First appearing as a short story, The Returning Tree in Ford Street’s popular anthology, Trust Me!, Crew’s heart-wrenching tale of place and belonging has been reborn.
Finding Home is a story about a boy who has journeyed from England with his parents to make a better life in Australia. The boy, unable to adapt to this strange new land, finds solace in books. Through his reading he learns about the cockatoos that inhabit the lone gum standing proud at the centre of his father’s field. Every evening he watches the birds return in their hundreds, as they’ve done for a hundred years. Not sharing his son’s sense of wonder, the boy’s father cuts down the tree. Watching in horror, the boy sees the cockatoos return at day’s end, flying around and around until they fall to the ground, exhausted. The decision this event prompts in the boy may not be to every reader’s taste, but it must be noted that it has never been in the multi-award winning Crew’s nature to pull punches.
‘Around and around they flew, crying in confusion. Screaming in anger. Their tree was gone. Their home.’
None of the original story’s impact has been lost due to its metamorphosis. In fact, the story’s more compact form has increased its resonance. Crew’s strength is his ability to invoke powerful images and emotions in the mind of his readers. The image of the lone gum and the sense of loss stayed with me long after the last page was turned.
Intended as a metaphor for the way colonisation impacted Australia and its inhabitants, this huge story snug in its small skin is far more personal than that.
Boyer’s deceptively simple, yet detailed coloured pencil and water colour wash illustrations bring Crew’s characters to life. Her use of muted colours and finely drawn facial features that depict perfectly each individual’s emotion is a visual treat.
Not one for young readers, Finding Home is a thought-provoking read for older children and adults that, I’m sure, will become a useful resource in the classroom.