Title: When The Lyrebird Calls
Author: Kim Kane
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Synopsis: A time-slip novel in which Madeleine finds herself transported back to 1900 Australia, where she befriends a family of girls and is witness to a family secret and a family tragedy.
When Madeleine is shipped off to stay with her eccentric grandmother for the holidays, she expects the usual: politics, early-morning yoga, extreme health food, and lots of hard work. Instead, Madeleine tumbles back in time to 1900, where the wealthy Williamson family takes her into their home, Lyrebird Muse.
At a time when young girls have no power and no voice, set against a backdrop of the struggles for emancipation, federation and Aboriginal rights, Madeleine must find a way to fit in with the Williamson family’s four sisters – beautiful, cold Bea; clever, awkward Gert; adventurous, rebellious Charlie; and darling baby Imo – as she searches desperately for a way home.
Meanwhile, the Williamson girls’ enchanting German cousin, Elfriede, arrives on the scene on a heavenly wave of smoke and cinnamon, and threatens to shatter everything…
When Madeleine is sent to Mum Crum’s for the holidays, she is unaware of what she will discover whilst she is there. While cleaning out a wardrobe, she discovers a hundred year old pair of elegant ball shoes that transport her back in time, to 1900, just months before the Federation of the Australian colonies, and during a time of racism, suffragettes and a difference in attitudes not only towards women, but to children as well. Upon her arrival in 1900, Madeleine is taken in by the Williamson girls: Bea, Gert, Charlie and little Imo, and learn to ensure she follows Nanny’s rules. Along with Gert, whom she tells she is from the future, she concocts a story for Gert’s parents and Nanny, and Aunt Hen, to ensure that she isn’t found out. Madeleine’s time with the Williamson’s is punctuated by a sojourn with Gert and Aunt Hen into Melbourne, and her modern day reactions to issues that were still in their infancy, or attitudes that were widely accepted, even if only because society expected such thinking, or people weren’t sure about speaking out.
When The Lyrebird Calls tells the story of a young nation, trying to find its identity amidst conflicts of tradition and the modern world, and a young girl who is seeing the history first hand through twenty-first century eyes. In reading about these issues in this setting through modern eyes and the reactions of other characters and the way they act or rather, don’t act in the face of diversity, tells volumes about how society has changed and what was perhaps expected or even assumed or taken for granted pre-Federation compared to today.
I found this book eye opening and it will help give younger readers an understanding of the early formation of our nation, of the suffragette movement and changing and expected attitudes towards women, children Indigenous people and even class divisions. It has an easy flow, making it easy to read and get through. Learning about the above issues in fiction can make the non-fiction easier to understand once a reader has a general idea of what to look for in research. Kim Kane has researched effectively, and given an interesting perspective on a time when lives were different, and restricted by class, gender and race to some extents, and where a middle ground might not always be found.