Review Blog

Nov 22 2015

Sing a rebel song by Pamela Rushby

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Scholastic, 2015. ISBN 9781742991344
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended. Historical novel, Shearer's Strike, Unions, Queensland, Shearing. Sitting on the wharf at Sydney Harbour, Maggie takes out the notes she kept during her life at Barcaldine in Queensland. She has written bits and pieces on scraps of paper and kept them in a hat box along with other mementos, and now with time on her hands goes through them, sorting them into a diary. This book has chapters beginning with the scraps of diary accounts and these are filled out with some hindsight as to what happened in 1891. Her father, a shearer, has become involved with the developing union in that area, bargaining for better wages and conditions for the workers. She is friendly with Clara and James the children of the local station owner, as well as Tom who joins the lowest ranks in a shearer's shed after leaving school.
With the union becoming more active, Maggie and her mother copy out posters to put up around the town, so she begins to feel very much involved, much to the chagrin of her friends, the Averys. When Mr Avery declares that to work in his shearing shed the shearers will need to sign an agreement giving them lower wages and little control over their work, they refuse and the strike of 1891 begins.
This is an intriguing story which Rushby tells well, introducing the reader to all facets of the strike, its lead up, the event and its aftermath. Through Maggie's diary entries we see both sides of the story, that of the pastoralists doing it tough with the drought, that of the shearers notoriously underpaid and often exploited. Rushby shows us the impact of the work on the old shearer, come to live with Maggie's family, consumptive with no place to go. And how the strike affects the families. Tom has no choice but to leave school and support his mother and although a member of the union, must become a non union worker to stop his family starving.
An engrossing read this tale has a thrilling context as the heat on both sides builds up and the army is called in, while some of the shearers take the law into their own hands, setting fires and leaving debris on the rail tracks, designed to slow down the advance of reinforcements.
The Barcaldine Strike saw the beginnings of the Labour Party and is a momentous time in the history of Australia. And as Maggie sets off for South America with her family, part of a group of people determined to set up a free colony, she knows she will return.
Fran Knight

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