Review Blog

Nov 11 2019

The good, the bad and the silly : Stories of our past by John Dickson

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Illus. by Bern Emmerichs. Berbay Publishing, 2019. ISBN: 9780648397373.
(Age: 5+) Recommended. Themes: History, Australian history, Humour. Especially for those kids who love tidbits of information, facts and unusual stories, this volume of tales of people and events of Australia's colonial past, half hidden by more mundane historical accounts of early settlement, will intrigue and entertain as they delve into the more shadowy aspects of our past.
Kids will thrill with the story of the amazing Mary Wade, the youngest convict sent to Norfolk Island, who had two babies while residing there. Returning to New South Wales in 1806, she proceeded to have sixteen more, making her truly the 'mother of Australia'. And the accompanying very funny illustration shows her descendants - all of them. And they will love the tale of the hulks, not only jails in England, housing convicts on the River Thames but also moored off the coast of Victoria and South Australia to house inmates, first of a jail in Melbourne, and of a reform school in Adelaide, the illustrations allowing no doubt about the quality of the accommodation in both cases.
Quirky stories are given to entice the readers: 1932 saw the government of Western Australia declare war upon the bands of emu destroying crops to no avail, while in 1840, explorer John Horrocks atop his camel after expeditions into the north of South Australia, was shot by his own gun when the animal lurched. And in 1860, another explorer, equally ill fated, set off from Melbourne with so much luggage that it took hours to get the pack horses moving. The story of Robert O'Hara Burke is as funny as it is cautionary, and will intrigue younger readers.
The tale of early sightings of the platypus, a brief look at child labour in Britain at the time, the story the convict belief that China was a short walk north of the convict settlement, or the tale of the early Chinese immigrants to Australia, seeking their fortunes in the gold fields in the 1850's, each is fascinating and supported with illuminating illustrations designed to entice and entertain. I loved rereading stories read long ago, but also new stories added to interest me gave me new slant on the history of the past and especially the way it is presented.
This is another in a series of books using the same format, telling of our past: books about Bennelong, Lachlan Macquarie and William Bligh were followed by M is for Mutiny in 2018.
Fran Knight

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