Review Blog

Feb 01 2017

The secret of the black bushranger by Jackie French

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Angus and Robertson, 2017. ISBN 9780732299453
(Age: 8-12) Recommended. Australian history. Aboriginal themes. Convicts. Freedom. Barney Bean has found his feet in the colony of New South Wales, taken in by the Johnson family who treat him as their own, along with Birrung and Elsie. But one night John Black Caesar asks Mr Johnson for sanctuary, and he is fed and given shelter for the night. The next morning he is gone.
Behind the story of how Barney came to be in this new colony is his tale of survival on the streets of London, his mother doing all she can to keep them alive. Once in the colony, after nine months aboard a convict ship, she dies, leaving Barney alone and through his eyes we have a masterfully drawn view of the colony and how it operated over two hundred years ago. French always includes a plethora of facts, insinuated into the story, and this is no exception. The reality of life for the whole gamut of people tied to this colony is believable and against this she puts Black Caesar, Australia's first bushranger.
Her take on his background is most plausible, and she breathes life into the few facts known of this man, showing the reader that all he craves is freedom to be himself after being a slave and a convict.
This is the third in the The secret histories series, which began with Birrung, the secret friend, and continued with Barney and the secret of the whales. Each of the three stories revolves around the real clergyman and his wife, the Johnson family, who in the early years of Sydney helped orphans and convicts alike, putting their own lives in peril when the Rum Corps took control. Historical fiction places characters and their lives against the reality of life in a particular time, giving readers a great story set against a credible background, which in good hands subtly teaches. And French's book goes a long way to give information about our convict past, showing through Barney just how hard life was for the early farmers, as well as entertaining readers with the story of our first bushranger.
Fran Knight

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