Saturday 30 July 2011

The Youngest Cameleer

The Youngest Cameleer by Goldie Alexander (Five Senses Education)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-74130-495-4
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

In 1873, William Christie Gosse set out on a mission to the Northern Territory to map a route from the Overland Telegraph Line at Alice Springs to Perth. He was unsuccessful in this mission, but succeeded in discovering and naming Ayers Rock, and naming the Agnes River, Harry’s Reservoir, and Mount Hay in the MacDonnell Ranges. This story of Gosse’s expedition is taken from his diary.  It is a significant piece of historical reference for those who aren’t familiar with Gosse’s generally unknown trek into the interior.

The fictional, main character, Ahmed, is fourteen years old when he leaves Afghanistan after the sudden death of his father, and sails with his uncle to Australia to work as translator for the Afghans, and as the youngest cameleer. His goal: to earn money for his sister’s dowry and his mother’s livelihood. In the group is Gosse’s brother Harry, Edwin Barry, Henry Winnell, Patrick Niter, three Afghans - Kamran, Jemma and Allanah, and the aborigine, Moses.

A detailed insight into the life of cameleers and their bond with the animals in their care is presented in minute detail. Accompanied are descriptions of the harsh elements, unfamiliar terrains and lack of food and water, days of heavy rains and floods, and unrest from aborigines who see their land as being threatened by the explorers. The characters and their experiences on the trek appear as visual frames, and all the senses are awakened within the author’s clear and precise prose. The valuable equipment becomes visible; you can smell the camels, ride on them across the dry, merciless land, and share the warmth of the camp fires at night.
In the desert night scenes, we learn about Gosse’s past, family and education when Uncle and Ahmed exchange information. During Ahmed’s sleepless nights, we enter the boy’s internal struggle with homesickness, the unknown land, strange people and stranger customs. His suspicions about his uncle and the part he may have played in his father’s death accompany him everywhere, shadowing Jemma’s relentless cruelty that is meted out when they are alone.

Although aimed at the young adult age group, it is suited to every age group because of its valuable historical content. This is Goldie’s fifth historical fiction book set in Australia. All these books have generous amounts of Teacher Notes to be accessed on her website.

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