"All the Proud Tribesmen" by Kylie Tennant

All the Proud Tribesmen by Kylie Tennant

Resilience and Survival in the Torres Strait

Kylie Tennant’s “All the Proud Tribesmen” stands out as a significant piece of Australian children’s literature. First published in 1959, this novel offers a vivid portrayal of a Torres Strait islander community confronted by natural calamities — an earthquake and a volcanic eruption — which force them to seek new homes and adapt to change.

All the proud tribesmen by Kylie Tennant illustrated Clem Seale

All The Proud Tribesmen

By Kylie Tennant

Go on a riveting adventure with "All the Proud Tribesmen," where a 12-year-old boy and his community face the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. Authored by Kylie Tennant and illustrated

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The story is told from the perspective of Kerri, a twelve-year-old boy raised by Miss Buchanan, a white schoolteacher who has taken a leading role in the community. This setup provides a unique narrative lens but also introduces the complex dynamics of the white saviour trope, subtly woven into the fabric of the narrative. Miss Buchanan’s character, while pivotal, sometimes overshadows the local customs and wisdom, inadvertently diminishing the agency of the islanders.

Despite this, Tennant’s narrative excels in building a world that is rich with cultural depth and detail. The depiction of the islanders, particularly their pearl-diving exploits and their resilience in the face of disaster, is compelling and richly drawn. However, the portrayal sometimes slips into a ‘happy tribe’ stereotype that feels somewhat dated and out of sync with contemporary understandings of cultural complexity.

The storytelling in “All the Proud Tribesmen” occasionally meanders, with crucial action happening off-page, which can detach readers from the immediacy of the events. Nevertheless, Tennant’s ability to evoke the atmosphere of the Torres Strait islands with vivid descriptions and engaging scenarios largely compensates for these pacing issues.

Tennant, known for her social-realist style and thorough research in her other works, brings authenticity to the setting and the challenges faced by the community. The use of local customs such as the kupai omasker adoption practice adds a layer of authenticity and educational value, providing young readers with insights into the Torres Strait cultures.

“All the Proud Tribesmen” is a richly textured tale that, despite its flaws, offers valuable insights into the strength and adaptability of communities in crisis. It serves as a window into a time and place rarely depicted in children’s literature, making it a worthwhile read for young readers interested in stories of survival, culture, and adventure.

About the Author: Kylie Tennant

Kylie Tennant, born in Manly, New South Wales in 1912, was a distinguished Australian novelist and playwright renowned for her contributions to social-realist literature. In 1932, she married Lewis Charles Rodd, beginning a lifelong partnership that supported her literary career. Tennant’s literary debut, “Tiburon,” won the S. H. Prior Memorial Prize in 1935, marking the start of her influential career. Her novels are celebrated for their intricate portrayal of Australian life, transcending simple social realism through meticulous firsthand research—she even spent a week in jail to authentically depict her characters’ experiences.

Her most acclaimed work, “The Battlers” (1941), captured the struggles of the Australian working class and earned both the S.H. Prior Memorial Prize and the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal. Tennant’s literary repertoire also includes travelogues, biographies, children’s books, and dramatic works, showcasing her versatile writing skills.

Kylie Tennant’s significant contributions to Australian literature were formally recognized in 1980 when she was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO). She passed away in 1988, leaving behind a legacy of richly detailed narratives that continue to resonate with readers and scholars alike.

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