Cover image of the book 'Stories of life at Sydney Cove'

Stories of Life at Sydney Cove

A young reader edition of 'Across Great Divides'

After publishing 'Across Great Divides: true stories of life at Sydney Cove' Susan received positive feedback from teachers about its content linking closely with Australian Curriculum history units. In response she has written this young reader edition.


This book will appeal young Australian readers who enjoy learning about their white heritage. The stories bring to life the diverse experiences of people living in the precarious circumstance of Australia's first penal colony. They are relayed through a non-fiction narrative which shows how convict men saw and seized the possibilities of their new position. The book portrays the situation of convict women and their relationships with military men and demonstrates the varied responses of participants to their unique situation. Some settlers succeeded beyond their

imagination, some failed disastrously.


The stories also give voice to the dilemma of the Aboriginal people challenged by the unexpected arrival of a completely alien race of white people to their land: Bennelong and his

difficult-to-ignore wife, Barangaroo, dealt with their new circumstances in a way they felt would best benefit themselves and their people. On the other hand, the young warrior Pemulwuy had his own ideas about how the white invaders should be confronted. Boorong and Nanberry, two native children taken separately into the homes of white settlers in the aftermath of a devastating

epidemic, went on to have fickle yet enduring relationships with their white guardians.


The stories in 'Across Great Divides - true stories of life at Sydney Cove give the different perspectives of military men who had volunteered for a tour of duty in the remote colony.

Marine officers Watkin Tench, William Dawes, George Johnston, Philip Gidley King, and Captain John Hunter left valuable links to past times through their diaries, letters and journals. Arthur Phillip, the colony's first governor, also wrote letters which give us insight into the dilemmas plaguing his mind.

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Cover image of the book 'Stories of life at Sydney Cove'

Stories of Life at Sydney Cove

Buzz Words review by Diana Bates

Susan Boyer, who has a passion for Australian colonial history, is the author of more than twenty non-fiction books including Across Great Divides.

This current title is a young reader edition of that book. It is evident that Boyer has thoroughly researched her material: all of the white people in the stories that make up this book for children aged 9 to 13 years really lived at Sydney Cove at the time of the first settlement.


The structure of the beginning of this book is different to most books for children insofar as the first five chapters that follow an explanation of the historical background of the book, focus on different people who were part of the First Fleet. Chapter One, for instance, tells the 1787 story of 13-year-old John Hudson, an orphan, who having been in the workhouse and then worked as a chimney sweep, was accused of burglary and sent to the new colony on board the ship Friendship. In May of that year there's another 13-year-old, Elizabeth Hayward on board Lady Penryhn for stealing from her factory employer: she meets Isabella Rawson twice her age whose baby dies on board.


When Governor Philip and his men land at Botany Bay there is a clear and involving account of the interchange between natives and the First Fleeters. One really emphathises with the natives' total astonishment at encountering white people for the first time. Further on, in Sydney Cover (now Circular Quay) there's a clear and identifiable account by Lieutenant Ralph Clarke (told partly by the book's author and partly in Clarke's own words) of the man's impressions of the new, alien country. Here is a soldier who volunteered for the journey but who now wishes he hadn't. 'And so,' writes Boyer, 'with such a mixed collection of people, each with their own plans, personalities and attitudes, Governor

Phillip had to build a colony.'


As work progresses building the new settlement, the author uses maps and original material to inform the reader. Occasionally, too, the book has maps and black and white illustrations, the sources of which are shown in the back pages. The text has frequent original material interspersed in, but integral to the narration.


Boyer's tale is interesting, absorbing and well told; characters introduced in the early chapters come into the later story of the settlement's development. The book finishes when Governor Philip sets off in December 1792 on board Atlantic with the natives Bennelong and Yemerawane bound for England. What on earth would the natives think of English people and their houses, he wonders.


In the later pages, as well as a list of British in Stories of Life at Sydney Cover (and their occupations and interest and adventures) there is also a list of Aboriginal people in the book. This is a comprehensive and fascinating piece of research and the author is to be congratulated on her achievement.

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Cover image of the book 'Stories of life at Sydney Cove'

Stories of Life at Sydney Cove

Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) ReadingTime Review

Following Susan Boyer’s successful work Across Great Divides: true stories of life at Sydney Cove this new young reader edition is written for school aged children (10 years+) Australia’s colonial history unfolds chapter by chapter in this carefully balanced and authentic mix of true stories and well researched primary historical sources; with diary entries, letters and official documentation slotted in among the gripping narrative, weaving together the very human experiences of convicts, marines and the Indigenous population.


In addition to the adventures, discoveries and dilemmas of the actual recorded events, the author uses imagined dialogue to breathe life into the historical people listed aboard the first fleet. Following the prisoners from their crime and conviction through to first contact with Aboriginal people is a fascinating read. We learn how the forced separation of Henry and Susannah Kable and their beloved baby made the English newspapers at the time; how Elizabeth Hayward and John Hudson, the convict children, finally made a place for themselves after their harrowing start in life; and we come to understand the inspiring strength and bravery of Nanberry and Boorong, the Indigenous children who came to live among their strange white neighbours.


This title is an enlightening read for anybody with an interest in Australia’s colonial past, but its breadth of study is particularly relevant for the upper-primary history curriculum. The text provides evidence of the significant events and interactions that shaped early Australian colonies as well as the everyday experiences that may help young readers to think about some of the key inquiry questions surrounding this topic.


Because of the style in which the author has chosen to write the book, the stories are told from a variety of different perspectives; giving teachers and students the perfect opportunity to explore the dynamic relationships between the convicts, soldiers and aboriginal people at the time. Given the many powerful and emotive situations that occur throughout the stories, teachers might also consider using dramatic techniques such as hot seating, emotion graphing, and visualisation, affording students the chance to empathise with the

historical figures they are reading about and to generate questions for the whole class to consider.


Stories of Life at Sydney Cove is a fantastic way for young readers to begin to understand the impact that first contact had on the lives of all involved; seeing the true stories through the eyes of real people and told in such an engaging manner that it reads like fiction. Reviewed by Lisa Hoad

Website link to Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) BookTime review >>


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