I’ll admit straight off that I love Peter Carnavas’ work so I find it extremely hard to be objective about his new picture book. Peter’s stories are simple tales told with lively illustrations and telling detail and The Great Expedition does not disappoint.

With a cover featuring five kids studying a map; one with a dog perched on their head, you know that you’re in for an adventure.

The Great Expedition is based on the tale of Burke and Wills, but fortunately for the protagonists in this story, it has a happier ending.

The expedition is led by Robert, Will is the navigator, Henry the biologist and Ivy the botanist. Lily is the animal handler and it’s her job to keep the dog under control, which is difficult to do because the dog spends most of its time pulling Lily off her feet or sitting perched on her head.

With Robert in front and Will pointing the way, they head off on their hazardous journey,  where they encounter some of the obstacles faced by Burke and Wills.

The date of the journey, the dig tree, the names of the two main characters and some of the events in the book are true to the original Burke and Wills expedition.

The antics of the kids are funny but I have to say I was totally distracted by the actions of the dog.

You start to doubt whether the heroes will reach their destination, especially after they lose the map, but they trudge on regardless.

I can imagine young readers acting out this book in the backyards and sandpits of their own home. As a parent, I could relate to the playground being a hazardous place for a kid to navigate across.

Burke and Wills goal was to become the first Europeans to cross Australia from Melbourne to the north coast. Robert and Will display the same courage and determination in their Great Expedition.

The Great Expedition has themes of friendship, loyalty, resilience and leadership. I love how this book introduces young kids to history in an adventurous and non-confronting way.

It is delightfully illustrated in watercolour and ink.

The Great Expedition is published by New Frontier.


Published by

Dee White

Dee White lives with her husband and two sons in a small rural country town which has more kangaroos than people. She has worked as an advertising copywriter and journalist and has had numerous career changes because until recently, writing wasn’t considered to be a proper job. Letters to Leonardo, her first novel with Walker Books Australia, was published in 2009 to great critical acclaim.