Sydney Town, October 1791
The snake raised its head three feet from where I stood, turning the roosters on the spit above the fire.
Brown snake. Deadly.
A boy can run faster than a snake can slither. A brown snake can strike faster than a boy can move.
Birrung had taught me that snakes sleep in the winter. This one must have just woken up. Hungry. Ready to bite.
It’s early days for Sydney Town. Supplies are still short and the townspeople are still adjusting to life in Australia. Barney Bean is excited by the possibilities offered by the new colony but to take advantage of them, he needs money. An unexpected opportunity presents itself and he signs on as crew on one of the Third Fleet vessels, the Brittania. He is ready to make his fortune. Nothing could have prepared him for the realities of living at sea, hunting whales. He calls on everything he has learned from his friends, Elsie and Birrung, and from his mother so he can survive his three year contract. Author notes include information about the Third Fleet, about whaling and its role in the survival of the fledgling colony.
Barney and the Secret of the Whales is a second title in a new series from Jackie French about the very early days of Sydney Town. Readers first met Barney in ‘Birrung the Secret Friend’. The idea of ‘secrets’ is connected to stories that are untold, or less told and which form an integral part in the development of the colony. Barney has held his secret about whaling for a long time and only now has he decided to tell his story. Barney is bright and passionate and despite a tough start to his life, is determined to achieve independence and to look after his friend, Elsie. Barney and the Secret of the Whales offers a glimpse of childhood circa 1791 – it was a very different experience to contemporary childhood. Barney’s connection with the absent Birrung gives him a connection to Australia that few of the early residents shared. Recommended for mid-primary readers.
Barney and the Secret of the Whales , Jackie French
Angus & Robertson 2016 ISBN: 9780732299446
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller