Sing a Rebel Song, by Pamela Rushby

The men seemed to be having a vote. They raised their hands. Dad came back to Mr Callan. ‘Every man here is a member of the Shearers Union,’ he said. ‘We have agreed that we can only shear under the verbal agreement of our union. If we sign your Shearing Agreement we will not be upholding the union. We’ll be blacklegs.’
The men muttered angrily among themselves. ‘We won’t sign!’ someone shouted.

Its 1891, and Maggie McAllister, whose dad is a shearer, gets a firsthand experience of one Australia’s most dramatic events: the Shearer’s Strike, where shearers fought for better pay and conditions and the pastoralists in turn tried to get them to work for less. While Maggie’s Dad and his fellow workers strike, march and protest, Maggie and her mother help to report on events and distribute notices.

But Maggie’s friends don’t all agree with the strike – or with her actions. Her friend Clara is the daughter of a wealthy farmer, and her other friend Tom needs work to help support his family. It seems that friendship doesn’t always survive. And for Maggie, witnessing the events of the strike make her aware that both sides have some valid viewpoints – and some questionable tactics.

Sing a Rebel Song is an exciting, moving account of the strike, and of the part one fictional character plays in it. It also provides an insight into Australian life in the late nineteenth century, and the birth of the union movement through an accessible story.

Rushby has a knack of making history come alive for young readers.

Sing a Rebel Song, by Pamela Rushby
Omnibus Books, 2015
ISBN 9781742991344

Behind the Sun, by Deborah Challinor

Producing a tiny compendium, the girl stood, took out a Congreves match and struck it against the attached strip of sandpaper. The flame flared hugely, singeing her hair. Managing to swear roundly and light her pipe at the same time, she drew on it and coughed until her eyes watered. She coughed again, then hoicked and spat.
‘Beg pardon. I’m Friday Woolfe. And you should cheer up, because it could be worse…’

Harrie (Harriet) is a good girl in a desperate situation. Since her father’s death, she has been the sol income earner for her ill mother and younger siblings. In a moment of desperation she steals a bolt of cloth, planning to make clothing to begin her own business. But she’s no professional shop lifter, and she is caught, finding herself locked in Newgate Gaol awaiting trial. There she meets Friday, a worldy prostitute, who takes her under her wing. They are soon joined by thief Sarah Morgan and the naive young Rachel Winter.

Found guilty of their various crimes, the four soon find themselves aboard a convict transport ship bound for New South Wales. Their friendship grows, but it isn’t always enough to keep the girls safe from danger. Their are enemies amongst the other women on board, and there are male passengers and crew who also have the girls in their sights. When they finally arrive in Sydney they are sent toe grim Parramatta Female Factory where they await assignment, not knowing whether they will be able to look after each other any more.

Behind the Sun is a stunningly moving story of friendship and survival, bringing alive a colourful period of Australian history with an absorbing cast of characters. The key players – the four girls – are diverse, but share a common bond of wanting to survive and make their lives, and that of their friends, better. The enemies they make are well rendered, including the mysterious, powerful and vicious criminal Bella Jackson, and the sleazy Gabriel Keegan, with a vile taste for very young girls. Their other friends, too, are varied, including the ship’s doctor, fellow convicts and paying passengers.

The adventures – and misadventures – of these four young was they struggle to survive their time as convicts, is moving and, with the promise of three further titles to come in the series, readers will be keen to stay with them to see what their futures hold.

Stunning.

Behind the Sun

Behind the Sun, by Deborah Challinor
Harper Collins, 2013
ISBN 9780732293062

Available from good bookstores and online.