Tearaway coach! by Neridah McMullin and Andrew McLean

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A breathless recreation of a famous Cobb and Co trip is brought to life within richly illustrated words for a younger generation. Even those with no links to horses or travelling on dirt roads will be swept along with the images of the runaway horses. The words describing this true incident will thrill, as they read of young Fenton going to Geelong with his father in 1855.

All sorts of images will spring to mind: the gold rush in Ballarat, travelling by horse drawn coach, avoiding the ever present danger of bushrangers on roads outside the few towns, and simply surviving the perilously rough ride that going by coach implies.

The story begins in Ballarat as Fenton and his father board the coach. Fenton has been allowed to sit with the driver, who introduces himself as Edward Devine, known as Cabbage Tree Ted.

Along the way Ted gives Fen a time holding the reins of the horses pulling the coach. Along the way, the horses begin to pull up as two men appear on the roadway, hanker-chiefs across their faces and guns drawn. Ted tells Fen to wait while he raises his hands in mock surrender, then gives Fen a shout to go. The boy uses the reins to get the horses going and they flee along the roadway. They escape the bushrangers but then their brake fails as they try to calm the horses and they tear along the roadway, the horses out of control.

This wonderful evocation of life in early Australia is wonderfully told, and the illustrations are marvellously presented, giving young readers a great deal of detail to look at. Large sweeps of Australian bush land and vistas of blue skies will make them feel part of Fen’s world. The images of the horses are engrossing, drawing the eyes into the detail of their role in pulling the coach, mesmerised by the way they are linked to the driver and the coach itself.

A wonderful read. Full of humour, history and adventure.

Themes: Bushrangers, Coach travel, Cobb and Co., Australian history, Ballarat, Gold rush.

Fran Knight