Boy He Cry: An Island Odyssey


ISBN: 9780980461671 Format: Trade Paperback 272 pp Rights: World Release / Publication Date: 01 /03 /2009

This project has been assisted by the Australian government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.


Two young Australians arrive unannounced on a remote Melanesian island and ask its residents if they can live with them for a year. Granted this request, cut off from the outside world, living without electricity, telephones, running water, two-way radios or even access to an ocean-going boat, Roger Averill and his anthropologist partner adapt to life in a subsistence culture and find themselves overwhelmed by the generosity of their hosts. Treacherous sea voyages, cyclones, a drug-induced psychotic episode and encounters with maverick American missionaries all add to the adventure. As the health of the couple steadily deteriorates from repeated bouts of malaria, their relationships with the islanders intensify to form deep and lasting bonds. In this way, amidst stories of love and detective magic, shape-changing witches, playful tree sprites, dwarf’s hair and a dead merman, the most amazing transformation in Boy He Cry remains the way these people from vastly different cultures start out as total strangers but quickly become friends, even family.

Rare, precious and beautiful, Boy He Cry is a spiritual odyssey into the heart of a remote culture.

“Roger Averill’s book will bring back memories, often amusing ones, for anyone who has had the experience of being suddenly transplanted into the established life of a very alien society. Differences of “custom”, and struggles with language, frequently lead to comedy, which in turn can lead to affection.”
– Randolph Stow, author of The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea and To the Islands.

“A lucid, tender tale, a journey that brings our humanity home to us.”
– Chris Eipper, author of Dieback.

Roger Averill is the author of Exile: the lives and hopes of Werner Pelz, the novel Keeping Faith, and a travel memoir Boy He Cry: an island odyssey. Exile won the Western Australian Premier’s Prize for Non-fiction in 2012 and was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards.  He lives in Melbourne, Australia.




Roger Averill has woven a beautiful, touching tale about his year on a remote Papua New Guinea island with anthropologist partner Shelley.

The two young Melburnians arrive unannounced on Nuakata, where they’re the only Dimdims in the close-knit community. The islanders generously build them a no-frills house and the couple gradually become accustomed to a world without electricity, phone or two-way radio. They cope admirably until health concerns force an early departure. Lasting friendships are forged and the intrepid couple’s affection for the islanders, and vice versa, rises above everything in a heart-warming story, simply told.

Barry Oliver The Australian April 04, 2009


In this excellent, intimate, unassuming travel memoir, Melbourne writer Roger Averill accompanies his partner, sociologist Shelley Mallett, to Nuakata, a remote island in Papua New Guinea’s Goshen Strait, where Mallett is researching islander women’s health and the relationship between mulamula Papua (traditional healing) and Western medicine. These Dimdims (whites) build a home, suffer crippling bouts of malaria and psychotic reactions to anti-malarial drugs, fall under the spell of island detective magic, and tread warily among the rival Christian missions that Papua New Guineans depend upon for essential services. ‘Boy he cry’ (Gwama’idou) echoes throughout: it is a popular name given to canoes, and derives from the islander saying: ‘when a boy cries for fish, his father sees his hunger and goes out in his canoe to find him fish to eat’. But it also relates to Averill’s Papuan friend (and Mallett’s melancholy translator), Gil, who is unhappily separated from wife and child. As Averill wryly observes, the only thing between this picture postcard paradise and its inevitable repackaging as Club Med are the island’s ever-vigilant guardians: mosquitoes. 
Michael Kitson, Australian Bookseller & Publisher March 2009, Vol 88, No 6.

This is the record  of a year when two urbanised Australians  discarded the creature  comforts of electricity, hot and cold running water, washing machines  and regular visits to supermarket and replaced them with a simple palm leaf and timber hut, and life at its most basic.

The appeal of the book lies in its simple descriptive honesty. Rarely does Averill pass judgment. Even when, briefly, he worries about a toilet where the faeces go straight into the ocean, he accepts that this is a natural part of the cycle of life.

Bruce Elder Sydney Morning Herald  4-5 April 2009

An engrossing and touching account of an unforgettable experience.

Review by Kate Lockett, Readings Newsletter  5 March 2009

…… Thy toughed it out, though, for despite the rudimentary living conditions and their sparse diet, they were captivated by the Nuakata people. Averill is constantly amazed at the generosity of his friends who have so little, and conversely appalled by the cavalier attitude  of some church missionaries towards them.

While Averill admires the villagers, the reader is left admiring both him and his wife for their innate  humility, bravery and grace.

Dianne Dempsey The Age 28 February 2009