Sunday 5 September 2010

Lennie's Ride

Lennie's Ride by Mary Small, illustrated by Marion Wilcocks (Small Endeavour Publishing)
PB RRP $15
ISBN 978-0-646-53194-6
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Lennie's Ride is the remarkable story of Lennie Gwyther, a nine-year-old farmer's son from Leongatha in Gippsland, Victoria, so excited about the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge he rode his pony, Ginger Mick, 600 miles to witness the event himself.

However, Lennie's Ride is more than a story of a boy. It is the story of his family, rural community life and the social history of Australia in the inter-war period. Lennie's feat is astounding. Allowing my own nine-year-old son to walk home from school (ten minutes and he doesn't even have to cross a road) is a leap of faith, let alone sending him off on a trek of this nature. Lennie's parents took that leap of faith. Stays with friends along the route were organised and as the fame of Lennie's journey grew, he certainly was not alone in his ride, being feted on his arrival in Canberra and Sydney among other places. The biggest testament to Lennie is that his parents felt safe in the knowledge that their son was capable of such a journey despite his youth.

Life on the Gwyther farm was not easy despite the ideal climate and soil. Lennie's father was a decorated returned serviceman from the trenches of Gallipoli and the Western Front. However, he also returned with injuries that would affect him for the rest of his life. Add to that the difficulties of the Great Depression. Lennie's parents relied extensively on him to help on the farm and, when his father broke his leg, Lennie worked the farm as well as any grown man.

1932 was a time of economic and social uncertainty and the excitement surrounding the Sydney Harbour Bridge was intense. It was an achievement of national significance and Lennie wanted to be a part of it. Lennie's interest in the bridge stemmed from his love of drawing, design and construction. As reward for all his hard work Lennie asked to be allowed to ride to Sydney for the opening. Hazards along the way included bushfires and Lennie's adventures in Sydney included entering the Easter Show.

Marion Wilcocks' black and white illustrations give us the feel of times past and complement the text beautifully. The book also includes numerous photographs of Lennie, the Gwyther family, and people and places of the 1930s and a brief section telling sister Beryl's story, and a facts section about the building of the bridge.

Lennie's Ride is recommended reading for Australians of all ages. It opens a window into a vastly different Australia in the not too distant past, it is a tale of the excitement surrounding the bridge opening, but most of all it tells of the wonders of a childhood fully lived and experienced.
Contact Mary Small for orders

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