Well written and accurately researched historical fiction can provide a useful window into the past and an accessible entry into another time for students (and for teachers!).
One such historical novel we love here at Sovereign Hill is Bridie’s Fire by Melbourne author Kirsty Murray (Allen & Unwin, 2003).
The story follows the trials of Bridie O’Connor who finds herself alone in the workhouse after her family die of hunger during the Irish potato famine. At the age of eleven she becomes one of the Irish Orphan Girls sent to Australia to work as servants. She eventually obtains work as a scullery maid for a wealthy Melbourne family before making her way to the Ballarat goldfields.
Between 1848 and 1850, over 4000 girls, like Bridie, between the ages of nine and twenty were taken from the workhouses of Ireland and sent to Australia. Most of them had lost at least one parent to the Great Hunger – the Irish potato famine of 1845-1850. Those girls now have over 30,000 descendents but few people outside their ancestors are aware of their stories.
Reading this novel puts a human face to the stories of the famine and is an excellent way to introduce the gold rushes to your class. We have seen this novel used successfully in year 5/6 classes and with year 8s where it was studied as a text in English. It is a powerfully written story which will stimulate empathy in your students and the historic setting has been thoroughly researched and accurately portrayed.
Highly recommended as a novel for students to read alone or as a text that could be read aloud to your class. What a fabulous foundation for an excursion to Sovereign Hill! If you’ve used this book, please tell us what you’ve done with your students.
Kirsty Murray – Teaching Notes (click to download PDF)