Death of Harry Roach - a man for all seasons
Let the writers of PNG rise again

An adventure yarn for a child of any age

Peter top
Peter Comerford amidst the ruins of Panguna, from which he was forced to flee in 1990. An author who has seen the best and the worst of things, but this charming children's book is a delight all round


A Survival Story of Michael and Natlik by Peter Comerford, Austin Macauley Publishers, 2022, 146 pages. Available here from Booktopia in Australia, $18.95 paperback, $7.15 ebook

TUMBY BAY - I don’t remember when I learned to read. I know it was before I started school so I must have been fairly young.

I clearly remember a book based on the 1953 Walt Disney film of JM Barrie’s 1904 West End play Peter Pan or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up. I would have been five at the time.

I also remember other books I read as I got older, including The Coral Island: A Tale of the Pacific Ocean published by Scottish author RM Ballantyne in 1857.

And later William Golding's 1954 novel Lord of the Flies, which was written as a counterpoint and parody of Ballantyne’s book.

The reason I mention this is because I’m trying to place Peter Comerford’s new children’s book into context, both in genre and who it might appeal to in terms of age and gender.

Fitz Comerford Book CoverPeter’s book is about Michael, a young Australian lad holidaying on his uncle’s plantation in New Ireland.

Disaster strikes in the form of a boating accident and Michael is forced to depend on his own skills to survive.

The book is also about the relentless efforts of his uncle’s faithful household servant, Natlik, to find him.

At one point Michael makes the counterintuitive decision to leave the place on the coast where he has found food, water and shelter to cross the mountainous and jungle clad island seeking help.

This doesn’t make a lot of sense because his instincts should have told him to stay close to the place where he made it to shore and where people searching for him would probably look.

The crossing, however, provides much drama, and this may have been the author’s intent.

Although not stated, the book has a colonial feel to it with Australian plantation owners and their house servants. (Except on the very last page when a computer appears.)

Of course, none of this will bother an enthusiastic 10-year old looking for an entertaining yarn.

And this Peter Comerfield has given us. The book fits neatly into the boy’s own adventure genre pioneered so long ago by RM Ballantyne.

As for the possible age range, I reckon I read Coral Island when I was about 10, so 8-12 is probably pitching about right for this book.

Peter is a retired teacher, a headmaster no less, who taught in Papua New Guinea from 1970 to 1990, including in New Ireland where the book is set.

His experiences and his profession has enabled him to provide an authentic and charming ‘colonial days’ feel to the book.

I hope today’s 8-12-year olds will sit down and read A Survival Story – or maybe have it read to them - because it’s not only a well-constructed story with a consistent narrative but is imbued with a clear, positive message about interracial relationships.

In reading the book, and thinking of my own grandsons, I began to wonder about the extent to which children read for leisure these days when there are so many competing attractions.

Research shows that a majority of children still enjoy reading (and also enjoy being read to) until things drop away when they reach high school.

In an Australian survey, about half of the children aged 6-17 said they were currently reading a book “for fun” and another 20% said they’d just finished one.

Peter Comerford - Drama, adventure and a satisfying conclusion

Some 77% of girls and 65% of boys said they would read books at home five to seven days a week, and three-quarters were also card-carrying members of their local public library.

Furthermore, and this is great news, they tend overwhelmingly to talk to their parents about the books they are reading. There are some interesting statistics here.

A Survival Story will make a great gift for young children and as a work of literature Peter Comerford brings it to a natural and satisfying conclusion that will please a child of any age.

Other books by Peter Comerford

Land of the Unexpected: short stories, anecdotes and memoirs of Papua New Guinea

Tales and Memories of Papua New Guinea


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Peter Comerford

Phil, Thank you so much for taking the time to write a review in your busy schedule. Much appreciated.

I agree entirely with the age range you suggested. The 11-14 year age group was the only area the book seemed to slot into when it was submitted to Austin Macauley and it is certainly an upper primary read.

The original plan remains to get some copies to schools in PNG, particularly New Ireland. I think your suggestion (of mandating PNG authors who you have helped) to write a children's book is a great idea.

Thank you once again for your kind review.

Philip Fitzpatrick

If the statistics from the June 2017, Great Australian Reading Survey, conducted by News Corp Australia, if accurate, are indeed heartening.

My casual observations at the Tumby Bay library, which serves both the primary and high schools, as well as the general public suggests they are true.

My grandsons, 9 and 12 years old, are not so enthusiastic about books but both are accomplished digital readers. They were read to as toddlers and were great fans of the Captain Underpants series, along with other grotty genre boys' books.

Hopefully they'll evolve into dedicated readers as they get older.

Watching the younger kids sitting around the librarian in Tumby Bay while she reads to them can't help but make me think of all the kids in Papua New Guinea who are missing out on this experience because of their ignorant government.

I think I might mandate PNG authors who I help publish their books to produce at least one children's book as a condition of that help.

That's a fine idea. I also have a suspicion that it may be easier to find government, aid and NGO funding for children's books - KJ

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)