Wednesday 17 June 2020

The Schoolmaster’s Daughter

The Schoolmaster’s Daughter by Jackie French (Angus and Robertson) PB RRP $17.99 ISBN 97814607577710

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Reading this well-written, gripping, and fast-paced book, one can see why Jackie French’s writings have been acclaimed over the years and have won many awards.

Drawing on her own family history, this is a story from French about education in colonial Australia - and how women once had to fight for their right to it. Set it 1901, the first year of Federation, it begins with a shipwreck as teenager Hannah and her family, the Gilberts, head to a new home in north-eastern Australia. Hannah's father has a new post as the schoolmaster in school there, where the school's wealthy patron, a sugar planter called Mr Harris, will give the family a life of comfort and the best society.

Having managed to survive the shipwreck, the family is rescued by a Pacific Islander youth, Jamie, who takes them to his white mother, Mrs Zebediah who welcomes them. She and Jamie are pariahs in this racist society, but Hannah and her mother become fast friends when Hannah’s mother goes to their home regularly to teach Hannah, Jamie and Mrs Zebediah. Later, when he younger brother, Angus, is taken by their mother to Sydney for an operation, Hannah spends many happy hours with Jamie, both of them reading and becoming closer friends.

Secrets lurk in this subtropical paradise. Mr Harris's fortune is built on slavery and the whip. And the new Federal government's first law demands that all Pacific islanders - even those born in Australia - be deported. If Mr Harris learns of the secret school that Hannah's mother is running, it will mean ruin, violence, and possibly even death.
Hannah and Jamie must fight for Jamie's right to stay in the land he loves, and for their rights to education and equality. The question is: can the friendship and love of two young people win against such prejudice and power? Will Hannah ever make it to university and to fulfill her hopes of becoming a poet?
Based on the lives of Jackie French's great-grandparents and grandmothers who taught - and fought - for equal education and the rights of all Australians, no matter what their background or the colour of the skin, this story shows us how the bravery and the battles of the past can give us courage for the challenges of today.

This book for readers 11+ years, is highly recommended.

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