Review Blog

Oct 29 2020

Then Tina met Will by Cheryl Williss

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Wakefield Press, 2020. ISBN: 9781743057612.
(Age: Senior secondary / Adult) Recommended. Non-fiction. A sixth generation Australian, Cheryl Willis has thoroughly researched the history of her ancestors, struggling young families who sought escape from famine, poverty and the often desperate circumstances of their lives in the UK, France and Germany, launching on a perilous journey to seek a new and better life on the other side of the world. They were long journeys on ships, with people huddled in cramped conditions, and many, including children, losing their lives at sea. But all were seized by the hope to make a new future.
The first stories, from the 1800s, reveal the hardships of the times, hard labouring jobs, illiteracy, women with one pregnancy after another, high infant mortality rates, disease and early death. But the families made a go of it, clearing land, establishing farms, building businesses, taking up opportunities that would never have been available to them in their home countries.
Among the stories is that of the English lace workers, refugees from Calais, France, shipped to South Australia, welcomed and provided with assistance to start a new life as mechanics and unskilled labourers. Some were able to join in the rush to the gold fields of Victoria.
Senior secondary students studying early Australian history will be interested in the original accounts of the mining industry in Broken Hill, the harsh conditions, with lead poisoning, physical injury and high death rates, leading to unionism and the fight for workers' rights. Also of interest is the account of the conscription debate during World War I, with excerpts from local newspapers putting different views.
Williss' family history research has value for all who have an interest in the early settlers in South Australia and New South Wales, each section of the family tree a story in its own. For history students, it is an excellent example of the use of primary sources to build a picture of the past. And for the general reader it is a timely reminder that the settlement of Australia has a long history of people venturing their lives on dangerous boat journeys to build a new future.
Helen Eddy

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