The Secret of the Black Bushranger by Jackie French (Harper Collins Children’s Books) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9780732299453
Reviewed by Karen Hendriks
Award winning author Jackie French has been writing a secret Australian history series and this is the third book in that series. Readers from the ages of 7 years and on will enjoy this book that is very well researched yet easy to read. The book contains both the actions and opinions of real people as close as possible to the historical records. French’s writing voice speaks very clearly to the reader and really does open the door into our colonial past as if she has been there. It is entertaining story and very engaging.
What is fascinating about this story is the central character Black Caesar (John Black) who really did exist and became Australia’s very first bushranger. He arrived in Australia from England and was never free so he fought for his freedom and became a thief. French has cleverly filled in many gaps with fiction as very little is known about Black. She shows the human side of the times and the hard way of life in a young penal colony.
The story travels well because it is interwoven with the characters that met and interacted with Black Caesar. The story is told from the viewpoint of Barney Bean, a young English boy who features centrally in book one in the series, Birrung and the Secret Friend and book two Barney and the Secret of the Whales.
‘The giant man looked down at me with those brown eyes. ‘If I show myself in daylight, boy, they chain me up again.’ His voice was so deep, deeper than any other I had ever heard. He drew himself up even taller. More stars vanished behind him. ‘I am John Black Caesar. I will not be a slave.’
The book allows the reader to decide if the actions of the characters are right or wrong.
History is now part of the Australian primary schools’ curriculum so this book will be a handy resource; online there are also teacher’s notes available. Anyone with an interest in Australian history will love this book and gain a good picture of our harsh early beginnings.