Tag Archives: Australian History

The Countess from Kirribilli – Joyce Morgan

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Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 9781760875176

Imprint: Allen & Unwin

RRP: $32.99

I was born and bred in Sydney and, though no expert or fount of all knowledge, not such a slouch when it comes to the history of my home town and yet I had never heard of Elizabeth von Armin. This vivacious, talented and popular woman forged a literary career that earned her worldwide acclaim, and led an extraordinary life and yet, in the city of her birth, there is no mention of her nor her success. Sydney has a Writers Walk, installed in 1991, which acknowledges many leading authors, not only Australian, but those who visited our country and yet there is no mention of this woman whose books were runaway successes and whose career spanned decades. After reading her story, I find that completely unfathomable.

Mary Annette Beauchamp, known as May, was born in 1866 at Kirribilli Point in Sydney to quite wealthy parents and was part of a very large extended family. Her father re-located the entire family to England when May was young and so most of her formative years were spent there. Her first marriage made her a Countess and the mother of five children and was not particularly happy but did provide her with the fodder for her first highly entertaining and witty books, which became instant bestsellers. Following the death of husband #1 she had a lengthy and tempestuous affair with H. G. Wells, which was followed by a very disastrous second marriage to Bertrand Russell’s brother, Frank, 2nd Earl Russell, which lasted a mere three years. Then followed another affair this time with a man half her age, Alexander Frere, who went on to become the chairman of publishing house Heinneman.

Following the ups and downs of Elizabeth’s life (she adopted this name early in her professional career) has been fascinating reading for me the past week or so. Her observations on society of the time in that late Victorian/early Edwardian period in particular and the insights into other famous writers, whom she collected as friends wherever she went, are both enlightening and entertaining.

Her personal life was often marred by tragedy and at times hardship, despite her status, money and success, but she triumphed over this with grace and dignity until her death in 1941. All of her works are available via Project Gutenberg but there have also been some reprinted and certainly my interest in reading at least some of them has been piqued.

In the meantime, this is a wonderfully written biography from Joyce Morgan and provides this largely ignored Australian literary figure with some long-overdue recognition for her contribution to writing.

I would urge you to pick this up for a thoroughly engaging and absorbing read- whether you are interested in writers or Australian literary figures, you will find it fascinating.

Elizabeth von Arnim monument, Buk, Poland

Night Ride into Danger – Jackie French

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Harper Collins Australia

May 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460758939
  • ISBN 10: 1460758935
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • RRP: $16.99

Again Jackie has crafted a narrative that combines fact and fiction to take readers back in time to colonial Australia where it was commonplace to meet diverse characters and perhaps even more commonplace not to know everything there is to know about those people. Though set in the 19th century much of the plot will resonate in today’s contemporary classroom as comparisons can be made around immigration, prejudice and race in particular.

Young Jem has been raised ably by his coach-driver father following the sad death of his mother, and has acquired many of the skills necessary to be a competent whip for Cobb & Co, but managing five horses, without help, on roads that are far from level or safe is not for the faint-hearted. The night run from to Goulburn to meet the Sydney train is always a race against time but when bad weather hits – and when your coach-driver is badly injured – it’s an almost impossible ask. Eleven year old Jem must gather up all his strength and courage to complete the journey as the six mysterious passengers each have their own special imperative for reaching the destination on time.

It’s a wild ride through the dark and dangerous country side between Braidwood and Goulburn and the suspenseful story will hold any reader fascinated until the very end. Jackie chooses to authenticate the narrative by using vernacular of the time and while this may challenge some readers, it is well-explained and completes the essential sense of being immersed in the moment.

Both boys and girls from around ten years upwards will relish this adventure from Australia’s past which, as with many of Jackie’s historical novels, is based on actual events. As someone who has read histories of colonial Australia, both factual and fictionalised since I was that same age, I can thoroughly endorse it and I recommend it enthusiastically for your middle primary to lower secondary readers.

I also particularly loved it as we have a strong Braidwood connection – and it was great fun to read of an incident from it’s past.

