by Marion Houldsworth
Australian children of this new millennium take for granted a lifestyle that includes videos, TV soapies, DVDs, computer games, rock concerts, brand-name clothing and Mum’s taxi service.
But the Australian children of a hundred years ago, the Federation era, had a different set of expectations. many of them walked barefoot through the bindi-eyes to school. Their homes were bark-huts with ant -bed floors. They harnessed their billy-goat carts to fetch wood and water, and on starting work at thirteen, gave their pay-packets to mothers of struggling to to feed large families.
Narrators of this book remember mothers who cooked on open fires and made bread, or damper that staple of bush life, in camp-ovens. Evenings at home were lit, not by electricity by by kerosene-lanterns of candles. When times were hard they improvised with fat-lamps.
This earlier generation of North Queenslanders lived with floods and drought. They knew grinding poverty and they knew hard work. But they revelled in the freedom of the bush and the mateship it engendered. They were proud of their independence and self-reliance: of their resilience. It was the spirit that the boys of the period took with them to the heights of Gallipoli and the mud of France, and which came to embody all that was finest about their newly-formed nation, Australia.