The pearl-shell diver by Kay Crabbe

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2016. ISBN 9781760290474
(Age: 11+) Highly recommended. Australian history. Federation. Pearl diving. Race relations. White Australia Policy. Sario lives and works on a remote island in the Torres Strait. He dives for pearl shell and sea cucumber, to sell at the markets so he and his family can get an income. Unscrupulous lugger captains note his ability and promise him more money if he goes with them to learn to dive with a helmet. At first he refuses but the old men of his clan push him to earn more money for the community, and when his mother, once a diver, now with breathing problems, becomes worse and must be moved to Thursday Island for treatment, he has no choice.
But the promises come to nothing. He is subjected to racism by the white bosses and Japanese divers, his money taken from him on any pretext, and made to work harder than he has ever worked before. He misses his family, is bullied by a young Japanese diver, and witnesses his friend lose his life to a shark, after the boss made the boy stay underwater despite the threat of danger.
But along the way he learns a lot about the industry he works for, and hears from others about the rules concerning pearl fishing, an industry soon under threat, and about Federation, the amalgamation of the states into the Commonwealth of Australia, soon to take place. Readers will love reading about Sario and his life, and adventures, but also learn about bullying and racism, the White Australia Policy, Federation and the Torres Strait Islands, a setting rarely seen in children's books.
Fran Knight