Jimmy Watson and Johnno Hogan grew up together. They were best friends. They went swimming, camping and adventuring in the Australian open spaces, and they helped the stockmen too. They especially enjoyed Old Reggie’s Dreaming stories told by the campfire. Then Johnno left for school in the big city while Jimmy stayed home and worked in the stockyards. They missed each other, as good friends do. During Johnno’s holidays from school and university, the two pursued their usual adventures at home in the countryside. When World War 1 engulfed Australia and young men were sought to fight, Jimmy and Johnno enlisted together.
The settings created by illustrator Shane McGrath offer important historical details. The artwork is hand-drawn line work in pencil and ink, with digital colouring in photoshop according to McGrath. The colour palette tones of brown, gold and olive green capture the Australian countryside and reflect the patriotic military tone of the time. Included also are period details of buildings, motor cars, main streets, flags and recruitment signs reflecting South Australia in 1914. As the book progresses predominately brown tones perfectly capture the sombre scenes of WW1 battlefields where men are injured, life in the trenches is detailed and the weapons of war are featured.
The two friends stay close. Jimmy remembers Old Reggie’s stories and wonders whether the same people and creatures from the Dreaming Stories shaped this desert land where they are fighting? He wishes that his Ancestral Spirits of the Dreaming could take him home. The story ends positively with both young men returning home together.
Racism and restrictions on human rights in relation to Aboriginal people are raised in this story. Readers will question what they read and see in this book. There is a postscript information panel, ‘Indigenous Australians at War’, at the end of the story. It states that although Indigenous Australians served alongside ‘white’ Australian soldiers, they were officially banned from serving and did not have the same rights as ‘white’ Australians.
‘Dreaming Soldiers’ won the 2019 Australian Speech Pathology Book of the Year Awards – Indigenous Children’s Category. Catherine Bauer is a journalist and writer from South Australia and has worked with the South Australia State Theatre Company. Shane McGrath’s artwork captures the Australian landscape and features historical details important to this story.