Bridget : a New Australian by James Moloney
A New Australian series. Omnibus Books (Scholastic
Australia), 2015. ISBN: 9781742990989
This book introduces a new series from Scholastic called A New Australian, which will tell the migration stories of children to Australia, each book written by individual authors. Irish history is fertile ground for storytelling; one of its most tragic episodes was the potato famine of the mid-1800s. This intersected with the history of pioneer Australia, leading to one of the great waves of migration to this land. The story begins with the Nelligans, an Irish cottier family who are evicted by their English landlord and eventually find refuge in a workhouse, sparse as it is. Heartbreaking circumstances provide an opportunity for two of the sisters, Maeve and Bridget, to sail to Australia.
Because of the kindness of the ship's doctor - and Bridget's uncanny ability to capture rats - the trip for the girls is relatively comfortable, though they suffer at the hands of religious bigotry amongst other girls and their bitter Matron Mrs Clements. The bigotry continues after the two sisters are indentured as house help and taken to the new colony of Brisbane Town. One escapes the oppression through a surprise marriage. Bridget, the younger one must bide her time under increasingly cruel treatment until her chance comes to find freedom in the new land, caring for the animals that she loves.
The story reveals the hardship and oppression suffered by the poor Irish of the time, from the English landlords at home, to the gentry of a pioneer land. Other hardships of sea travel and life in a raw country are alluded to but it is the lot of the defenceless and dependent servant girl that is the focus here. The ending of the book is more worthy of a pastoral adventure than historical fiction, though emigration to an unknown land could be seen as a melding of the genre, a historical adventure. Useful as a pleasant read for wide reading schemes, this book could also be used as a serial read for historic background in units on European pioneer settlement in Australia.