Libby Anderson, Ronald Revitt (ill.) The Gundaroo Pony. Australian National University Press 1979. ISBN 0708110088
A little detour outside the borders to Gundaroo, and outside adult fiction into children’s books. Antoinette has loaned me her not-yet-accessioned copy of The Gundaroo Pony, and how can I refuse?
I suspect Canberrans feel about some of our surrounding villages the way most Australians think about New Zealand musicians and sports people. When there is something to admire about them, we just call them our own. Canberra has been famously called a good sheep paddock spoiled, and often has much of the feeling of a big country town. Gundaroo is a small country town, with a population in the hundreds and an infeasibly high proportion of good eating establishments, so I for one am happy to adopt it as part of Canberra for my own selfish purposes.
In The Gundaroo Pony our small friend Dianne and her grey pony prepare with excitement for the historical picnic proposed by Mr Marconi to honour the town’s pioneers. In the process Dianne learns about her own connections with the town’s past.
Although written in the 1970’s, The Gundaroo Pony had me thinking how close our history sometimes is, when we go looking for the links. And, I guess, the obvious but still sometimes surprising notion of how young our settler history is, particularly in this region, only now celebrating 100 years of having an official name.
The 1979 version of Gundaroo depicted here has a breathless admiration for pioneering. Dianne and her mother give us something of a definition to work with:
‘Pioneers,’ Dianne said thoughtfully, ‘were the people who came out to Australia a hundred or more years ago.’
‘That’s right,’ Mother said, ‘they had a very hard and difficult life. They had first to discover and then develop this big island we call Australia.’
‘Pioneers must have been very tough and brave,’ Dianne said.
Been here less than 100 years, or more than 1 000? No pioneering from you, thanks very much. The Gundaroo Pony has a narrow naivety that may be a product of its time, or its childish focus, or more probably both. I don’t feel particularly qualified to review children’s books, although this one reminds me of the quaint, starchy, goody-two-shoes Milly Molly Mandy stories I loved as a kid. I wonder how many children’s authors would write like this today, (only?!) 34 years later?
If The Gundaroo Pony finds history in the recent past, it also made me marvel at how times have changed. What community event today would risk a public liability apocalypse by handing out packets of nuts as prizes for the kids? Which 2010s eight year old would beg to stay longer after looking for an hour at old photos at the “historical library”, where “the old and precious documents and photos about the town’s history were carefully stored… in glass cased cabinets”? And does anyone say ‘golly’ ever, anywhere, at any age, any more?