Title: Yahoo Creek
Written and Illustrated by Tohby Riddle
Published by Allen and Unwin
RRP: $29.99

This extraordinary picture book includes historical accounts of sightings of the Hairy Man, or Yahoo-Devil. Known by various names and reportedly seen in many locations in Australia, particularly the Great Dividing Range in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, the Hairy Man is part of Australia’s folklore. Aboriginal people have their stories of the creature, as do white settlers. The verbal text of this book is made of excerpts from newspaper reports from the 1800s and 1900s and information from Peter Williams, Ngiyampaa Elder from North West NSW. The excerpts from the newspapers are illustrated differently to the information provided by Peter Williams, which is framed by a pattern of foliage and Hairy Man footprints. The newspaper excerpts are illustrated with images of the creature and those who may have seen it. These newspaper excerpts are taken from Trove, the vast online repository provided by the National Library of Australia.

This picture book is very special and unique. The colour used is exceptional, various shades of dark blue emulate dusk or night time, giving the text an ethereal feel. Other picture book codes used to effect are direction and framing. Because of its uniqueness, there are several postmodern picturebook tendencies that can be identified. The nontraditional use of plot and character are obvious, as the text is told in the two formats. The visuals allow the viewer to feel part of the bush and sympathetic towards the yahoo, or hairy man. The verbal text forces the reader to construct meaning as different perspectives, over a period of time, are shared. Multiple readings are possible due to the different genres created, positioning the viewer in various ways. Throughout reading, one cannot feel sympathetic towards the creature at the centre of this book.

Tohby Riddle has created notes about the creation of Yahoo Creek and they can be downloaded here. These notes are well worth a read. In them, Riddle discusses the influences on his work, including artwork, photography and literature. The art techniques used are explained as is the journey of the book’s creation. Riddle has also included some suggested activities.

I cannot recommend this book enough. I cannot stop sharing it with colleagues, family and friends and see something new and different with each reading. The opportunities for integration in the classroom are many. This is an absolute must for school and public libraries, fans of picture books, Australian folklore and history.

Suggested Activities

  1. Have students access Trove and research their local area. Look through newspaper articles for family members or place names.
  2. Discuss the language used in the articles included in Yahoo Creek. How is it different to the way newspaper articles are written today? Discuss how and why language changes over time.
  3. In Tohby Riddle’s notes, he discusses artists who influenced his artwork in creating this book. Research Frederick McCubbin and his work. Have students choose one of his paintings to write a story about.
    Two websites that will be helpful are:
    Frederick McCubbin: The Collection: Art Gallery NSW
    Frederick McCubbin: Artists: NGV