Review Blog

Oct 22 2014

Tea and sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly

cover image

Ill. by Robert Ingpen. National Library of Australia, 2014. ISBN 9780642278630.
(Age: all) Highly recommended. Christmas. Australian history. Nullarbor. Aboriginal themes. Kathleen is eagerly waiting for the train. But this is no ordinary train. It is the Tea and Sugar Train which runs each week between Port Augusta in South Australia and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, a vital lifeline for those living and working on the Nullarbor Plain. But today is the first Thursday of December, and each year, this train brings a special visitor for the children along the line. They are not interested in the goods or the equipment, the groceries or the fresh vegetables or the banking facilities, not even the gossip offered by this train. They are waiting to see Father Christmas.
Jane Jolly's charming story tells of the girl and her family and through their conversations we see why they live where they do, what Dad does along the line and how eagerly Kathleen waits for this train.
Each double page has a black and white illustration of one of the characters in the book, and the facing page has the text, but opening the illustrated page reveals a double page of colour, an illustration of the life of these communities, so isolated from the rest of Australia. Ingpen's illustrations are uniquely different, presenting people readily identifiable, giving the Australian Outback a presence within the story. The corrugated iron, the wooden walls, the dust and the saltbush, the few houses at the siding, all tell of the life lived by people in the past, a time when the steam trains needed to stop to take on water, and gangers lived in these houses to repair the track.
But now, steam is replaced by diesel, timber sleepers by concrete, and the Tea and Sugar Train no longer needs to run, closing down in 1996. This is a wonderfully vivid part of the story of Australia and those who had a role to play in building the Australian character.
Reading this will add to the knowledge of Australia's history, increase student awareness of the part played by a small group of people, and fill the reader with wonder at the vastness of Australia's landscape. And of course give a different perspective on the celebration of Christmas.
Fran Knight

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