Gold, Graves and Glory, by Jackie French

For 60,000 years the rest of the world had pretty much left Australia and its Aboriginal nations alone. Then it became a home for Britain’s criminals and poor. Now a con man had found gold and suddenly everyone was heading to Australia: adventurers, revolutionaries, camels…Australia would never be the same.

Gold, Graves and Glory is a humorous yet accurate look at the gold rush days in Australia. Charting the difficulties and hardships faced by the settlers, the impact that they had on the Aboriginal way of life and population, and the development of the colonies. It details the early time of the colony from 1850 through to 1880.

Whilst this is not the first book written on the subject, for children it is certainly the most accessible. The cartoon style illustrations of Peter Sheehan, putting his own funny spin on events, compliments French’s humorous yet honest style which doesn’t gloss over serious events.

This is history which kids can enjoy, even while they are learning plenty about this important part of Australian history. It is the fourth instalment in an eight-part series covering Australian history from prehistoric times to the Centenary of Federation.

Good stuff.

Gold, Graves and Glory, by Jackie French, illustrated by Peter Sheehan
Scholastic Press, 2007

Rotters and Squatters, by Jackie French

Cannibal convicts, murdering squatters, sea captains who kidnapped their crew, poor farmers forced off their land – they had all come to the colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land to make better lives for themselves.

Rotters and Squatters is a wonderful look at the colonial days in Australia, charting the hardships and difficulties faced by the settlers, the impact their arrival had on the Aboriginal way of life and population, and the development of the colonies. It details the early time of the colony from two tiny colonies at the end of the world in 1820 through to 1850.

It is the third installment in an eight-part series covering Australian history from prehistoric times to the Centenary of Federation. This is history which kids can enjoy, even while they are learning plenty about this important part of Australian history.

Whilst this is not the first book written on the subject, for children it is certainly the most accessible. The cartoon style illustrations of Peter Sheehan, putting his own funny spin on events, compliments French’s humorous yet honest style doesn’t gloss over serious events.

Good stuff.

Rotters and Squatters, by Jackie French, illustrated by Peter Sheehan
Scholastic Press, 2007

The Saw Doctor, by Gary Crew

I knew that he was a hawker—a man who went from door to door selling things that nobody wanted and couldn’t afford anyway, like magazine subscriptions, or bottles of cordial, or fresh cream from the dairy up the road. Hawkers weren’t welcome at our place because we had no money, so I said, ‘Sorry Mister, no-one is home, and I’m sick…’

Jo Boy and his family are really poor. The Great Depression is hitting them hard – Dad is out of work and there’s no money to be spared. SO when a knife-sharpener comes to their door, Dad tells him to go away. But Jo Boy is fascinated by the knife sharpener’s caravan and when he comes into some unexpected cash, he finds a way to help the knife sharpener and Dad at the same time.

The Saw Doctor is historical junior fiction from one of Australia’s finest authors of such works for children and young adults, Gary Crew. Crew offers a glimpse of family life during the depression, a time about which many primary aged children would be unaware.

The story is inspired by the Saw Doctor’s Wagon, which was used by the real saw doctor, Harold Wight from the 1930s to the 1960s and is now housed in the National Museum of Australia.

The Saw Doctor, by Gary Crew
National Museum of Australia Press, 2006

The Scarlet Mile, by Elaine McKewon

From its beginnings as a dusty, water-deprived goldrush town, to its current place as a thriving city, Kalgoorlie has been the home to a similarly thriving prostitution industry. Prostitutes have come from around Australia and from overseas to work in brothels in the town, and its red-light precinct has become a famous tourist attraction.

The Scarlet Mile is an examination of this industry from its inception until the present, focussing on the social aspects of its history. Who were the women who came there, what part did they play in the town’s social and economic fabric, and what were the implications for them and for the rest of the population. There is discussion of the legal processes – the by-laws and police acts which impacted on the industry and the legal proceedings which arose from them – but the real focus is on the human aspect, with first person accounts peppering the book

This is an outstanding social history.

The Scarlet Mile: A Social History of Prostitution in Kalgoorlie, 1894-2004, by Elaine McKewon
UWA Press, 2005

Farther Than Any Man, by Martin Dugard

Born the son of a farm overseer, James Cook had never even seen the sea until he was in his teens. When he did, he began a love affair with the water and with exploring its farthest reaches, which would persist until his death.

Managing to get a job at the lowest of ranks aboard a merchant ship, Cook began a meteoric rise through the ranks, transferring to the Navy and eventually becoming the first ever commoner to command a Navy vessel. On the Eneavour, Cook led a three-year journey which changed the face of modern exploration. He charted New Zealand’s coastline and the eastern coast of Australia for the first time, and returned home a hero. His subsequent trip, in charge of another ship, the Resolution searched for the elusive Southern Continent of Antartica. This trip cemented Cook’s place in English society and gave him the fame and respect he had long sought. He could retire, having achieved his life’s goals. Unfortunately for Cook, the lure of further glory and the prospect of being replaced in the record books drove him to take command of one more voyage. It was to be his undoing.

Further Than Any Man recounts Cook’s voyages in vivid detail. The highs and lows of each journey, the friendships and the foibles of the man who was Jame Cook are detailed, as are the motivations for the man who wanted to go further than any man.

