Review Blog

May 27 2015

Kerenza by Rosanne Hawke

cover image

New Australian series. Scholastic, 2015 ISBN 9781742990606
(Age recommended Upper Primary and Lower Secondary students) The opportunity to farm their own land in Australia is the driving force behind Kerenza's poor family leaving Cornwall in 1911, to take up a selection in the South Australia's Mallee country. Kerenza knows little of what awaits, yet leaving her older sister, her Grandmother, friends and home causes her great distress.
Despite her misgivings, as an obedient and caring daughter, Kerenza tries hard to be positive, knowing that her parents depend upon her to assist with the endless work and caring for her younger siblings. Having an Uncle and cousins Jacob and Harry already living in Adelaide makes the transition slightly easier for the family as they work together to establish themselves in this strange new land. Kerenza however is confused and unimpressed by Jacob's unpleasant, taunting behaviour.
Even travelling to their new farm in the Swan Reach area is an arduous undertaking, with the possessions of two families carted on a heavily laden dray at walking pace. Upon arrival in the area, the men must fell trees to create a track just to gain access to their land grant where the real work of clearing mallee scrub must be completed before the crops can be sown.
Every aspect of daily life is difficult, from consuming limited foodstuffs cooked in a makeshift kitchen to struggling to maintain hygiene with limited water whilst living under canvas.
This simple story describes the everyday difficulties and trying circumstances faced by settlers attempting to survive under severe climatic conditions. A terrible drought ruins crops and would have destroyed the prospects of many migrants of the time, yet with fortitude, hard work and a great deal of luck, many prospered.
As often happens in historical fiction, the author assigns modern, progressive values and informed attitudes to certain characters which detracts from their authenticity. The tendency to do so is understandable however as it is necessary to foster less bigoted views on race relations, social welfare and environmental concerns in young readers.
The narrative style is refreshing with the author refraining from employing excessive and unnecessary drama in the presentation of rural life just prior to the First World War. This story is suitable for Upper Primary and Lower Secondary students.
Rob Welsh

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