Review Blog

Sep 09 2013

The Nelly gang by Stephen Axelsen

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Walker Books Australia, 2013. ISBN 9781921977918.
(Age: 8+) Highly recommended. Graphic novel. Bushrangers. Australian history. Gold rush. Watching Stephen Axelsen create parts of this fascinating book a couple of years ago in Adelaide where he was the recipient of the May Gibbs Fellowship, opened my eyes to the complexity of the creative process using digital imaging to bring together his pen and ink drawings and the impeccably researched story. I had always loved his earlier graphic novel, The mostly true story of Matthew and Trim (Cassandra Golds, author) and I was very pleased to see this one finally published.
The result, this involved and involving graphic novel set in the gold rushes in northern Victoria in the 1860's brings to the fore the range of people attracted to the gold fields, the people from a variety of other countries, the bushrangers, lazy police, the hard working miners, having to pay for the privilege of searching for their meagre finds, and the range of women and children who accompanied them.
Nelly Nolan is at her lessons when she hears the rarely heard sound of 'Eureka'. Escaping the tedious school, she rushes to her father's mine and finds that he has struck it rich. All seems assured, they will catch the coach to Wodonga, there to go to Sydney where Nelly's mother lives. But on the way the coach is held up by bushrangers, and there follows quite an adventure as Nelly flees into the bush with her goat and friend, Jin. They meet their other friend, Miro, whose knowledge of the bush helps them find Nelly's father, after a few dead ends and red herrings, and all comes to a neatly resolved conclusion.
This highly entertaining graphic novel will easily draw in readers, fascinated by the story of the young girl and her two friends, equally absorbed by the background detail, and captivated by the illustrative technique. From a teaching perspective, this could form the basis of a unit of work around the gold rushes, Australia in the nineteenth century and bushrangers. The detail is extraordinary and will entice all readers to look closely at every page. More information about Stephen can be found at his website.
Fran Knight

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