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.
Five Mile Press
Published: July 2015
Imprint: Echo Publishing
Many years ago my dad handed me a copy of Frank Clune’s ‘The Wild Colonial Boys’ saying “You should read this.” – a common occurrence as we shared both a literary taste and an interest in colonial history. From that moment I was hooked well and truly on the exploits of the Australian bushrangers.
I never imagined that I would have the privilege of reviewing the latest book from super-clever-clogs and fascinating writer/historian/scientist Peter Macinnis. And yes, I would describe him as such even if he wasn’t a friend of mine!
Peter takes us on a journey through the entire span of Australia’s bushranging history, rather than the focus being on just a few well- known names. While I have been to Ben Hall’s grave and to Melbourne Gaol where Ned Kelly was hung and Thunderbolt’s Rock, amongst other significant sites, I have never heard of most of the rogues and scallywags Peter writes about in this entertaining account. And that of course, is the entire point.
Beginning with those early convict ‘bolters’ (who perhaps aren’t how we would now define bushrangers) right up to some youths in the post Great War years trying their hand at the ‘game’, Peter traces the development of the Antipodean highwaymen (and women!) with an engaging and often humorous slant.
As always, his work is meticulously researched and in his searching he has uncovered many interesting original documents and reports which examine the contemporary records, attitudes and consequences of all stakeholders.
And naturally, although the bushrangers are the focus of the book, the reader also gains a real insight into colonial Australia from the time of European invasion to the early 20th century.
While primarily aimed at an adult audience, this is a book which would sit easily in a school library as a reference point for those units dealing with Australia’s history since the White colonisation as it is written in a very accessible style.
I can highly recommend this history for both your school library and for your own personal reading. Definitely a winner and worth bailing up your local bookseller!