Tag Archives: Australian History

Searching for Charlotte: The Fascinating Story of Australia’s First Children’s Author/s-Kate Forsyth, Belinda Murrell

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Paperback | Nov 2020 | National Library of Australia | 9780642279699

AUD$34.95, NZD$39.99

I had hoped to review this when it was released – sadly, the publicists did not get the memo and I missed out.

But it was always going to find its place in our collection given both its subject matter and the authors. After some hiccups with our suppliers this term it finally arrived and no sooner was it processed than it came home with me earlier this week!!

I may have had a wait but it was worth it – without a doubt. I had known about Australia’s first book published for children – Mother’s Offering to her Children: By a Lady, Long Resident in New South Wales – by Charlotte Atkinson for years and when I was living/teaching in Canberra a decade ago was so privileged to see this rare book in a special ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the NLA. In addition to that, I had, of course, read Belinda Murrell’s The River Charm which was largely inspired by this remarkable woman.

When I first learned that Belinda and her sister Kate were working on this joint history of their ancestor, I was tremendously keen to read and learn more.

The young Charlotte who travelled to Australia aged 15 to take up a governess’ post was a girl clearly of astonishing courage and fortitude. Her meeting with James Atkinson on that long and risky voyage, and her subsequent marriage to this impressive and energetic man is the stuff of romantic fairy tales. Their beautiful home, Oldbury, in the Southern Highlands of NSW and their growing family of lively children were highly regarded and no doubt envied by the colonial society of the times. Sadly, as so often happens, especially in the oft-perilous times of the 19th century, fairy tales can crash and Charlotte’s certainly did. The death of her beloved James and her inexplicable marriage two years later to a man of dubious character sent her entire life into a downward, dark and depressing spiral of abuse and personal danger to both herself and her children. Their escape from the increasingly manic Barton and Charlotte’s ensuing long and painful battle to retain the rights to her children and the income from the estate has every harrowing hallmark of the bleakest of melodramas – although an all too common scenario for many women, both past and present.

Travelling through their research and family – both past and present – with Belinda and Kate was the most enchanting way to spend some quality ‘me time’ at this frazzled end of term time. My admiration and awe of this family’s achievements is second only to my regard for their innate warmth and generosity of spirit. The discovery that we both have long ago connections to the Norman de Warrene family (and there’s even some Warren connection in their later history) was a bonus joyful fillip that warmed my heart.

I can certainly endorse the many glowing recommendations this book has garnered since its publication late last year. Whether as a personal read or a significant literary ‘memoir’ of real interest to readers both young and old, I would urge you to seek out a copy.

Tell Me Why for Young Adults – Archie Roach

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  • Simon & Schuster Australia
  • (March 3, 2021)
  • ISBN13: 9781760858865

I can say unreservedly that this is one of the most powerful memoirs I have read in recent years and for young adults this is a book worth promoting heavily.

Archie’s life story is at times harrowing and confronting but also uplifting and inspirational. Taken away from his family at the age of 2, he was placed in foster care – initially, in a very distressing situation – but later in a family home with foster-parents who were both kind and loving. But an unexpected letter received in his teens, alerted Archie to his lost family and his search for his own people began. As it was, and has been, for many First Australians the impact of the Stolen Generation was devastating with long-term effects still being felt, Archie’s struggle to re-connect with his natural family and his culture was a roller-coaster of emotions, highlights and low periods.

Archie does not hold back on his battles with alcohol and the often tragic circumstances that punctuated his life as he endeavoured to find his place within his culture. His recollections of his life with his much-loved, and also highly acclaimed, wife Ruby Hunter are poignant and utterly heart-rending as both fought their own war against booze and depression.

His determination to rise above the often sordid events of his life was helped and accelerated by his music, something which had always sustained and nourished his spirit. As this confidence in his music grew so did his mission to awaken all Australians to the issues and tragedies of his people and culture. This career has seen Archie rise to the heights of respect not only within the industry but across the nation as more and more people develop an understanding of and empathy for our First Australians.

