When I was in primary school, there wasn’t a large emphasis on learning Australian History. We may have covered a few of the more historically important topics, but there wasn’t a lot of detail, and besides a few colour posters that we made up to show our ‘knowledge’ of the events, I don’t really remember much about it.
I’m not sure what the school curriculum is like now, but if you want your children to learn about some of the more important or influential people in Australian History, in an easy-to-understand and child-friendly way, then this series may be the way to go. So far, there are four books in the series (although there are more in the pipeline) and each feature an important (and in some cases, controversial) person that has played a role in Australia’s short history. Each book is written and illustrated by somebody different, yet they all follow a set foundation. There is a short introduction about the topic at the beginning of the book, which is followed by the life story of the person in question. The book then ends with a timeline that covers all the important dates of that person’s history.
Here are the titles so far…
Meet… Ned Kelly – Written by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Matt Adams
Whatever your impressions of the infamous bushranger, there is no doubt that Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly had a difficult start to life. The second oldest of seven children, Ned was only 12 years old when his father (who was a convicted criminal) passed away. Forced to drop out of school to help his family, he soon got into trouble with the law, and was arrested several times. This book tells his story, in rhyming format, and with an obvious bias towards him (painting him as a misunderstood young man, rather than a crook). It tells the events leading up to and including the infamous Glenrowan Inn shoot-out, where Kelly’s gang were killed by police and he wrote himself a place in the history books as Australia’s gun-toting, iron-suit-clad bushranger. If you’re part of the camp that holds Ned Kelly in high esteem and believe he was a hero rather than a criminal, then this book will be a perfect introduction to his story, for the children in your life. If you believe otherwise, then this may not be the best option for you when teaching your child about the deeds of Ned Kelly.
Meet… Mary MacKillop – Written by Sally Murphy, illustrated by Sonia Martinez
Best known for being Australia’s first ever saint, Mary MacKillop made it her mission in life to give disadvantaged and poor children the right to a free education. In 1866 (at 24 years of age), she, along with two of her sisters left their home in the city and travelled to the bush, where they set up their first school in an old stable in Penola, South Australia. Inviting children both rich and poor to attend, their little school thrived, and Mary decided to take her vows and become a nun- Sister Mary of the Cross. A year after this (and with a proper school built in its place), Sister Mary decided to leave Penola- travelling around Australia’s rural areas and creating more schools for people in need. The story only goes as far as this journey, but the timeline at the back of the book further explains what happened after this particular point in time, including Sister Mary’s disagreements with the hierarchy of the church, her overseas travels, her illnesses and (more recently) the events that led to her beatification by the Vatican.
Meet… Captain Cook – Written by Rae Murdie, illustrated by Chris Nixon
Credited as being the first Europeans to discover the east coast of Australia, this is the story of Captain James Cook and his crew, as they explored unknown waters for Terra Australis, the land we know as Australia today. A renowned explorer in the British Royal Navy, Captain Cook (although he was not yet a captain at this time) was asked to complete a mission in Tahiti (then known as King George’s Island). He was also given an envelope, detailing further instructions from the King, but he was only allowed to open it after the prior mission was completed. After eight months at sea on the HMB Endeavour, the Captain and his crew arrived on the island and completed their duties. Captain Cook then opened the letter, which explained that he was to locate a new and foreign land called Terra Australis and claim it for the King. After much blind travelling and plenty of danger, the Endeavour arrived in New Zealand, stopped for a little while and then travelled on to Australia, where it was damaged on a coral bank. After an ‘uneasy’ truce with the locals, the crew were able to repair the ship and set sail for home. While nothing is shown in its entirety, the author and illustrator hint at troubles between the British and the native people of each of these countries, attempting to stay true to the facts about the racial misunderstanding and prejudice of the times. This ‘honesty’ helps to make the historical accuracy of this book a little more realistic for younger readers, without being too distressing.
Meet… The ANZACs – Written by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Max Berry
Every year, on April 25, Australians and New Zealander’s celebrate Anzac Day, commemorating the young soldiers who were killed on the shores of Gallipoli in World War I. This book tells the story leading up to that fateful mission, where thousands of Australians and New Zealander’s died, but it doesn’t actually delve into the slaughter, preventing children from having to picture the brutality of war. The story begins with war being declared, and the Government’s call for volunteers to fight alongside the British Empire. Thousands of men travelled to the cities hoping to enlist for the chance to travel, serve their country and seek adventure. They set up training camps in Australia and abroad, and travelled by ship to Cairo, Egypt. There, they played a long waiting game, hoping they would soon be called to action on the war-front. They participated in various games such as Two-Up and cricket to keep themselves amused and avoid boredom. After a lengthy period of time, they were told that they would finally be joining the battle of World War I, and they boarded the ships that would lead to their ultimate demise off the shores of Turkey. The story ends with the ANZACs’ landing boats settling on the sands of the beach, the soldiers disembarking and text saying that ‘war was like nothing they could have imagined’. This opens up the chance for children to ask questions, and for adults to formulate answers appropriate for the age of the child when explaining what happened to the ANZACs.
All of these stories cover important aspects of Australian history, and feature easy-to-understand text and amazing illustrations. As a result, they will be a worth-while addition to your children’s non-fiction reference books.
If you live in or are visiting Brisbane, may I suggest a trip to St Stephen's Chapel, Queensland's oldest church, in Elizabeth Street. Here you will find a most magnificent sculpture of Mary Mackillop. Almost has me turning Catholic.
Also, if looking for kid friendly geography information, try www.kids-world-travel-guide.com.