Australians All: A History of Growing up from the Ice Age to the Apology

19 July 2013 Books

Australians All: A History of Growing up from the Ice Age to the Apology

Nadia Wheatley, illustrations by Ken Searle

Learning history at school was often treated as a soporific exercise by the class, usually because it meant being asked to memorise endless dates and being lectured about the life and times of VIPs far removed from (pre)adolescent concerns. Maybe, though, it also had something to do with the fact that the textbooks failed to include any evidence of the contributions children made to the fabric of Australian society, so impressionable minds simply rejected their content as irrelevant. As Nadia Wheatley notes in her introduction, in history tomes the experiences of children and teenagers are invariably sidelined and her aim here is to address the gap in the official records and to offer them a voice. 

This handsomely produced hardback offers about 80 real-life stories, which are interwoven with Wheatley’s own potted summaries of the various historical eras and noteworthy events in Australia. Original colour illustrations from Ken Searle and reproductions of black-and-white photos also break up the text. As its subtitle indicates, Australians All is an ambitious and rather impressive attempt to cover the periods in chronological order from the Ice Age to the Apology. Written in a clear and concise style that won’t overwhelm the attention spans of the young and restless, the book is well researched and should prove especially interesting for inquiring minds who’d like to know what it was like, for instance, growing up during the Agricultural Revolution in the early 18th century; or fossicking on the Victorian goldfields; working on the factory floor as a machinist in the late 1920s; or surviving on bread and dripping during the Great Depression. The young adults in the book are either Australian-born or have migrated here – the value of this book is the way their individual stories offer a broad cross-section of a country’s history. 

Wheatley has written books for children and young adults for three decades and brings her considerable experience to the page. Similarly, as a long-time artist and frequent collaborator with Wheatley, Searle and his pictures adeptly clothe her words in colour. Along with the bibliography, glossary, index and overviews for each chapter, Wheatley includes a special note for parents and educators outlining her interest in representing the “forgotten” people of the historical narrative, those neglected because they were at the “bottom of the social pyramid”. Children, like Indigenous people and women, have fallen squarely into this category.


» Australians All is out now.

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