Review Blog

Oct 09 2016

Not the same sky by Evelyn Conlon

cover image

On cover: a story of Irish famine girls brought to Australia. Wakefield Press, 2016. ISBN 9781743052426
(Age: 12+) Recommended. Migration, Irish Famine, Indentured labour, Ship life. This book follows a group of four girls amongst a group of Irish orphans, made destitute by the Irish Famine, who came to Australia on The Thomas Arbuthnot, in 1849. They were under the care of Surgeon Superintendent Charles Strutt whose diaries about his voyage are now kept at La Trobe University in Melbourne. In part, these diaries form the basis of the story around these girls' lives. On board ship, Strutt made sure the girls were kept busy with quite a rigorous regime. Rosters were organised for wash days, singing and dancing, sewing and lessons organised so that the girls would have a knowledge of English, more useful than the Gaelic they spoke. They were organised into messes of eight girls each responsible for their own utensils with each having a planned menu, ensuring the girls had a reasonable diet aboard ship. Matrons appointed to look after the girls made sure the deck where the girls lived were scrubbed and kept clean, minimising disease.
Strutt thought about all the problems he was likely to encounter, and set out plans to circumvent these. He made sure the girls, all from different backgrounds, got on well, and were kept away from the crew, and that he and the captain were on cordial relations.
On their arrival in Sydney they were housed in the Barracks, and then allotted families where they would work as servants, some in rural towns, as well as Sydney. Strutt stayed and supervised the girls and their appointments, actually traveling to Yass with one of the groups. He did keep in touch with some and through his visits we hear of what happened to some of these girls, as they found husbands and had children. One of the girls whose lives we follow in this recreation takes on a life on the stage.
Historical fiction makes fascinating reading, as we see into the lives of the girls, based on diaries and historical research. The prologue introduces Joy Kennedy a monumental mason in Ireland who is contacted to build a memorial to these women and her story gives a modern day moral perspective on what happened to them. Life on board the ship was for me the most interesting part of the tale, and Strutt's care and attention to the daily routine of the girls admirable.
For readers interested in a small part of Australia's immigration history then this is a most interesting read.
Fran Knight

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