Archie’s ongoing goal to promote healing for his people and his personal resilience and inner strength is truly admirable and this history, both the personal and our nation’s past, is vital for all our young people at a time when society is faced with much unrest, uncertainty and division.

I cannot recommend this memoir highly enough – I was completely gripped by it (and read way past my bedtime as I was so engrossed with hit). I will certainly be promoting it actively to my young readers from Year 7 upwards.

Thank you Archie for sharing your life – the good, the bad and the ugly – with us all.

The Angel of Waterloo – Jackie French

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Harper Collins Australia

December 2020

  • ISBN: 9781460757918
  • ISBN 10: 1460757912
  • Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
  • List Price: 29.99 AUD

In actual fact, I read the proof copy of this at the start of the term – hungrily devouring each page with intensity – as I do with every single one of Jackie’s books, particularly her historical fiction. All those who are faithful fans of the Matilda saga will embrace this new book with gusto as it precedes the series and takes the reader right back to the very early days of the European settlement in Australia.

I’ve said this oftentimes after reading one of Jackie’s Australian historical fiction books but I’m saying it again – I always discover new learning. I had absolutely NO idea that so many of the early immigrants (either convict or free) were directly connected to the Battle of Waterloo and this, apart from anything else, made for the most fascinating reading.

Henrietta Bartlett is the daughter of a battlefields surgeon and his very able assistant despite her youth. Motherless, Hen is in the forefront of the brutality and bloodshed of the Napoleonic wars and her gentle but efficient treatment of survivors earns her the epithet of ‘Angel of Waterloo’. It is one moment of extreme anguish saving a young man that Hen finds herself being married to her patient and although the union is contracted in extremis, for Hen it is the most real thing she has ever done. When she is told her new husband has died her grief is intense but she continues to work alongside her father until a time comes when she is on her own – without family, without spouse and must forge a new path.

That path takes her to the raw and raucous colony of New South Wales after the discovery that her husband has in fact survived the wars and is now living there. But more anguish is in store for Hen when she discovers that Max has ‘re-married’ and has a new family. With a spirit so indomitable that she can only be one of Jackie’s characters, Hen creates for herself a new reality becoming a landowner, farmer and woman of healing. To locals of the impoverished and disenfranchised status, she becomes ‘Auntie Love’ and her life rolls out with many twists and turns, ultimately being realised into a warm and fulfilling reward for her patience and generous nature.

With her customary dexterity Jackie references her other books and readers will delight in the ‘ah ha’ moments contained in this intriguing and exciting narrative.

I had moments of angst when I thought the story was not going to end the way I’d hoped but the denouement is just sublime – and I’m not the only one to think this. Naturally, I lent my proof copy to a couple of fan friends who whole-heartedly agreed with me.

I don’t know how she does it to be honest but she does with such complete authority and seeming ease – every single time!! I takes me hat off to you Jackie French – as always, this is the perfect read.

Do I need to ‘sell’ it? Probably not but if you are not sure, don’t hesitate! Put this on your reading list immediately!!

Australia’s Wild Weird Wonderful Weather – Stephanie Owen Reeder and Tania McCartney

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Publisher:   National Library of Australia
ISBN: 978064229637

RRP: $24.99

What an amazing partnership these two creators make! Together they have made what is already an interesting topic for many children into one that is completely fascinating. The Kid’s home school unit on extreme weather and natural disasters last term was just as enjoyable for her as it is for younger children for whom this particular book is intended.

The combination of information snippets in easily-digested chunks, alongside the (as always) simply splendid illustrations in Tania’s inimitable style and the absorbing bizarre facts presented is outstanding and kids from Prep to Year 6 will thoroughly enjoy perusing it. Stephanie’s ability to search out little-known Australian history has become the stuff of legends and likewise her ability to translate them into wonderfully accessible texts for children.

