The extract from the novel “Walkabout” by James Vance Marshall is about two American children who find themselves in the Australian outback after a plane crash where they encounter an Aboriginal boy. In the following the three characters will be examined in detail.
Little background information is given about Peter and Mary. We only know from the introductory text that they are from America and that their plane crashed in Australian desert in the 1950s. Their lives have been very comfortable until this incident (ll. 13-17), they lived a protected life with all the good things of a civilised Western nation like technical equipment, entertainment and enough food. We know basically nothing about their outward appearance.
About the Aboriginal boy, however, we learn quite a lot. He is a young child (ll.3-4) and as it seems to be normal for an Aboriginal boy he is black (l.31) and he is running around naked (l. 33) and without a weapon in the Australian outback. His tribe has been living according to their old tradition for centuries. They have learnt to survive (ll. 24-25) by finding water holes (l. 22) and killing animals with their hands (l. 39). For the Aboriginal boy “time means nothing” (l.37-38) and therefore he seems to be “in no hurry” (l. 37).
At the beginning Mary is described as a very careful and fearful character as she want to run away from the Aboriginal boy (l.1). This might also be a hint at her being a little xenophobic as she has never seen an Aboriginal before and she is scared of his sight. She also comes across as the big sister who want to protect her brother when she takes Peter’s arm to take him along with her (l.1). But then she becomes quite confident and even strong when she considers it to be “a sign of weakness” (l. 27) to run away from the Aborigine. She tries to stare at him to show the she is not weak at all but can deal with the situation (l. 26; ll. 50-51). She seems to be very serious and reasonable and behaves a little as if she was Peter’s mother when she is angry at Peter when he sneezes and destroys her little power game with the Aborigine (l. 70). Moreover, she is shocked when the Aborigine starts to love as she is not at all a relaxed and fun-loving person (ll. 80) and might even be a little surprised because of her xenophobic attitude that a strange-looking primitive like the Aboriginal boy might suddenly start to laugh as this looks far too human to her. Peter, on the other hand, is quite different from his sister. He is clearly much younger than his sister and sometimes takes her as a role-model for example when he imitates her stare (l.34). He is described as quite childish as he cannot stand the silence between his sister and the Aborigine and starts to move (l.53). He is not as self-controlled as Mary which makes him suddenly sneeze and destroy the tense atmosphere (l. 60). He clearly enjoys the relaxed atmosphere the laughter of the Aboriginal boy causes (l. 84).
In the course of the story, we also learn a lot about the Aboriginal boy. Being unarmed he is not very threatening but comes across as being quite nosy and curious (ll. 5-6). He is a child like Mary and Peter after all. As he has never seen white people before (ll. 47-48), he examines them like animals (ll. 40-45) and enjoys this examination. He is trained in finding out if some creature is dangerous or not and so he can cleverly conclude that Mary and Peter seem to be harmless (l.44). Another consequence of the fact that they are the first white people he has ever seen is that he does not know what sneezing is and so starts to laugh in a child-like way which makes him seem very human after all (ll. 77-80). His laughter shows that he is a human child just like Peter and Mary (ll. 88-89).
So all in all one can say that Mary is the protective and serious older sister who wants to protect her younger brother and does not want to come across as scared when she sees the Aborigine whereas Peter is the childish young boy who on the one hand imitates his sister but on the other hand cannot stop his impulse and sneezes. The Aboriginal boy is used to the wilderness and examines Mary and Peter like strange creatures he simply does not know. But when he hears Peter’s sneeze, he starts laughing. This laughter make Mary and Peter and the Aborigine see that they have something in common and they are all human beings after all.