Friday 21 June 2024

Those Girls

Those Girls by Pamela Rushby, Walker Books, PB RRP $19.99 ISBN 9781760657840

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

New, from award-winning historical novelist, Pamela Rushby, Those Girls is a YA novel exploring the roles, and struggles, of women in wartime, especially dealing with the ‘Land Girls’. These girls, aged from sixteen years and older, join the Australian Women’s Land Army, where they are intended to replace the labour of men leaving farms and rural properties to join the armed services. About 7,000 Australian women joined: they were paid thirty shillings for a 48-hour week.

When Hilary -- Hilly – whose brother Graham is a prisoner of war, volunteers in 1942, she’s sixteen years old, having seen a poster outfit with a picture of a tanned, healthy girl, wearing a regulation uniform hat and shorts that were, surely, anything but regulation. Hilly expects to be picking sun-kissed fruit and bottle-feeding fluffy white lambs, all while she's wearing a flattering uniform. The truth is she is roped into dirty work, harvesting potatoes, and then picking prickly pineapples. Travelling to farms across Queensland, She encounters backbreaking work, but also friendship and fellowship with other Land Army girls.

They include Aileen and Glad, both of whom are seeking independence for their own reasons. (Aileen is a married women deserting a young baby). War is a chance for a life away from family and familiarity, offering adventure and romance. But the posters don’t mention crutching sheep or 4 am starts. Or the prejudice they would face, and that some men needed to be fought off, rather than fought for. During adversity, Hilly finds exactly what she is capable of … and it might be more than she ever thought possible. She is one of ‘those girls with grit’. She also goes on dates with American soldier Gene Larsen with her buddies, and his.

Interlaced with the adventures of Hilly and her friends are real-life episodes such as the riot the girls witness between American servicemen and locals. There is ongoing action and much interest in the book which makes for a very engaging read. As well as girls and women, the book’s historical themes include social life, new experiences, and the military at the time of war.

Book creator Pamela Rushby is the author of over 200 books for children and young adults, as well as children's TV scripts, documentaries, short stories, and freelance journalism. 



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