Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour
8th August 1879
Tonight I clutch you to my heart, dear copybook. Thankfully your soft leather folds and my precious quill and ink were protected as we rowed from Kelly’s Bush and pulled ashore at the Fitzroy Dock.
Although the water was choppy and my petticoats got wet, I had you tucked safely into my bodice so that no one could find you. Your pages stayed dry and my name, Olivia Markham, hasn’t blotted on the front page where I wrote it last Christmas Day.
Olivia has been sent from the orphanage in Newcastle where she grew up to Biloela on Cockatoo Island in the middle of Sydney Harbour. At Biloela, she is to learn the necessary skills for a house servant, before being placed with a Sydney family. The industrial school is more like a prison than a place of learning and Olivia struggles to survive here. The only compensation is that she meets new friends. Her needlework skills may be improving, but she is a long way from the school’s version of ‘employable’. Her writing skills must remain hidden, so she writes her diary at night under the covers. As her friends find families, Olivia begins to believe she will never escape from this island. Historical Notes at the end of the novel give background to the existence of this prison school on an island, and the reason there were so many girls there.
Escape from Cockatoo Island is a new offering in Scholastic’s My Australian Story series. Each title puts a fictional character in a particular place in Australian history. Escape from Cockatoo Island is told in first person and the reader has the opportunity to travel with the main character through their experiences. Olivia has been fortunate to be able to read and write, as so many of her companions cannot. Although she has been very accepting of her life so far, she begins to long for more. Other possible outcomes for Cockatoo Island residents are showcased in her friends and acquaintances. The reader also learns a little about ‘street arabs’ and other children who end up at the school. Recommended for upper primary readers.
Escape from Cockatoo Island , Yvette Poshoglian Scholastic Press 2013 ISBN: 9781742832456
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
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