Today has been the most important day of my life. I still don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
This is how it all began…
Lucy wants nothing more than to to work in the printing industry, like her father, but because she’s a girl, her dream seems unattainable. When an opportunity arises to work in Louisa Lawson’s Printery, she is delighted. She’ll be working in the office, but she hopes that, one day, she might be promoted. In the meantime, she loves working in the printery, where all the staff are female except for the owner’s son, the young poet Henry Lawson.
Lucy’s Dawn is the diary format story of a fictional girl set amidst the historical lives of Henry Lawson and his mother, and events in Sydney in 1889, particularly those surrounding the printer’s union and the rights of women to work in the printing industry.
Giving an insight into the lives and rights of women, and daily lives in Australia prior to Federation, the story will be of interest to young history enthusiasts.
Lucy’s Dawn , by Juliet Blair
NLA Publishing, 2018
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
‘Where have you been working…’ He glanced down his clipboard for my name. ‘Dennis?’ He looked up.
‘I’ve been shearing down the Board of Works farm out of Werribee.’ I didn’t tell him this job was my get-out plan from shearing.
‘Worked underground before?’
He was taken aback. ‘Never?’
Twenty-seven years old, a recovering alcoholic, and with a faltering marriage, Dennis McIntosh goes to work on an underground construction site in Melbourne’s west. He hates confined spaces, so working underground constructing sewer pipes probably isn’t his ideal job, but he knows he needs to stick at it. And he does, for seven long years, before resurfacing a changed man.
The Tunnel is an honest and open account of one man’s working life and the way he uses it to confront his past and his perceived failings. McIntosh enters the tunnels poorly educated and with not a lot going for him, but decides in his time underground that it is time to take control of his life, get an education and achieve the things he wants to achieve.
A Penguin Special, The Tunnel is a quick read, exploring the role of unions as well as issues of education and self-determination.
A gritty, powerful read.
The Tunnel, by Dennis McIntosh
Penguin Books, 2014
Available from good bookstores and online.