Wednesday 11 March 2015

My Australian Story: Convict Girl

My Australian Story: Convict Girl by Chrissie Michaels (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-015-1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Convicted for theft, young Mary Beckworth is transported in 1801, with her mother, to Australia. A spirited girl, Mary is determined to make the best of her new life as a convict, whatever obstacles it may bring. Working first on Quaker's Row sorting fleece, then as a nanny for Judge Atkins, and finally as an assistant to Commander Baudin on the French exploration ship the GĂ©ographe, Mary overcomes her problems with bravery, level-headed decisions and a warm heart. She is an interesting and enjoyable character to spend time with.
Whilst not ignoring the harsh realities of convict life at this time, the story does not dwell on them. It focuses rather, on the hope and possibilities of Mary's life, making it a story which is perfectly accessible for readers from middle primary school and up. Mary’s convict years are during a time of great exploration and expeditions, the establishment of the growing colony in New South Wales, and the occasional convict uprising.  This is an exciting part of our Australian history to read about.
The historical notes at the end of the book give an idea of how much of the story is fact. Mary Beckworth was a real person in Australian history, as were many other characters in this story. Most of the events described in her (fictional) diary, such as the Irish uprising, the tension with France, the attempted escapes and the return of Judge Atkins' wife, are all based on fact. Actually, after his wife’s death in 1809, the Judge married Mary's mother, who had been his housekeeper since 1801.
Written in diary form in a chatty, intelligent voice, this intimate account is easy to get caught up in. It covers the years from 1801 to 1803, and incorporates many aspect of Sydney’s early penal colony. Reading this story, and others like it, is a great way for children to explore Australia’s historic past.
Other titles in the My Australian Story series include The Hunt for Ned Kelly by Sophie Masson, The Bombing of Darwin by Alan Tucker, Our Don Bradman by Peter Allen, Voyage to Botany Bay by Chrissie Michaels, The Phar Lap Mystery by Sophie Masson and many more.

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