Review Blog

May 18 2020

Goldfields girl by Elaine Forrestal

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Fremantle Press, 2020. ISBN: 9781925816501.
(Age: 10-14) Heartily recommended. Moving from the goldfields of Queensland to those at Coolgardie, fourteen year old Clara Saunders kept a diary. In it she described the voyage in a steamer, docking at Fremantle, then the long road to Southern Cross, where she worked for her brother Tom in his hotel. A year later she travelled on to Coolgardie to be assistant manager at a hotel, married and stayed in the region until her husband died. Her diary was transcribed when she died in 1957.
Using this diary as a base, Forrestal has fleshed out the writer and her experiences, describing the early years of Coolgardie and life in Western Australia in the late nineteenth century. It is a fascinating look at a young woman, boldly going to work in a place where women were rare, and their nursing skills in high demand.
Clara goes to Southern Cross to work at her sister's husband's hotel, and there meets Jack, a water carter. When a reef of gold is discovered at Coolgardie in 1892, men flock to the town to try their luck. Clara is eager to join the rush, and accepts a hotel job, setting off the following week with her mother's Encyclopaedia of Common Diseases and Remedies, while Jack stays as a water carter ferrying water to the rapidly growing town. Her life in Coolgardie is an eye popping look at what life was like: the lack of sanitation, shelter, water and decent food playing havoc with men's lives.
Fremantle Press provides teacher notes.
An interview with Elaine Forrestal is available on Fremantle Press' website giving more information about Clara and her life which initiated the writing of this fine book, introducing readers to a rather overlooked gold rush in Australia's past. A brief outline of Coolgardie and its gold rush can be found here.
This involving story is an invaluable introduction to the lives led by women in the late nineteenth century, the hardships faced, privations endured, as well as giving readers a solid working knowledge of life in a gold rush town, so important to Australia's early economic development. Themes: Goldfields (WA), Western Australia, Gold rush, Coolgardie (WA).
Fran Knight

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