Informative, balanced, real.

Farther Than Any Man: The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook, by Martin Dugard
Allen & Unwin, 2003

Written in Blood, by Beverley MacDonald

Tell the average teenager that they should read a history book, and you shouldn’t expect a polite reaction. Most kids think history is dull – after all you’re studying the past, old people, times when there were no computers, no cool music, and people wore daggy clothes. But share Written in Bloodwith these same teenagers, and you can hope for a change of heart.

This is a history book with a difference. Author Beverly MacDonald has worked hard to share only the interesting , the gory and the truly amazing parts of history, and to write about them in a lively and entertaining manner. Readers are encouraged to look at the events and influences which have shaped our lives and beliefs and to examine the environment in which events considered as shocking took place.

As well as being an interesting read for entertainment purposes, Written in Blood provides parents and teachers with an springboard to discussions of history, morals, politics and philosophy.

Including fun cartoons by Andrew Weldon, the book includes loads of provocative facts and true stories of courage, rebellion and survival. It is likely to appeal to children aged 13 and over.

Written in Blood, by Beverley MacDonald
Allen & Unwin, 2003

The Legend of Moondyne Joe, by Mark Greenwood

One of the more colourful characters from Western Australia’s past has been brought to life in a new picture book from Cygnet Books, the children’s imprint of UWA Press.

The Legend of Moondyne Joe
tells the story of Joseph Johns (who became known as Moondyne Joe), who is remembered for his daring escapes from custody.

History has questioned whether Joe was really a hardened criminal, or simply a harmless lover of freedom. Author Mark Greenwood manages to explore Moondyne’s tale without either condemning or condoning his actions, yet the reader finds himself quietly cheering Joe on.

The story is told in simple yet clear detail and is superbly complemented by the gouache paintings of illustrator Frane Lessac (who is also Greenwood’s wife). The illustrations add to the air of history in the piece and are also true to the Western Australian setting. The pictures of the Fremantle Prison are especially accurate.

The addition of a glossary of terms and notes on the convict era are a useful educational tool and also help the independent reader to access the text.

The Legend of Moondyne Joe is an outstanding non fiction picture book text.

The Legend of Moondyne Joe, by Mark Greenwood, illustrated by Frane Lessac
Cygnet Books (an imprint of UWA Press), 2002

My Story – Who Am I?

“Matron Rose said I should write in you every day about all the things I do and stuff. And I do lots of things that I’m gunna tell you about.” So begins the diary of Mary Talence, aged 10, Sydney 1937.

Mary’s story, presented via her diary entries, begins at Bombaderry home for Aboriginal children. Mary has been living here since she was five, but remembers another home- with her Mum and Dad and lots of brothers and sisters. Mary likes her family at Bombaderry, including her best friend Marj, and the babies she looks after, but she still misses her Mum and wonders why she doesn’t come to visit.

Mary’s life changes again soon after the diary begins, when she is fostered by a white family. The diary follows her struggle to assimilate into the white society she finds herself living in. Mary is repeatedly told that to be Aboriginal is bad and that she must forget her past. To Mary this is incomprehensible.

Who Am I ? creates an awareness and understanding in young readers of the policies of protection and assimilation of Aborigines which were practiced in Australia until 1969. By using the intimate first person format of the diary, readers are given a first-hand experience of the emotional effects on the children from the ‘stolen generation’ of being removed from their families and stripped of their identities.

Who Am I? is part of Scholastic’s ongoing My Story series, presenting the stories of young people in different periods of Australian history. A quality read for readers aged 10 and over, and also suitable for study as an in class text.

My Story: Who Am I?, by Anita Heiss
Published by Scholastic Australia, 2001

The Floating Brothel

Many stories of convict life present romanticised tales of poor innocents wrongly accused of trivial crimes and sent on ships with billowing sails to ultimately lead a wonderful new life in the bountiful southern land.

In The Floating Brothel, Sian Rees presents a vividly different view. This is the previously untold story of life aboard the Lady Julian which sailed from England in 1789 bearing a cargo of convicts destined for Botany Bay.

This is an historical account, not a piece of fiction, so do not expect a light romance or tales of happily ever after, though this does not mean that The Floating Brothel is overly pessimistic or negative. Rees has carefully researched this history and provides a detailed exploration of life on board the Lady Julian, and of the history of those who came to sail on her. Details of life in and beyond the new colony for the key figures round off the book.

For those who enjoy historical fiction, the opening chapters of The Floating Brothel may prove to be a little hard-going. Rees details the social circumstances which led to the use of deportation as a means of relieving pressure on English prisons and, more broadly, English society, as well as the crimes and circumstances of the women who sailed on the Lady Julian. Perseverance with this opening will find the reader drawn in to the tale and to the individual stories of some of those on board, especially that of the ship’s steward, John Nicol, and 19 year old Sarah Whitelam.

Despite its title, The Floating Brothel is not a tale of moral depravity – Rees delves deep into the realities of the relationships and activities on board the ship. This is an absorbing read for anyone with an interest in this era of Australia’s history.


The Floating Brothel
, by Sian Reees
Published by Hodder, 2001.