‘Mustara’ is an historical fiction picture book by two creators who excel in this genre. The setting for ‘Mustara’ is the Australian desert near Beltana, South Australia and the year is 1875, just before Ernest Giles’ expedition across Australia.
Young Emmeline and Taj are close friends. Her father manages the cattle station. Taj helps his father train the camels which bring supplies up from Port Augusta and take explorers on their expeditions. Taj dreams of joining the explorers with his own camel, Mustara, but his father says Mustara is not yet strong enough. One day, Emmeline, Taj and Mustara are overwhelmed by a thick and furious dust storm. There is a very satisfying ending to this story which captures these times in memorable ways.
The author creates a sense of place with her figurative language, for example, ‘spinifex bushes are little boats blown about by the wind’. The reader is transported into the hot and dusty desert setting when our young camel and the children shelter together in a dust storm. The textured double pages with intricate brush strokes of creams, golds, rust and brown colours capture the hot and dusty feel of the desert and those who live there. The golden endpapers similarly feature the historical times as the cameleers and their camels trek across the page.
Roseanne Hawke follows up this picture book with an historical novel, ‘Taj and the Great Camel Trek’ (2011) where Taj and Mustara join Ernest Giles on his second perilous attempt to cross the Australian desert.
Before illustrating books for young people, Robert Ingpen worked with the CSIRO, illustrating scientific and wildlife publications. He is the only Australian to have won the international Hans Christian Andersen Medal for Children’s Literature (Illustration). In 2007 ‘Mustara’ was shortlisted in the NSW Premier’s Awards and was also a CBCA Notable Book.