Available: 21st January 2019
If you have not yet set about acquiring Jackie’s enthralling Secret Histories series it is definitely time to catch up to it. As this school year peters out and we limp towards the finish line, some are already thinking about 2019 and our support of our classes.
For the past two years I have shared Birrung the Secret Friend with our Year 4 classes to build their field of knowledge before their First Contact HASS studies. In particular this first in the series addresses directly their inquiry into short- and long-term effects of European settlement on the local environment and Indigenous land and water management practices. Not only were the students completely engaged with the narrative with much lively discussion, prediction and astonishment (“the piece of meat was HOW big?”) but were already well prepared for their unit of work and receptive to even more delving into history.
Joyfully many of them have continued on with the series and love to tell me which one they have just read and recount the highlights. They all certainly love following the continued story of Barney and Elsie.
Now the series has moved onto to the early 1800s and Sydney Town has developed into an actual town although with dubious quality and is not the only growing settlement. While Barney and Elsie have now built their farm and are happily thriving out at Parramatta things are far from stable in the colony. The recent influx of Irish rebels transported for their part (whether actual or assumed) in the Vinegar Hill uprising has added an extra layer of fomenting discontent in the new colony where poverty, cruelty and injustice abounds. One small orphan, just one of many, is caught up in this. Frog has never known a mother or father and is, instead, a pickpocket in the rather dubious care of a slatternly innkeeper. When young Frog encounters both Elsie Bean and one Phillip Cunningham, momentous events are set in place.
The Castle Hill uprising was an unsuccessful attempt to redress the balance of justice in the corrupt environment of the colony despotically ruled over by such (now) dimly viewed personalities as Governor King, Rev Marsden and the local rabble of soldiery. Betrayed by spies the convicts’ rebellion is not only thwarted but cruelly crushed with merciless reprisals.
Frog, hero worshipping Cunningham, casts the die and joins the rebels, as a small but determined supporter and is injured in the skirmish. Rescued by Barney Bean, Frog’s future unravels into something not to be dreamed of – with the littlest rebel’s deepest secret revealed.
The twist in the tale is brilliant and little Frog, unloved and unwanted, finds a family worth having and along with them moves forward to building the colony into a bigger and better place for all-comers.
This is a story long untold and Jackie French, with her passion for Australian history, has revealed it to readers through her intensive research into eyewitness accounts as well as her imagination. I for one, cannot wait to introduce this to my students as their next foray into the troubled history of our country. Their fierce sense of justice will be inflamed by the story and they will love to hear the next episode of Barney and Elsie and their growing family.
As if you can’t tell, I cannot recommend this highly enough. Aside from its readability it is easily one of the most valuable adjuncts to teaching primary children real history.
Recommended for readers from around eight years upwards.