Real Australian History

Reminder: this is a work-in-progress, and the final product may differ.
For information from the publisher, see to come

oz The five projected books in this series are (or will be) written for Years 4 and 5 in Australia. They have three motivators:

Postman and Weingartner's Teaching as a Subversive Activity.

The second comes from Jerome S. Bruner, who famously argued that:

"any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development."

The last source is my firm belief that everything has a cause, which leads me to this principle:

"intelligence is manifested in the search for the reasons, the causes behind things."

This is where I nail my colours to the mast. There is nothing half so revolting as the idiot politician who bleats about history as the learning of dates, or lists. Almost 60 years ago (I'm old), I was forced to learn off the names of all the rivers crossed by Ludwig Leichhardt, and I can still recite them.

Dawson, Mackenzie, Isaacs, Suttor, Burdekin, Lynd, Mitchell, Gilbert, Norman, Flinders. Leichhardt, Roper, Alligator.

There, don't you feel better knowing that? Can you not see many ways in which you can use that to change the world?

No, me neither. It's rubbish. Only an idiot would make kids learn trivia like that. I realise that I have just asserted that most politicians are idiots, but I will defend that on the grounds of truth and public benefit.

I happen to be good on dates, and I once got a whole book out of wondering how Shakespeare who died in 1616 had written about sugar in The Winter's Tale when Britain did not settle the Bermudas until about 1624. It turned out that my assumptions were all wrong, but in ascertaining this, I got a book. I got another book by thinking about all of the curious developments that emerged in 1859.

When you spend enough time around history, you pick up dates, but the familiarity with dates is an effect, not a cause. Learning lists is rubbish, understanding causes is good.

So what I want to do is to bypass all of the standard textbooks that are out there, some of which bear traces of nuts, bilge water and the teaching styles of the 19th century. Instead, I am writing fresh, brash, real history, and even though my readers are young, I want to give them the chance to read the sources from themselves, to poke around, to question, to think for themselves, if they wish. They don't have to, but the option is there.

So here are the titles I plan to do (or have done)

Year 4

Just one title:

The Company of the First Fleet

This is about ten or so of those who came out in the First Fleet, though about 25 to 30 players appear in passing. Each is given around 1800 words, but a goodly part of each story is taken up with Imagined Conversations, exchanges between historical figures which probably didn't happen, but they could have. The words placed in the speakers' mouths are, in many cases, taken from their own writings. and because I cite chapter and verse, the determined reader can test this out. We meet a convict who was hanged before the end of 1788, but not before he claimed to have found a gold mine on Sydney Harbour, the first bushranger, the youngest and oldest female convicts, a boy who actually missed being in the First Fleet because he wanted to hang (he came in the Second Fleet), medical men, farmers, explorers and a few escapees. This book is written in first draft.

As an example of how real history can be confusing, look at this post in my blog, Old Writer on The Block, where I compare a number of accounts of a single lightning strike in February 1788. There was no consistency at all in the versions, and the same set of contrasts occurs in this book, in simpler form. together with links to the places where the young readers can, if they wish, read more. They don't have to, but the chance is there. I would have taken it, and believe me, I'm writing this for kids who are like I was, and for those that I can make more like me, by luring them into a bit of personal curiosity.

Year 5

There are four titles: one written, three planned:

Rushing for Gold

This is in third draft, just on 30,000 words, and providing a wealth of information, drawn from contemporary newspapers and books. I actually began writing a history for adults, but it got bogged down in detail. I started again with a tighter story line, and I will probably come back later and add some of the huge mass of deleted stuff, to produce the book I originally wanted to write.

The Coolies in Australia

This is a little-considered aspect of Australian history, where I will start with the Indian coolies who got fed up with working in Paddington, and took off. They got as far as the Blue Mountains before they were arrested and forced back to Sydney. That opens up a whole set of cans of worms about the conditions imposed by the Master and Servant legislation, the rules that servants, convicts and apprentices worked under, and following through to the Kanakas and the blackbirders. When I wrote the history of sugar, mentioned above, I learned about indentured servants in the Caribbean and how they differed from slaves, so there's a great deal of interesting material to go in. There is a wealth of colonial history there, and once you understand that, you will know why Leichhardt was looking for a route to Port Essington (that's the trip where he crossed that list of rivers!). The whole White Australian policy derived from the former presence of indentured workers from other cultures.

The Rise of Steam in Australia

Steam presses, steam mills, steam locomotives on railways, steam tugs in the harbours of the colonies (especially the Hunter River and the Brisbane River which had too many bends to be easy to sail up), steam ships between the colonies, steam transport via Suez before the Suez canal (it was called the Overland Route) and the opening up of the Murray, Darling and Murrumbidgee Rivers. Steam technology changed Australia in many ways.

Unexpected Explorers

I may, probably will, add this, about the explorers you don't hear about. Mind you, I've already done a book on that for adults, and another book covering the same sort of thing for ages 10-14, so I don't know. I'll see. I think there's more to be taken from the adult book and written for younger readers, and there was a lot of stuff that I never used. I will probably end up doing it.

Might there be more?

Anything is possible. My recent enquiries have included outbreaks of plague in Sydney around 1900 (and also in other cities and towns): there is an excellent story to be told there. I have also become rather interested in the robust patriotic madness, combined with war fear, that stirred Australians at least as far back as 1838, every time there was talk of war (I have a title for that one, but I'm not going to mention it here, because it's an absolute ripper). My biggest interest is in the emergence of Australian language, but I don't think there's a book in thatójust a website. Then there's the telegraph: the list if possibilities is endless.

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It was created on August 16, 2012 and last revised August 16, 2012.

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