‘Leaving Barrumbi’ is the third in a series about the Barrumbi kids set in an Aboriginal community in north Australia. In this book, Dale and Tomias have to leave their community and go to boarding school in town.
The boys are sent off with much advice in order to cope with their new lives. Dale is a white boy who has been brought up Aboriginal. He is told to “Sitdown, quiet. Make that good decision” and his friend, Tomias, an Aboriginal boy, is advised “learn that Big English”. These pieces of advice are appropriate for their very different personalities. Dale is spontaneous and completely impulsive, ruled by his emotions. He has a huge shock when he is told at the school to keep the rules and sit still. Tomias, on the other hand, has real potential as a student and in leadership.
As the story progresses, the boys’ previously close relationship suffers when Dale finds he is unable to keep the rules and constantly gets into trouble. He can’t understand why he isn’t treated as Aboriginal and is unable to go on special “blackfella’s” field trips. Tomias is pulled into Dale’s trouble against his will. To make things worse, Dale begins a friendship with one of the school’s troublemakers, as they spend a lot of time in detention together.
Disaster seems to be looming for Dale, but the book goes into a different direction. Dale’s positive qualities of passion for ‘country’, and his understanding of Aboriginal ways and customs, helps him to resolve many difficult issues. In the end,Dale’s knowledge of Aboriginal dreaming and his cleverness at surviving in the bush, enables him and Tomias to make a positive change in both the school and its surrounding environment.
Leonie Norrington has lived in both white and Aboriginal communities and her knowledge of these cultures is obvious in the telling of this story. The story includes Kriol language and understanding of bush tucker and tracking, Dreaming stories, and a humorous and generous insight into the cultural differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.