Review Blog

May 17 2012

My father's islands: Abel Tasman's heroic voyages by Christobel Mattingley

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National Library of Australia, 2012. ISBN 9780642277367.
(Ages: 10+) Historical. Highly recommended. Craesjen introduces herself from the start, a strong minded, chatty young girl, continually asking questions of her seafaring father, Abel Tasman, especially when he arrives home after months at sea, bringing with him the scent of spices and many, many tales. In this wonderful recreation of the story of this early explorer and his amazing discoveries, Christobel Mattingley has taken on the voice of his daughter, a girl who loves her father, despite his being at sea for so long.
Working for the Dutch East India Company means taking on an array of things, chasing pirates, catching smugglers, charting unknown waters and islands, searching for any new goods which could be sold at high profits back in Europe and carrying cargo back to be sold. Made captain, his abilities are recognised and he is commissioned to explore the seas north of Indonesia, the Dutch East Indies, and later given the command of two ships, the Zeehaan and the Heenskerck o find new goods and things to trade.
This fictionalised biography of Tasman never falters. We hear of his exploits and courage, his daring and expeditions through the eyes of his daughter, and so are given an easily digested version of his life and discoveries. What might have been ponderous is exciting and visual, told with a child's perspective, and the inclusion of many maps and drawings from the draughtsman on this voyage in 1642 add to the fascination of Tasman's life.
There has been a number of excellent fictionalised biographies of late, the wonderful Taj and the great camel trek by Roanne Hawke, giving the exploits of Giles' expedition across the Nullarbor, and Anthony Hill's absorbing recreation of Cook's voyages in Captain Cook's apprentice.With the Australian Curriculum's history focus, students are well served with these books, and My father's islands will be the icing on the cake for those studying Australia's early exploration. Having been taught that Tasman was one of our foremost early explorers, paving the way for Cook and others to discover more of our shorelines and so precipitate the settlement of Australia by Europeans, to read that Tasman was dismissed as not courageous enough by his masters in Batavia, was shocking. I hope that younger readers who read this book will be equally disturbed by the reception this great man received, after reading this engrossing account of his life and achievements.
Fran Knight

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