Sometimes, if I close my eyes and think really hard, I imagine I can smell Mama’s old sideboard and see again the carved flowers and twisty pillars. But if I linger too long over the memories stirred by the scent of beeswax and old wood, the other smell intrudes, the one that makes me cold and turns my thoughts to cheerless grey – the front-door smell of pale, damp people and poverty.
It was always my chore to dust the sideboard’s dark oak surface and rearrange the china ornaments. I had to stand on a chair because I was small for my age and the sideboard was high. There was a mirrored back, which I’d look into and pretend the other me was part of another, brighter, magical world on the other side…
Irish Esty’s comfortable life is turned upside-down by the sudden death of her father. He is killed while trying to intervene between the tenants of an absentee lord and the troops sent to evict them. She is sent into service, a life she is ill-prepared for or suited to. It is the 1850s and Ireland is in the grip of the potato famine and Esty and her family. When there is a chance to leave Ireland, Esty and her family take it. Esty convinces them all that Australia and the goldfields is a better destination than America, where many of the Irish are going. The second half of Esty’s Gold is set on the Ballarat goldfields, living in tents, adjusting to a new land and new rules.
Esty’s Gold explores the links between Ireland and Australia through the eyes of a young girl. It was a tough period in history, both in Ireland and on the goldfields. In Australia though, Esty demonstrates that hard work and not a little luck can lead to a new life, a new future. Esty might be the youngest of her family (which includes her mother, grandfather, May, a fellow worker and John Joe, a stablehand) but it is she who binds the family together. The reader is introduced to Ireland’s woes, and goldfield dust and the spirit that helped to establish a new home. Recommended for upper-primary readers.
Esty’s Gold, Mary Arrigan
Frances Lincoln 2010
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
This book can be purchased online from Fishpond.