Review Blog

Feb 07 2020

Gold Rush by Jackie French

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Illus. by Dave Hackett. Fair Dinkum Histories - All the Stinky Bits series. Omnibus Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781760667634. pbk. 160pp.
Another in Jackie French's inviting series of Fair Dinkum Histories will attract a wide readership when students read the cover which promises to reveal all the stinky bits of Gold Rush history. They will crinkle their noses when they read of life aboard ship on the way to Australia or the toilet habits of the miners or the filth of Melbourne's river. Jackie French uses humour to expose the gritty bits of Gold Rush history in Australia and the impact it had upon the newly emerging nation. Many students will have a rudimentary knowledge of the Gold Rush but French works to make it far more alive and interesting than texts they may have read. And accompanied by Dave Hackett's intriguing and enlightening illustrations the book will grab the attention of kids and adults alike.
Melbourne takes on a different hue when French evokes the image of the Yarra with tanneries dotted down its side, pouring animal entrails, blood and tanning sludge into its waters. Or the list of the ways people could die on the gold fields or the problems associated with looking for gold, the problem of bushrangers, itself a precarious occupation, or the fact that some took a look at Melbourne then returned home. All the unusual details that French pours into her text are amusing, salutary and informative. Kids will laugh out loud at the hapless miner, sewn into his one pair of clothes, but saddened when they read of him breaking his back for a possible sixpence a week only to find that will not buy a potato to eat and spare a thought for the hardworking Chinese miners, sent out here as virtual slaves to greedy overlords back home, having to deal with jealous and ignorant miners on the goldfields. Lambing Flat is dealt with in detail, adding a sad tale to Australia's colonial past.
Damper was the main meal, along with sly grog to keep the hunger at bay, so life was short, although the Gold Rush increased Australia's population four fold. Included are chapters about the Eureka Stockade, Marvellous Melbourne, and two chapters on gold being found in the Snowy region and Queensland. The other states saw what an impact gold fever had on Victoria and so advertised a reward for any gold found in their states.
All in all a fascinating read. I enjoyed reading about this time in Australia, and was amazed at the depth of information French is able to give within nine short chapters. Statistics add another layer of interest and the whole is tied together with funny and illuminating illustrations.
Fran Knight

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