As well as the strange weather events shared there is a tremendously vital message around climate change and the imperative for young people to take on the challenge of preparing for the world’s future.

Readers of this blog already know how much I admire and adore Tania’s illustrative style with stylised graphics and knock-out colour combinations and this gorgeous volume is completely phenomenal in this respect. To my mind this is a stand-out for award nomination in the coming year and if not, there’s something seriously amiss with judging criteria.

My heartiest congratulations to Stephanie and Tania on the creation of such an engaging and attractive volume! Obviously, I give it my highest recommendation as a necessary addition to your non-fiction collection for younger readers.

Read Stephanie’s account of the book’s creation here.

Gold! – Jackie Kerin & Annie White

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Ford St Publishing

September 2020

  • ISBN10 1925804534
  • ISBN13 9781925804539
  • RRP: $24.99

What a brilliant combination! A lively rhythmic text, absolutely stunning illustrations paired with historical information about the Victorian gold-rush all of which will stimulate readers’ interest and imagination. For those with the ubiquitous Gold in Australia unit of work this is a magnificent springboard into your investigations and will pique your students’ interest in the topic.

Author Jackie Kerin has a background in acting and storytelling and truly this is evident in the text which crackles with enthusiastic and animated expression. The blend of prose and verse style and plenty of figurative language will add to the learning to be gained from this book with true enjoyment to be had along the way.

Annie White‘s illustrations have long gained accolades and I suggest you visit her webpage for some fascinating insights into her work. Her work for this particular vividly echoes the wonderful text and readers will delight in the detail to be found within.

The book concludes with some useful fact boxes which will easily segue into further inquiry and all in all this is a splendid addition to any collection.

Highly recommended for readers from around Year 4 upwards.

The Schoolmaster’s Daughter – Jackie French

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The Schoolmaster’s Daughter – Jackie French

Harper Collins Australia

May 2020

ISBN: 9781460757710

ISBN 10: 1460757718

RRP: $17.99

We know so well Jackie’s passion for and skill with historical fiction and when she combines it, as she has with this new novel, with her own family history the result is even more sensational.

Australia at the point of Federation: a new century, a new nation and a new and radical shift in the traditional society and expectations – for some.

Hannah moves, with her schoolmaster father, her liberally-minded mother and her young brother from rural NSW to far north Queensland, deep in the heart of cane country where long-held prejudices and practices exist.

When their ship founders and subsequently breaks up just off the coast of its destination and the men of the party foolishly trek into the unknown, Hannah along with her mother and brother are rescued by a young Islander boy named Jamie. In spite of the evident prejudice of their fellow female travellers especially when faced with Jamie’s clearly white mother, Hannah and Mama begin the first tentative steps towards what becomes a life-long friendship. They go even further when Hannah, denied any further education by her conservative father, and Jamie, denied education by virtue of his colour and birth circumstances, begin to take lessons with Mama, who flouts the convention of being subservient to her husband.

This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg as the new century and the progress towards the women’s vote and other liberations is undermined by the short-sighted government that threatens the very existence of any Islanders indentured to the cane-barons such as the man who employs Hannah’s father.

Family drama, threats by the hardened suspicious townsfolk, secrets long-held by neighbours all impact on the family, driving Hannah and her mother further and further towards an escape from the tyranny of both husband/father and their close society. It’s not just Hannah and Jamie fighting for their right to education any more, it’s about a true equality for all and Hannah’s mother is well-placed to act with courage and determination to free herself and her children at a time when such actions were almost unheard of in ‘polite society’.  How very proud Jackie must feel to have the inspiration of the women in her family to create this fictionalised (but close to truth) narrative history.

This is fascinating and terrible, at times, as a very ugly side (yet another one) of Australia’s history unfolds and the depth of the struggles by the women who came before us is revealed.

Once more I was completely enthralled in and enriched by Jackie’s historical revelations – both the personal and the Australian aspects. In every book I learn things I’ve never known and in a way, that makes them vibrant and memorable. As always this is a superb way to introduce young (or older) readers to little-known (and very probably well-hidden) darker sides of a new nation and certainly to the very real and often tragic plight of women of the time.

