I went to one of the oldest primary schools in Queensland. My family lived in a church house in a well to do suburb. I was the only Indigenous student until my brother started school there. I was made to know from day one fitting in was not going to be easy. Black skin, Black name. I was an outsider. School wasn’t exactly my favourite place to be, but I did like the library.
The library was a wonderful place. It was my doorway to different worlds where I went on many adventures. I raced through forests, chased by Baba Yaga. Sat on wishing chairs. Listened to Aesop’s Fables. Travelled the zodiacs with Ludo and Renti. Fought alongside Vikings to earn my place in Valhalla. But my favourite place to be was running with Thowra.
I read The Silver Brumby in one evening. Then I read it again. And again. I did read the rest of the series but that first book captivated me. When I opened up the pages, I wasn’t Yaritji anymore I was a part of the book. Elyne Mitchell whisked me from suburban 80s Brisbane to country New South Wales. I was there the day Bel Bel gave birth to Thowra. I understood her fear of being hunted. I understood being different just as Thowra was different, the whiteness of his coat setting him apart from the others in his herd.
Elyne Mitchell made the country come alive. Running through the mallee scrub. Knowing the country. Making sure to make no tracks. Being invisible to survive. Avoiding the man on the horse, and his dog.
Reading Mitchell’s bio, I read of privilege and wealth. A woman who lived on a large country property. It was a working property. She learned the country she lived in by being out in country. She carried a note book, she spoke to the men who worked on the land. She knew enough of country to make it a living part of the book. Mitchell created an environment for Thowra to stand out in. But what I liked the most about the bio was Mitchell wrote it for her daughter who would wait beside her mother waiting for pages to be typed out.
I was in Alice Springs, doing a Certificate III in Creative writing at Batchelor College, when I saw in the newspaper that Elyne Mitchell had passed on. It felt like a close friend had died. A part of my childhood survival. This lady had had helped me even though she never knew me. She created a safe haven for me and probably for many other young readers.