Monday 25 April 2016

The Pearl-shell Diver

The Pearl-shell Diver by Kay Crabbe (Allen & Unwin) PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-76029-047-4

Reviewed by Ann Harth ( )

The Pearl-shell Diver intrigued me from the first page. At dawn on a remote Torres Strait island in 1898 we meet 13-year-old Sario as he and his friend head out fishing in their canoe. They spot a white man’s pearl lugger in the distance, an increasingly common sight, and Sario is uneasy. This white man has his eye on Sario, who is young, strong and a skilled pearl-shell diver.

Many of Sario’s clan are growing old and weak and, with more and more luggers gathering the precious pearl-shells, the Island families are struggling to survive. When the white man returns, not Sario but his father is forced to leave his family and work on the pearl-lugger.

But then, Sario’s mother grows ill and it is up to him and his sister to take her to Thursday Island to find a doctor. Medicine is expensive and Sario has no choice but to find work as a pearl-shell diver on one of the boats. The conditions are appalling and the work dangerous with the constant threat of sharks, jealous crewmen and the crippling diver’s condition called the bends.

The situation unfolds as Sario finds the strength and courage to do what’s necessary to keep his family alive.

Readers, aged 9-13 years, will devour this fast-paced book, experiencing the excitement, frustration and thrill of danger as they follow Sario’s journey. The characters are three-dimensional and believable. Kay Crabbe has integrated the history of the Torres Strait Islands into her story and captured vivid sensory images that bring the area to life.

I would recommend The Pearl-shell Diver as a fast-paced, enjoyable story for children, but adults will enjoy it, too. It can also be used as a valuable and comprehensive history resource for classroom teachers.

Kay Crabbe lives in Far North Queensland. She began her writing career with feature articles for newspapers and magazines before moving into educational material for children. In researching and writing the historical novel, The Pearl-shell Diver, Kay took a journey back in time to the Torres Strait in the 1800s, across treacherous waters traversed by island canoes, pearling luggers and helmeted deep-sea divers. For more information about Kay and her writing, please visit

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