As always, I cannot recommend this highly enough particularly for readers from around 13 years upwards.

 

 

Red Day – Sandy Fussell

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1569817219332

Walker Books Australia

March 2020

ISBN: 9781760651886
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

It seems very apt to be reviewing Sandy Fussell’s latest book today as we commemorate ANZAC Day albeit in a very different way to the usual events.

This is a very powerful story which blends contemporary life in small town Australia with the past and at the same time explores the sometimes fragile and complicated relationships with family and other people.

Charlie (Charlotte) has synaethesia so for her everything has colour and sometimes emotions: days of the week, people, numbers and even inanimate objects. When Kenichi, a Japanese exchange student, arrives to stay with Charlie and her mother for a week, Charlie is not at all pleased at the prospect. But his arrival also sparks a strange sequences of experiences in which her synaethesia is magnified to an almost frightening extent. She begins to feel nausea and pain, has flashes of the past and hears unfamiliar voices – some of which Kenichi can also detect. As the two begin a tentative partnership to investigate the cause of this distress, a slice of history begins to reveal itself and connects with their present. The Cowra Prisoner-of-War break-out remains a significant event in Australia’s history and while essentially tragic forged a lasting and important testament to forgiveness, peace and hope for the future.

For both the solution of the mystery provides a healing for their families and their dreadful loss of loved ones so important to their lives. Readers will completely connect with the characters who are so very well executed and the peripheral characters of friends and families will provide much fodder for self-reflection on loyalty, courage and ethics.

Definitely a book that will appeal strongly to both boys and girls, from around 12 years upwards, this is another one to promote enthusiastically to readers. I can certainly see many of my keen readers being fascinated by this – not to mention learning a great deal of hitherto unknown information.

Highly recommended for Upper Primary upwards.

To the Bridge – Corinne Fenton. Illustrated by Andrew McLean

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1570582164047

Walker Books Australia

April 2020

ISBN: 9781925126822
Imprint: Walker Books Australia

Australian RRP: $26.99
New Zealand RRP: $29.99

If ever there was a story to inspire kids to follow their dreams this surely has to be one that is right up there with the best. In our modern world it seems completely unbelievable that a nine-year-old boy and his pony could travel  six hundred miles unaccompanied from Victoria to Sydney but that’s how Lennie (and Ginger Mick) became an Australian legend.

In the Great Depression there were few things to keep Australian spirits buoyant aside from building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and our Don Bradman. For a young boy living in Victoria the marvel of engineering that was to be Sydney’s iconic bridge was fascinating and he longed to see it for himself. Having proven himself to be both resourceful and dependable his father agreed to his journey on his beloved pony, Ginger Mick. Averaging about twenty miles a day Lennie was feted by supporters along his route by the many who had heard of his mission and was even greeted by the Prime Minister Joseph Lyons in Canberra. Schoolchildren and adults alike were uplifted by Lennie’s determination and he was shown much welcoming warmth from families and even ‘posh’ hotels as he grew closer and closer to his destination.

What a character this boy must have been and I have often wondered about the man he became because surely a child with such sturdy determination and resilience must have become a truly worthy and dependable adult.

This is a book that will completely fascinate your readers and will provide them with an insight into a period of Australian history that was very grim but was also a time of hope with so many doing their best to rally in community spirit. They may well enjoy re-tracing Lennie’s journey and doing a virtual exploration of the towns and locales through which he passed.

Absolutely a cracking book for your collection and so highly recommended for your readers from around 7 years upwards.

Listen to ABC Conversations about Lennie’s story here.

 

 

Trouble in the Surf – Stephanie Owen Reeder and Briony Stewart

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9780642279460National Library of Australia

October 2019

Publisher:   National Library of Australia
Edition:   1st Edition
ISBN:   9780642279460

RRP: $24.99

Stephanie Owen Reeder always excels at creating engaging narratives that are underwritten with historical facts and this picture book is no exception.

