Review Blog

Mar 29 2018

Alfred's war by Rachel Bin Salleh

cover image

Ill. by Samantha Fry. Magabala Books, 2018. ISBN 9781925360608
(Age: 5+) Recommended. Themes: Aboriginal themes. World War One. Australian history. The beautifully presented picture book tells younger readers the story of Alfred, a young man who enlisted in the armed forces and then sent from Australia to fight in the war in France, where he was wounded and sent back to Australia. Here he received none of the honours given to the non-Indigenous soldiers, a mark of shame on the governments in our past. He was not offered land as some were, or the support given to others as they returned physically and mentally wounded.
He loved to walk with his swag upon his back, finding work here and there, sleeping rough, dreaming of his former companions. Each Anzac Day he would find a small country town where people gathered to remember those who were part of the Great War, to remember those people he fought with but from a distance.
It is salutary to read of the 1000 Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders who enlisted after the army allowed men of colour into their ranks, but only after the numbers killed and wounded were not able to be replaced.
Rachel Bin Salleh's sparse words give a dignity to the injustices raised by her story, and the soft illustrations work alongside the tale, although sometimes lacking a strength which such a story deserves.
There are many many picture books about Australia's involvement in the wars of the twentieth century, and this book adds a new story to the pantheon of tales children read, allowing them to think about the way some people were treated in the past, while encouraging them to mull over how things could and should have been different.
Fran Knight

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