Sharni is 12 years old and she’s “a mess”. It is a year exactly since her father died in a horrific forestry accident and she is still in deep mourning. She has no friends, has no joy for life and feels half the person she used to be. Her younger brother is an annoying appendage; Mum is a traitor. Sharni blames her mother for Dad’s death because she divorced him and changed their lives forever. If they’d still been together, he would have been somewhere else when the accident happened.
There is only one thing to do on this sad day … Sharni must go to the secret place Dad took her to on his last day alive. Dad took Sharni deep into the forest and showed her the tallest tingle tree in the world, growing out of a deep crater. The king tingle symbolises everything that’s worth living for - and it must be protected. Many years before, three foresters found the king tingle and swore to keep it secret, to protect it from tourists. One of the oathtakers was Dad. On the day Sharni swore to protect “the king” too, the others had long been dead. Now she is the only one left.
After visiting “the king”, Sharni becomes lost in the forest. Cold and huddling overnight, she is frightened by the appearance of a strange old man who seems to be a part of the forest itself. There are many secrets in the tingle forest – dangers as well - but like the bush after a wildfire, Sharni discovers the power of self-healing as well.
Secrets in the Tingle Forest was conceived during a visit to the Denmark-Walpole area of Western Australia's south-west in Spring, 1999. After a day of magical walks in almost pristine karri and tingle forests, Louise had a vision of an old man who might live in there. She wrote the first words of Secrets that day: ‘The old man who lived in the forest would have been a legend if people had known about him, but nobody knew. Nobody but Sharni…’Louise has always had an interest in the natural world and environmental issues, and has always loved stories with mysterious natural settings. She hopes that readers will enjoy the mystery of the tingle forest and Sharni’s adventure while, at the same time, thinking about the environmental and family issues mentioned in the story. She wants readers to see that conservation debates can be complex and rarely have clear-cut rights and wrongs. And just because someone has a different opinion doesn’t mean they are “bad”. The same goes for family relationships, and there are parallels between conflicts in the environmental debate and Sharni’s problems with her family. She eventually learns that to go forward in life, we need to forgive differences and seek solutions. Look for positives, not negatives.
As a child in Sydney, Louise Schofield was an avid naturalist, collecting tadpoles and ‘pet’ insects and wandering in nearby bush with her friends. After graduating from Charles Sturt University, NSW, she worked as a journalist in regional television and the rural press. Before taking up fiction writing full time, she was a senior journalist with The Australian newspaper.
Louise’s picture book, The Zoo Room, was also published by Fremantle Arts Centre Press in 2002. She also writes for an educational publisher.
Louise lives with her partner and two children in the hills near Perth, surrounded by the bush and wildlife that she loves.
The main themes of Secrets in the Tingle Forest, and the range of personal experiences of its main protagonist, mean this novel can be used in the classroom to complement studies in a number of subject areas outside of literature. A reading of Secrets would complement any class-work focusing on forest preservation and the timber industry debate (Society & the Environment) as well as nature studies and people’s relationship with the natural world. It would also serve to stimulate discussion on grief and depression (Health) and the complexity of family relationships. The book could also stimulate debate on the pros and cons of timber harvesting in natural forests could follow further investigation of the facts and issues at stake, looking at all sides of the argument.
a) The dynamics of family relationships
The class could discuss or record their own reactions to grief (perhaps when a relative or pet has died) and discuss the many different ways people react. Some people grieve fiercely and briefly while others grieve privately and for much longer periods. Perhaps the class could discuss healthy ways to cope with grief as well as the danger signals when we need to seek help for ourselves or our friends. How did talking to the old man help Sharni? How did they help each other resume a “whole” life again?
Divorce is becoming increasingly common in our society. How can kids cope when their parents split and how can we help our friends if it happens to them? How did it affect Sharni, and how did she come to terms with it later in the story?
a) The debate for and against logging in old-growth forests
Old growth forests are home to wildlife and rare plants in a world where so much has been lost. But for centuries people have earned a living by logging and processing timber, or by clearing land to farm. In some towns this is the main industry – without it many towns would “die”. Many of us live in homes built or furnished with timber from old forests and/or plantations, some of it coming from rainforests in poorer countries than Australia. Students could look at all sides of the debate about logging in forests – including the debate for and against clear-felling - and then discover what “remnant” trees or forests are in their area or region. How are they being protected? How could the students do more to protect them? And governments? What alternatives are there to old forest timbers?
b) How does the forest change in this story? And how does it replicate the changes in Sharni’s relationship with her family. How does it help us to understand what is happening? How does it help to communicate the author’s themes?
Secrets in The Tingle Forest presents the reader with different ways of looking at secrets and their impact on our lives. Sharni values the secrets given to her by her father and the old man, and swears to keep them, but later she has to make the decision to break her oaths. Did she do the right thing? What may have happened if she had kept the secrets?
Other characters in this story have to deal with secrets too. What decisions did they have to make?