To all intents and purposes it is merely the story of two cousins who go swimming at Bondi Beach back in 1907. Charlie and Rupert have a grand time in the surf until the rip catches Charlie and there is an almost disaster. Luckily there are some stalwarts who are able to rescue Charlie and a bystander nurse is able to resuscitate him. Very much a gripping adventure but when Charlie’s full name is revealed at the end of the story, the reader is certainly bound to be surprised and also to conjecture on the ‘what if’ had that rescue not been a success.

The book concludes with some terrific information about Charlie and Rupert as adults, Nurse Sadie Sweeney, Surf Life Saving in Australia, surf safety and Bondi Surf Lifesavers as well as a very useful glossary.

The illustrations are just glorious – and the endpapers that make my heart sing! – and perfectly capture the atmosphere of the time period.

Whether as part of a unit of work focused on Australian history, surf safety, iconic figures in our nation’s heritage or just as a fabulous read-aloud, I highly recommend this for your kiddos from around 7 years upwards.

Find teaching resources here

 

The Ghost of Howler’s Beach (The Butter O’Bryan Mysteries #1)  – Jackie French

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Harper Collins Australia

February 2020

ISBN: 9781460757727

ISBN 10: 1460757726

List Price: 16.99 AUD

 

To most folks Butter O’Bryan would seem a lucky boy.  In a time when many people are destitute and homeless he lives in a large and comfortable house, known as the Very Small Castle, he has three eccentric but loving aunts –  known as Elephant, Peculiar and Cake – and a well-regarded and clever doctor father who has offices in Sydney’s Macquarie St. He goes to a good school where he has chums and at home there is always a veritable cornucopia of good food prepared by Cooky. But the truth is that Butter often feels lonely and sad, particularly in the school holidays with no school or mates to distract him. He misses his mother who died a year ago dreadfully and even though the aunts are so very good to him, the emotional distance between him and his father makes him even sadder.

When he wanders down to Howler’s Beach just below the Very Small Castle one morning and discovers three raggedy thin children playing a game of cricket, he’s a little hopeful of joining in the game – even though he suspects they may be from the nearby susso camp and he’s not supposed to go near to those inhabitants. This edict is not from a snobbery point of view but a health precaution imposed by his father and aunts. No fear of that though as he is resoundingly rejected by the kids who disappear as soon as his attention is diverted by their dog digging furiously in the sand.

All thoughts of disappointment and loneliness vanish as quickly as the kids when the scruffy little dog disinters a human skull from the sand! Butter quickly wraps up the skull and takes it home in a great state of agitation and with his imagination running wild. And thus begins a curious mystery/adventure that young readers will find compelling as the history of three ragged kids, a strange and pathetic old man who dies unexpectedly on the door step of the Very Small Castle, a three-legged dog and a secret cove unravels. Along the way the empathy and innate goodness of the O’Bryan family is an inspiration for all readers –  a valuable lesson in our current global situation.

So, on the surface a really well-thought out and engaging tale that will totally hook readers from mid-primary upwards. But of course, there’s more 😊 . Jackie’s setting is the Depression in the Sydney area and readers will absorb so much historical information about this period of time in our country and the impact it had on the vast majority of ordinary people. The aftermath of the Great War has already made itself felt in a multitude of ways and now unemployment, poverty, homelessness and sickness are wreaking havoc on an already disenfranchised sector of society. There are references to significant events and topics such as the polio epidemic, the susso, wireless sets, the building of the Harbour Bridge and the cricket – including the great Bradman. And just to add even more value to this, Jackie has concluded with informational pieces about many of these as well as some typical 1930s recipes even including Bread and Duck under the Table – such a well-known and still used idiom in Australia.

Once again, I cannot recommend this highly enough. I think any reader from around ten years upwards will enjoy it very much on all levels.