Title: The Wearing of the Green
Author: Claire Saxby
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Walker Books Australia
Published: 1st April 2022
Synopsis: A powerful historical novel exploring themes of racism, classism and gender expectations present in a growing nation.
When Biddy arrives in Melbourne from Ireland in 1850, she knows exactly what she’s going to do – find her rebellious big brother, Ewen. Her plans are derailed when he’s not there to meet her and she’s forced into a situation that is nothing like she expected. Faced with challenges and chased by luck, bad and good, Biddy must find a strength within herself to build a new life – and to find her missing brother.
- A thoroughly researched historical fiction novel from award-winning author Claire Saxby
- This story fits into the upper-primary – early-secondary history curriculum, which looks at migration, diversity, development of community, government and of country.
- Claire Saxby was inspired to write this novel by the difficulties and prejudice her Irish ancestors faced when migrating to Australia in 1854.
Biddy Blackwell has arrived in Australia, in 1850. She’s an orphan of the Irish famine, and has come, she thinks, to join her brother, Ewen in his new life. Yet she is whisked away to the Morrison farm, where she finds herself working the farm, and taking care of young Annie, and watching as tragedy strikes the young family. When things start to get bad, Biddy runs away, aided by the local Indigenous people at first, then carried away by floods to a road that will take her to Melbourne. Once in Melbourne, she heads to the depot she began at, and starts a new life, finding that the girls she came over with have changed in the time since she has seen them. Soon, she finds a new place to live and a new job as she continues her search for Ewen. But can Biddy find and create a new home, in a country that doesn’t seem to accept her readily, and where she faces discrimination for being Irish, for what her ancestors believed in?
The Wearing of the Green was the first novel I’ve read that has examined the way the Irish were treated when they came to Australia in the wake of the famine, though I am aware there are others. I just haven’t come across them yet or read them, such as Bryce Courtenay’s The Potato Factory. Claire’s novel, I found, which is based on research and her own family past, examines this time in history sensitively and realistically, not shying away from the horrors. It presents them in a way that is accessible and realistic for readers of all ages, middle grade readers in particular, and I loved that Biddy was the centre of the novel – a girl’s voice in a world where women were less likely to have been heard. Her connection with the local Indigenous people in the first half of the novel I felt was done respectfully as possible – with each party reacting as they might have in the time, and I liked that they helped each other, especially when Biddy needed to get away from Morrison.
The novel touches on racism and discrimination of many kinds. Skin colour, where you come from – in this case, Ireland, gender, and class. Yet amidst this, Biddy finds comfort and friends, and a place where she belongs – a place where she can make a difference with her skills, her voice, and in a way that quietly disrupts what everyone thinks and assumes. In starting over, Biddy finds that she can make some kind of difference in her new world. I loved the touching detail of Biddy’s life back home, and how she tried to stand up for what she believed in so she could change the world for those that came after her. It is a story about family – the family we create from those around us, the family we find, and the family we have been searching for, like Biddy searched for Ewen.
And it is about hope – about never giving up and persevering with our goals and dreams even when things seem like they will never change, or seem hopeless. Biddy is a strong-willed character who never gives up, and I fell in love with her from the start, wanting to reach into the book and help her. But she needed to go on the journey she went on, and I loved that she was able to do so and find her own way. Just as all characters should when they find themselves in a situation like Biddy’s.
Another great book from Claire Saxby!