The Secret of the Black Bushranger
By Jackie French
I have always loved history. I love knowing how we got to be where we are now, and what happened to get us there. And it is obvious that I love reading. So I am sure it comes as no surprise to you I love historic fiction, and so I was excited by the opportunity to review Jackie French’s new book in her Secret Histories series.
One of the areas of history I have always been fascinated by is colonial Australian and New Zealand history, and how the differences are reflected in our culture today, and the Secret of the Black Bushranger really took me to a favourite place.
Barney Bean is an orphan in the new colony of Sydney. He has been taken in by real historic figures Rev Johnson and Mrs Johnson and while living with them and building a new life for himself he meets another historic figure, John Black, who claims to be an ex-slave.
In this book Jackie French has managed to weave a fictional tale of a boy growing to manhood in Sydney’s first days that is interspersed with historic fact and historical characters. His interaction with convicts and authority, and the strange relationship he develops with the notorious negro who became the colony’s first bush ranger make for an interesting story. Through this relationship Barney develops his own sense of right and wrong, and the reader also questions with him the parallels between slavery and early treatment of convicts.
As an adult I wanted a bit more depth to the book, but then I realised that I had gotten so engrossed in the book that I had forgotten the audience. This book actually tells a fast paced story that gives young readers a good feeling for life in early Sydney, the hardships endured and even some of the historic transformations. It is a great way for children who love reading to learn history. And hats off to Jackie – she also drew me in and nearly made me forget I was reviewing a book for tweens.