AWW2013 – Book 26
Gold, Graves and Glory (Fair Dinkum Histories)
I was looking through my boxes (and boxes) of books left over from my upper primary school teacher days, when I came across this one and another from the Fair Dinkum Histories series. This series, the Australian ‘answer’ to Horrible Histories, are actually much funnier, more interesting, and less reliant on comics to ‘teach’ history to children.
This particular book tells the story of Australia from 1850 to 1880. This time period was particularly vital to European Australian growth as new settlements were created throughout Australia, a number of colonies became states in their own right, masses of exploration was done and gold was ‘discovered’, resulting in gold rushes, bushrangers and union activity.
It would be very easy to tell the ‘traditional’ white, European (or English) male story – after all, it is a time period which is dominated by male explorers, male bushrangers and male gold diggers. But Jackie French makes sure that that is not the only story we hear about. The struggles and achievements of women, and the social history they were involved in are highlighted throughout the book. There’s also information on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait people, on the Chinese settlers who faced massive levels of discrimination, and on the ‘Afghan’ people (who were often from all around South Asia) who arrived in Australia as camel wranglers.
It’s very clear to the reader that Jackie French loves Australian history (and in case you’re not sure of that, check out her extensive historical fiction book list!) She loves the stories, the parts that really make Australian history interesting. I was definitely amused and interested reading it and finding out about how men would hide from police under the big skirts women wore, about how valued the Chinese settlers were for the gardens they could cultivate and about how some of the explorers (*cough* Burke *cough*) managed to do everything wrong when they set out to explore, despite the riches which were often bestowed on them.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my review, this series benefits from not only being about Australian history, the stories which are interesting, no matter how much our teachers tried to ‘uninterest’ them for us, but from being well written and engaging. The illustrations continuously support the history, giving us portraits, maps, comments and bad puns, rather than pages and pages of comics, which every child reads rather than reading the history (as in Horrible Histories). I know I had two or three of these books in my classroom, where they were moderately popular, but if I do head back to the classroom in the future, I’d definitely be doing my best to ‘sell’ these books to the students.