AUTHOR = Jackie French
GENRE =Historical Fiction
INTEREST LEVEL =Years 9, 10
In this book, Jackie French not only celebrates Australia’s nationhood and folklore she also celebrates the strength of Australian women. For here Matilda is both a character and the inspiration for a national song. The character Matilda has been forced to grow up quickly and she is certainly made of tough and gutsy stuff. She manages to hold on to her father’s property and make a working farm of the place, despite extended drought, fires and floods. In the absence of her own parents, she leans heavily on some local Aboriginals, especially Auntie, and shearing mates of her dad’s.
This is certainly a sweeping saga and at over 460 pages, some readers may be daunted by the sheer size of the book. It is set in an interesting period (early in the 20th century) a time when the local farmers, shearers and townspeople were debating the union of the states to become the nation of Australia, as women were battling to simply get the vote and as the local Aboriginal peoples were struggling to be even recognised as citizens. Even the Boer War rates a (somewhat surprising) mention as the saga unfolds. Some readers may find the historical scope at times overwhelming but many are sure to enjoy reading about gutsy Matilda’s fight to survive not just the drought but also the enmity of the local squatter. And there is even a touch of romance thrown in for good measure!
This may not be Jackie French’s best novel (at times the history seemed to overtake the story and some of the “discoveries” at the novel’s end seem a little hard to believe) but for anyone interested in family dramas and Australian history it is sure to be an entertaining read. The author notes at the end of the book are certainly an interesting part of the book and provide an account of the much loved song from which the novel draws its name.
Recommended (dma) ***