In 1942 Mary MacKillop was born in Fitzroy, Melbourne. At the same time the population of settlers was 240, 984 and most children did not attend school. In the country this was so that children could help on the family farm but in the city there was a prejudice against going to ‘English’ schools and swearing allegiance to the Queen of England.

This is how Mary’s Australia: How Mary MacKillop Changed Australia by Pamela Freeman starts.

Mary's Australia

The book, one of the non-fiction books shortlisted by the Children’s Council of Australia this year in the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books category.

The book starts with Mary MacKillop’s birth in 1842 and travels through her life. This book isn’t solely about Mary McKillop though – each section about Mary’s life is accompanied by a section on Australia as a whole and life for the ‘average’ Australian at the time.

At the beginning, at the time of her birth, there were four colonies in Australia – Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, and Van Diemen’s Land. Indigenous children were dying as a result of the diseases introduced by the Europeans. Tasmania was the only colony still accepting convicts from England.

Then, in 1865 when Mary is living in Portland, Victoria and teaching in a government school though she wants to return to South Australia and become a nun – her family’s financial situation is preventing her from doing it, however, by the next year she has moved to Penola, South Australia, and with Father Julian Tenison Woods she has set up her first school. Then we get a look at life in Australia – the ratio of the European population is evening out with 44% females to the 55% males which is mainly a result of reproduction. But the gold rush is no longer the mad rush that it was and there is a large amount of poverty and call for Mary’s work. In addition to this we get a glimpse into the life of women at the time – there were few opportunities for a woman if she wanted more from her life that marriage and children.

These are just a few snapshots into this very interesting and informative book. I would encourage children, and adults, to read this book for the snapshot of life at the time but also a perspective on Mary MacKillop that focusses more on her life that the religious canonisation that recently occurred.

I would recommend this book for children over 8 years.

This is just one of the Shortlisted books that have been reviewed this year by staff – check out the rest here.