Story Doctors – Boori Monty Pryor. Illustrated by Rita Sinclair.

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Allen & Unwin

July 2021

ISBN:9781760526559

Publishers; A & U Children’s

Imprint: A & U Children

RRP: $24.99

Timely in more ways than one, as once again so many parts of Australia and our people are anxious and fearful with the Covid pandemic again causing distress, and as we approach NAIDOC 2021 with its significant and meaningful theme of “Heal Country”, Boori’s new book is a song from his heart.

Prior to the initial outbreak of Covid in 2020, Boori had predicted that Australia was going to become sick, as a result of our country’s painful and, as yet, unresolved shared history, this litany of injustices, cruelty and wilful misunderstandings. And while the 2020 Covid lockdown in Melbourne raged around him, Boori took to words to write a prescription for healing our country so that we can move forward with true understanding and respect in our hearts.

Described as both a story and a history this is, to my mind, a richly empowering epic poem which resonates with such heartfelt emotion that it cannot fail to move the reader with its carefully chosen words and imagery. The superb illustrations by Rita Sinclair lend both vibrancy and animation to the text and there are many pages at which the reader will gasp at the beauty of them.

As cathedrals echo time,

and footprints’ rhythm steps the rhyme,

prescriptions so sublime.

Boori has given us all a true treasure with this remarkable and deeply personal offering to the nation and it is one which very rightly deserves to be shared with readers over and over again. Many schools will be celebrating NAIDOC after the holidays and this would be the ideal choice for a shared reading at any assembly or within classrooms and libraries to prompt thoughtful discussion and unpack the meaning of NAIDOC’s 2021 theme. 

Green shoots so small,

to trees so tall.

Breathe,

believe.

It’s in the song…

…if we listen, we all belong.

What greater gift can we give our children – those ‘green shoots so small’ – than to help them grow in understanding, respect and true equality?  I urge you to get hold of this book as soon as you can and start the ripples by sharing it with your own children and classes, even your littler kiddos will be able to grasp the meaning if you help them navigate the beautiful text. Contact publicity@allenandunwin.com for more information

Highly recommended for all readers – young and old.  #Healcountry 

https://www.naidoc.org.au/resources/teaching-guides

Echo in the Memory – Cameron Nunn

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Walker Books

June 2021

ISBN: 9781760653118
Imprint: Walker Books Australia

Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

Beautifully timed for NAIDOC Week this new YA novel, which explores the convergence of two periods of Australian history with the common thread being the one family name, will both shock and illuminate many readers regarding some of the darkest moments in our history and how they continue to impact lives today.

Two boys separated by two hundred years are both exiled from all they know; both having faced traumatic circumstances. When Will is sent to his grandparents’ isolated farm in rural NSW it feels like the ends of the earth. As he struggles to deal with his grief over his mother’s death and the abandonment of his father he begins to have what appear to be flashes of memory of this unfamiliar place. However, the memories are not his he quickly realises but whose are they? He begins to realise that his surly and recalcitrant grandfather also has these memories, something which gradually brings the two closer together.

The memories relate to ‘the boy’ whose story is set in 1829 and is told in the first person. The harsh and unforgiving life for a child convict is revealed as each piece of history unfolds. In addition is the shocking revelations of the treatment of the local First Australian peoples, which is graphic and disturbing. In the present, Will’s story is told in the third person and his struggle to reconcile the hurt and grief of his family circumstances gradually begins to be resolved as he forges a new, although very different, kind of life on the farm.

Cameron Nunn has done much research into child convicts using primary sources which include original records and interview transcripts from the London courts, and this forms the basis of both his Ph D and his fiction. For students of history, or those seeking to better understand the often dangerous and certainly traumatic life for a child transported across the world, with little or no hope of ever returning to their family and original home, this is a must read.

It is written with older students in mind – suggested Year 9 upwards – and if you employ a ‘read around your topic’ approach to your history subjects, it will be very much worth adding to your collection. You will find the teaching notes hugely beneficial as an addition to your planning.

Highly recommended for your discerning readers from around 14 upwards.

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.