Review Blog

Jul 02 2014

Mary's Australia: How Mary McKillop changed Australia by Pamela Freeman

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Black Dog Books, 2014. ISBN 9781922077905.
(Age: 9+) The lifespan of Mary McKillop coincided with a period of transformation in the Australian colonies. Pamela Freeman has asked how Australia changed during that time and to what extent the subject of her book contributed to that change.
The result is two narratives in one - the story of colonies that united to form one nation, and the story of a woman with a passion for teaching, who was determined to ensure that children from poor families had access to education. Readers can follow Mary's life story alongside the events of her era. The inclusive and wide-ranging depiction of colonial society provides details of daily life, as well as accounts of the social, political and economic upheavals that helped to shape Mary's experiences. The author's balanced and thoughtful approach to the writing of history ensures that readers will learn much from her brief overviews of the issues that emerged during Australia's development. Her focus on the lives of children and the limited opportunities available to underprivileged people, explains not only the social issues that motivated a young governess to found a teaching order, but also the significance of Mary McKillop's educational reforms.
Photographs, cartoons and illustrations on every page provide further insights into colonial life. They are generously sized and clearly captioned. The use of double columns and a small font are common in history books but younger readers may find this format challenging. Population statistics, an index and a limited glossary are useful.
Mary's Australia will meet the needs of readers who want to know only about Mary McKillop's life and achievements. However, Pamela Freeman has succeeded in presenting her biography as part of a larger canvas - the growth, discoveries, setbacks and social reforms of an extraordinary era in Australian history.
Elizabeth Bor

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