To the Goldfields by Rachel Tonkin
Walker Books Australia, 2014. ISBN 9781922179883.
(Age: 8+) Recommended. Gold rush, Australian History. Set in Victoria at the time of the Gold Rush this richly illustrated story tells of James and his family moving from Melbourne to Forrest Creek near Bendigo, to join his father as he mines for gold. The sights and sounds of the times are brilliantly recreated here as we see the squalor of the living conditions, noise and edgy lifestyle of those who risk all to find gold.
Tonkin's illustrations showcase a goldfield covered with tents and makeshift buildings, slab huts with canvas rooves, held down by planks of wood. The numerous men mine with pick and shovel, cradle, gold pans an explosive, while the women trade, bargain, look after children and sometimes help the men in their toils. While acknowledging the work of S T Gill, Snell and von Gerard, Tonkin also nods to the many goldfield artists represented in museums and art galleries around Australia. She has used their work to authenticate her pictures of the gold fields enabling younger readers to understand what happened there.
Tension comes in the form of troopers, and bushrangers, thieves and the weather, each adding pressure to the many men hoping to return to their old lives, richer men.
Walker Books has been republishing award winners from Australia's backlist of books for the past little while. Rachel Tonkin's award winning trio, What was the war like Grandma, To the goldfields, and Papa and the olden days are a welcome addition to this venture as many copies in school libraries are now 15 years old and need replacing, and also presenting anew to a new bunch of readers and teachers to be used in classrooms where history is taught.