “That Dollarbird is a tramp and a troublemaker. And those furry creatures, the mammals, we don’t trust them. I hope you know that squirrel gliders eat bird eggs for dinner? A mudlark told me that.”
“That Life Magic is weirdo stuff. It’s not for good, simple folk like us swamphens,” said one of her three dads (swamphens often have more than one dad).
“Why should we care about some other creature’s problems anyway?” snorted one of her older brothers. “Are they going to help me if I get into trouble? Ha! I doubt it.”
But Suzy wasn’t so sure. In any case, she needed to learn more about this Life Magic, and she wanted to meet the squirrel glider, or at least hear her story. The glider was having a grand adventure, even though she was a kid like Suzy. Suzy was rather jealous.
So Suzy sneaked off to the Life Council Meeting without telling anyone she was going. She knew that every guest of the Life Council had to tell a story, so she had spent the day preparing hers.
Suzy peered up and down the road. Her pointed blue tail flicked rapidly, flashing the large white patch of feathers that covered her bottom. She was thinking of the swamphens who had been hit by wheeled metal boxes, right here. But there was no turning back now. With her very long, orange toes spread wide, Suzy made some big swamphen-steps to cross the road. Quickly. A wheeled metal box whizzed by behind her just as she reached the other side. She skirted around a fig tree and the children’s playground, and headed towards a large old blue gum.
Would you like to read more? Buy the book!
This excerpt was originally published on the Wildworld Books website and is republished here with permission.
Stories from the Wildworld also includes the story, ‘The Selfish Tree’, previously published on Remember the Wild. Read it here.
Banner image courtesy of Paula Peeters. Please note that this article is not sponsored in any way.